Compared to twenty years ago when I started writing about food when ingredients like frikeh (or freekeh) and argan oil were known to only a few westerners, there are now less and less secret ingredients, or indeed cuisines. You would think that with diners’ enthusiasm for global dishes and ingredients there isn’t much left for chefs or keen cooks to discover. But there is. And this is what we did last month at Books for Cooks, when I and Nadya Saleh from the National Museum of Qatar‘s Food Forum together with the delightful and very talented Aisha al-Tamimi introduced a keen audience to Qatari dishes they were totally unfamiliar with. The two cooking demonstrations were led by Aisha and were part of Nour Festival and Qatar UK, the latter being a collaboration between Qatar and the UK to exchange cultural and art events while the former is an initiative by the London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea to showcase Middle Eastern art and culture.
Last Saturday was my final day as a chef in a museum. My residency consisted of four days working in the museum proper and one day at home when we arranged to have a group of twenty, including my great friend Arabella Boxer, visit my kitchen the way they would an artist’s studio for them to see where I work and for me to explain how I write and test my recipes, the equipment I use, the books I refer to and the ingredients I need. I enjoyed showing them around and explaining how I work in the space I had created for that purpose. And I hope they enjoyed their visit despite the lack of chairs for everyone but really the most exciting time of my residency was the time I spent in the museum. I loved arranging my ingredients and utensils in the room where Lord Leighton worked and seeing the juxtaposition of my domestic elements with Lord Leighton’s art.
Well, I am nearly at the end of my residency in Leighton House. There is still one more visit to my kitchen for people to see where and how I work. It has been a great adventure and I loved being a chef in a museum. Fortunately, it wasn’t only me who did, but also everyone who came including my lovely new young intern who helped me with the pickling session. Shame I had not met her for the demo proper last Saturday when I made beautiful dips. Luckily, I had my gorgeous Nuria helping me and the lovely Kit Oates taking the beautiful pictures in this post, not to mention sweet Noe who was making sure everything went smoothly.
I don’t know if I am the first ever chef-in-residence in a museum but I sure am glad I proposed to do it and was accepted as I am loving my time at Leighton House. There is something wonderful about feeling at home in a museum, and talking about or preparing food in such a beautiful place. Also, the people who attend my sessions are all very charming, and some like the group of Moroccan ladies who came this last Thursday also unexpected. Luckily, Alan Kirwan who runs Nour, had arranged to have the most charming young photographer, Kit Oates, take pictures of my session on spice mixtures and I thought I would share them here. All the photographs are © Kit Oates.