Guid­ing lights

Sally Clarke’s kitchen heroes

The Guardian - Cook - - Front Page - Sally Clarke is a Lon­don chef and restau­ra­teur; sal­; @Sal­lyClarkeLtd

My brothers and I bought this house in 1979 as an in­vest­ment – our par­ents very kindly lent us the down pay­ment. It’s been a fam­ily home for a long time. To be­gin with, my youngest brother and I lived here, and then later he moved out.

When my son was born, we bought the house next door – a mod­est Vic­to­rian cot­tage – which meant we could ex­tend the base­ment kitchen and din­ing area. It’s now dou­ble the size. Orig­i­nally, I could not have swung a cat in it, even if I had one. French doors from the din­ing area open on to the back gar­den, where I have lots of pot plants and an olive tree my mother gave me.

I pre­fer not to have peo­ple around me when I’m cook­ing, but I do like hav­ing the kitchen as close as pos­si­ble to the din­ing area. I very much en­joy cook­ing at home. Even if it’s just cook­ing for my­self, I get an enor­mous amount of plea­sure out of lay­ing the ta­ble and pre­par­ing some­thing sim­ple. Last night I had steamed broc­coli fin­ished with goat’s cheese and parme­san. It was just what I needed at 10pm – it filled the gap. The sim­plest things are of­ten the most plea­sur­able when it comes to food.

The herbs and flow­ers (1) are from my mother’s gar­den in Sur­rey. For over 30 years, she’s pro­vided herbs for the restau­rant. She’s 89 now, still gar­den­ing ev­ery day and pick­ing herbs.

I was prob­a­bly born in an apron (2). As soon as I get home, I put one on and turn on the ra­dio (3) – it’s al­ways tuned to Ra­dio 3 – even if I’m just mak­ing a mid­night snack.

When I was grow­ing up in Sur­rey, my mother, to my de­light, would of­ten leave me in the kitchen, while she was busy in the gar­den with my brothers and my fa­ther. I would be as happy as a clam mak­ing lunch for every­one, an El­iz­a­beth David book open on the ta­ble. I read her from an early age. I loved her sense of place. She’s more than an in­spi­ra­tion, and she con­tin­ues to be.

When she died in 1992, our restau­rant, along with Si­mon Hop­kin­son, Alas­tair Lit­tle and Martin Lam, got to­gether to cre­ate a feast after the me­mo­rial ser­vice at St Martin-inthe-Fields in Lon­don. My mother made up the table­cloths for the buf­fet – I re­mem­ber go­ing to choose the cloth (4) at Ian Mankin on Wandsworth Bridge Road. We each got to keep one.

I was for­tu­nate when Jill Nor­man, David’s ed­i­tor, asked me to choose some­thing from her kitchen as a me­mento. I chose this ter­ra­cotta chicken brick (5). I don’t use it that of­ten, but hav­ing some­thing from her kitchen is ex­tra­or­di­nary, so it’s usu­ally out on dis­play. I also chose a wooden whisk. I’d never seen a wooden one be­fore. It’s per­fect for scram­bling eggs or light­en­ing up some cream cheese.

Alice Wa­ters and Chez Panisse (6) have been my other guid­ing lights for al­most 40 years. It was there that the idea of eat­ing lo­cally and sea­son­ally started to make so much sense to me.

In the old days, when the Con­ran Shop in Ful­ham Road first opened, I’d buy all my Christ­mas presents there. It was the best thing ever and so easy to please every­one. One Christ­mas, about 20 years ago, I saw a stack of wooden bowls (7), all dif­fer­ent woods and mould­ings. They prob­a­bly weren’t meant to be sold as a set, but I grabbed them any­way, as a present for my­self.

5 2 6 4 7 1 3

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