Japanese food ... the easy way
Nanban chef and 2011 MasterChef winner Tim Anderson shows Kate Whiting that cuisine from the land of the rising sun is far from complicated
The first time he tried sushi, American chef Tim Anderson, who runs Japanese soul food restaurant Nanban in London’s Brixton, wasn’t keen. “It’s the first Japanese food everyone tries and I’ve never understood why,” he says when we meet in Nanban, where I’m set for a crash course.
“I really didn’t like the nori (seaweed), but I was really into soul food — tempura, fried rice. I loved noodles from the beginning, and the thing that blew my mind when I first tried it was tonkatsu (breaded pork cutlet) ramen.”
Sushi is not on the menu at Nanban, but there are recipes for spicy tuna rolls and salmon avocado rolls in his book JapanEasy, in which Tim shows Japanese cooking is actually simple.
“This book was fun to write and I think it’s going to do a good job of actually getting people to cook Japanese food,” says the 2011 MasterChef winner.
We chat as Tim prepares nasu dengaku — miso-glazed aubergines. “It’s a really simple thing and goes with all types of food,” he says. “If you’re having lamb chops, there’s no reason you can’t have that as your side.”
Brits have a preconception that stops them from cooking Japanese food, believes Tim. “They don’t think they can get the ingredients, which isn’t true. A big Tesco will absolutely have all the ingredients you need to cook the vast majority of Japanese food, and you can get everything else online,” he says.
Tim grew up in Wisconsin, where “we don’t have a lot of Japanese food”. Watching one of the first televised cooking competition shows, Iron Chef, when he was 13, got him into Japanese food. He moved to LA to study Japanese history and won a research grant to study food museums in Japan when he was 20. After graduating, he taught English in Japan for two years, before moving to England in 2008, marrying British wife Laura and finally opening Nanban in 2015.
“When I moved here from Japan, I was really disappointed by the food culture,” he says. “If you go from place to place in Japan, even the train station will have the best produce, different liquors and sweets, but in Britain, you have to go out of your way to find good local food.”
At 26, Tim became the youngest ever winner of MasterChef, wowing the judges in the final with his Kyushu-style pork ramen with truffled lobster and gyoza.
His gyoza are just as tasty today as they were then, I can attest. In fact, he makes cooking them look so easy I might just be convinced to make them myself at home. JapanEasy: Classic & Modern Japanese Recipes To Cook At Home by Tim Anderson, photography by Laura Edwards, is published by Hardie Grant, priced £20