The Violet Bakery’s Claire Ptak was introduced to this sharp little citrus fruit by mimicking a man she saw shopping as a child – now she uses them in a syrupy buckwheat cake to die for
He had a mullet. Hair that was brown with sunbleached, wavy highlights: short around the face and longer at the back. He had dark sunglasses and platform trainers. His trousers had a slight flare at the ankle and on top he wore a denim waistcoat.
It was the early 1980s and my mother had sent me to buy some groceries in our little coastal town of Point Reyes, California. This remarkable man – I remember him as my disco prince – was walking in front of me as I made my way from the car park, into the Palace market. I stayed a pace behind him as I gathered the carrots and avocados on my mum’s shopping list. The man picked up a small brown paper bag and filled it with what looked like miniature oval oranges. I watched as he ate them whole, right out of the bag, peel and all, while meandering through the fresh section. They weren’t on my list, but as soon as he turned the corner, I filled a brown bag with them, too.
At seven or eight years old, this strange and confident man caught my attention first with his appearance, and second with his appetite. I’d never seen kumquats before, but I immediately wanted to try them. This moment started a culinary journey for me. A sort of “monkey see, monkey do” way of eating.
To this day, no matter where I go, I look around to see what the local people are eating, then go straight over and try some myself. This idea that local folk know what’s good to eat is attractive – and useful – no matter where you are in the world. I’ve used it to good effect walking through the souks in Marrakech, backpacking in Bangkok, driving down the Baja California peninsula, and cruising through the French hills in a caravan. You will never go wrong if, when in Rome, you eat as the Romans eat.
This strange man caught my attention first with his appearance, and second with his appetite