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Mr Porter Eats

Five Top Chefs On Their Summer Food Memories

From Provençal stew to Buddhist cuisines – the holiday meals and experiences that influence what they cook today

There are few greater joys in life than lazy, sunny days spent eating wonderful food (preferably with booze) in good company. Knowing this to be true, and being in a reflective mood, we decided to ask some of our favourite chefs to recount the summer eating experience that lingers most in their memory – and how it has come to shape them and influence what they cook today.

Mr Raymond Blanc OBE

Chef patron, Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, Oxfordshire

“My memories of summer trips to Provence from when I was just six years old have stayed with me to this day. When I first arrived, I could smell fennel and lavender, and the sky and the sea were an electric blue. It is something so simple, but tomatoes taste amazing in Provence – the best I have had. One of the best dishes is the classic Provençal stew – tomatoes, olives, rosemary, sage, white wine to give sharpness and a couple of anchovies to give it that je ne sais quoi.

“I love Provence in early summer. I enjoy going to the restaurant La Pétite Cour with my family. It has a lovely shaded patio and they do marvellous things like locally caught rouget (red mullet) and baby cuttlefish or catch of the day. And, of course, a fantastic simple tomato salad. An afternoon spent here is my idea of perfection.”

Mr Ali Borer

Head chef, Smoking Goat, London

“In 2014, I visited Kernowsashimi, a supplier of mine, in Cornwall. I arrived the night before and I made the mistake of drinking an entire bottle of wine with dinner. The next day, I was woken up at 4.30am to go fishing on a boat. I was put into the back of a van with buckets of empty crab shells – not the most pleasant experience on a hangover, but it was worth it. The wind was in my hair and the sun was rising up over the blue sea. We were soon pulling up nets full of fish. It really helped me connect with what we make.

“By the end of the day, I was famished. There was such pleasure in preparing a meal – gilt-head bream sashimi and roast skate wing with brown butter and capers – that I had worked so hard to catch. I felt worthy of it.”

Mr Esu Lee

Head chef, CAM Import Export, Paris

“I spent my last summer at a small temple in Korea to learn about Buddhist cuisine under Jeong Kwan, the star of Chef’s Table. I ate a bowl of rice with lightly salted cucumber and a wild berry juice, which Jeong had started fermenting years previously. It tasted beautiful, like a lemonade.

“The cucumber was harvested in the little garden at the temple. To make the dish, Jeong scratches its skin lightly with the back of a spoon to release its flavour, and places it in a ri (a traditional Korean jar) with a bit of salty water.

“What I learnt from eating this kind of food is how to blend myself with nature, and I came to understand that good food takes time.”

Mr Tom Brown

Head chef, Cornerstone, London

“When I was a kid, in the summer holidays, my dad would take us fishing in Porthkerris. My brother, my sister and I would sit on the rocks all day, crabbing and messing about in rock pools. My dad would do all the actual fishing, now that I think about it.

“He’d always catch mackerel. When we’d had enough, we’d go home and my dad would show us how to gut it. We thought it was gross, but we absolutely loved it. He’d grill it up, add a bit of lemon and we’d eat it with some bread and butter.

“This is where my love of fish comes from. I’m really meticulous now about the mackerel we get in at Cornerstone. It has to be the absolute best.”

Mr Jeremy Lee

Chef proprietor, Quo Vadis

“I first went to France for a summer holiday in the early 1970s, when courgette and green pepper were still deemed foreign and suspicious. My dad found himself very taken by Azay-le-Rideau, a handsome town with a beautiful chateau, natch, with a fine township and excellent camping facilities to boot.

“While dad and my two elder brothers set to with tents and guy ropes, my mum, my sister and I went to find lunch. The shops were ace – charcuterie, boulangerie, caves du vin. Every terrine was tasted. There were hams, sausages, cheeses, bread, peaches, cherries, melons, petit jambonneau. Then tarts and cakes, and wine and more cheese. All the components of a lunch that would make our journey to the Loire so worthwhile.

“We stayed at the table for hours. A long lunch, eating good things with your nearest and dearest, is the best thing to do on holiday.”

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