'No one executes food with the swagger they do in Italy'


No one executes food with the swagger they do in Italy

Table talk with Ben Spalding, Chef, 40Mule by Festember, Abu Dhabi

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Published: Thu 4 Jan 2018, 11:00 PM

Last updated: Fri 5 Jan 2018, 1:00 AM

Your favourite memory of food.
My late dad's crazy combinations of peanut butter and cucumber sandwiches. Or any of his crazy dinner-time creations. One more: we used to have a holiday home in Laguna Niguel in California, where we would holiday nearly every year when I was growing up, and I vividly remember walking into the supersize shopping malls and being hit with this incredible smell of kaffir lime and the giant American cinnamon buns. Not sure where those smells were coming from - maybe a food stall or juice bar - but, wow, the smells were amazing and, if I close my eyes, I can take myself back there.
What's the most challenging part of your job?
Logistics - I run every part of my operation. I need to wear 15 different hats daily and, on an event day, you can double that amount. I can work 110 hours a week when it gets that busy, but I love it! I am super passionate, so it is worth it.
Do you have a personal mantra or motto that drives the way you cook food?
Absolutely, it must taste delicious first, then I cook with my eyes and my ears. Basically, flavour is the most important factor, then I go with what looks and sounds good (when describing the dish).
If you could cook for a high-profile personality, who would it be and what would you serve them?
These are late personalities, but it would have to be Janis Joplin and Al Green together or the entire '27 club'. Though troubled in their personal life, they were all supremely talented, inspiring and incredible people. Plus, the after-party would be nuts!
How often do you eat out?
I eat out practically every week and, when I travel, I will eat everywhere I can.
After cooking all day, do you cook for yourself at home too?
Either a kebab or a #FridgeBuffet!
You're asked to invent an unusual dish - what would it be?
I can't answer this as all of my dishes are unusual, but if we were meeting for the first time, I would get you to lick a caramel-coated brick, with chicken mousse on top and all the items a chicken eats. Strange? Well, my reasoning is, in Tuscany or in the Caribbean, they do 'Brick on a chicken' - a chicken breast wrapped in tin foil with spices and herbs, then cooked with the weight of a brick on top. It ensures the most tender chicken breast as it steams it evenly. I decided to take that tradition and flip it on its head: from 'Brick on a chicken' to 'Chicken on a brick'. It is a psychologically exciting dish to eat and the heat from your tongue actually melts the caramel when you lick it, and cuts the richness of the chicken mousse. It's a clever dish, no matter how ridiculous it might look!
Who do you admire most in the culinary world, and why?
I admire anyone who is truly passionate about cooking and serving guests and always goes that extra mile - no matter their experience, where they are from or whether they make sandwiches or a 30-course menu.
Favourite comfort food?
I love really good sushi.
One ingredient/ dish you can't stand, and why.
Marrow - the giant watery vegetable. Horrid!
If you could choose a last meal, what would it be?
Pizza on the dance floor with all my friends and loved ones.
Your favourite culinary destination, and why?
London is continually evolving and highly competitive; I believe it to be the world leader as far as diversity of food and value is concerned. I am biased, though, as it is my home and where I grew up! Singapore is special because the people there have an amazing passion for a massive breakfast and high quality. There's also Bologna, because no one executes food with such a confident, unfazed swagger like they do in Italy. Finally, Budapest. I was completely shocked at how good the food and service there were. The standard was consistently excellent everywhere I went there, whether a café or a Michelin-starred restaurant.
- Staff reporter

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