Author and journalist Claire Bingham brings together leading chefs, restaurateurs and food writers in their own private kitchens to discover how they cook using home-grown, local and seasonal produce.
Wild Kitchen dissects the everyday ways we can promote sustainability in our own homes and work with nature. Glimpsing into the kitchens of twenty culinary leaders across the world, from London and New York to Connemara and Tasmania, Claire reveals how they embrace wild' with simple recipes and helpful advice.
How did the idea for Wild Kitchen come about?
It's been a few years in development. Originally, the idea was broader and about stepping inside the homes of creatives within the food industry. I've been a homes' journalist for 20 years now and whatever the style of home, or the personality that lives there, it's the kitchen that reveals the most, not only about aesthetics but how a person lives and shares their home. Chefs homes are particularly tricky to find (for various reasons), so all the more interesting as it is a subject that hasn't really been covered before. It's fascinating to see how someone who works in a kitchen as their profession switches things up in the home.
Tell us about the idea of plot-to-plate aspiration and why nature-centric meals are so vital when cooking at home?
It's not a new idea but it's never been more relevant, especially now after we have all been through lockdown and have perhaps reassessed some of our choices in how we think about food and eat: how we shop, food origins, meal preparation, nutritional value and even how food is shared. It harks back to older, better ideas that over time have become neglected as convenience has kicked in. I remember visiting Maggie Beer's farm years ago when I lived in Australia. The whole slow food movement and her way of thinking was so inspiring. You don't have to have a farm. Everyone can make better choices. In terms of growing, start small with herbs. It's gratifying to be able to pick them knowing they are totally natural, full of flavour and there is no packaging waste. It's also about buying with intent and maximising on ingredients that are less wasteful. How much better is it to make a soup or stock from the carcass of a roasted chicken rather than throw it away? It's so easy, the pot smells amazing whilst it's simmering and you have an extra meal in the process.
What has inspired you most from each of the stories captured in your book?
A mixture of things really, not all to do with food. It's been a treat to get to know the chefs and chat about items important to them in their home. I enjoyed looking on their bookshelves as much as finding out about their backgrounds, but most of all, getting a glimpse into their everyday life. It must be a dream to wake up at Palisa Anderson's Boon Luck Farm in the countryside of Byron, Australia. The landscape is stunning (as is her kitchen). The corner aspect of chefs Rita Sodi and Jody Williams home in Greenwich Village is pretty amazing too. It's hard to choose.
Tell us about your background and how you got into writing?
For me, the idea of writing evolved slowly. At school, art was always my passion I wasn't a big reader. My degree was in Illustration and I started my career at the Chelsea Harbour Design Centre, followed by working for the antiques dealer Christopher Howe on the Pimlico Road. Looking back, everything makes sense. All my paintings were of interior settings and through my teens, I collected magazines, drawing the clothes and making up my own feature stories. Writing for me, is a coming together of all this. It was the editor Toni Rodgers at Elle Decoration who gave me the chance.
What's your creative process like? Do you follow any rituals or routines when working?
For a book, it starts with the idea. I will have a few stories in mind that I'm desperate to photograph or feature in some way. This all gets developed and after a very long list of emails and research, gets fine-tuned to the final selects. When I'm writing, I like to be organised. I write in the morning straight after school drop off (one cup of coffee, followed by a large pot of herbal tea), without a phone or any distractions in the room and then spend the afternoon responding to emails and setting up stories for the next day.
How wild is your kitchen and has putting together this book encouraged you to think differently about how you cook and eat at home?
My husband is the cook of the house and when it came to the rooms' design, we worked it out together. There are a lot of freestanding cabinets and we tried to create a Moroccan-style plastered unit for the sink with smooth, curvy edges but it didn't fully work. Next time around, I'd like to introduce more pattern and colour, as well as beautiful, natural materials. With cooking, I have a few dishes that I love to make that remind me of certain times and places in my life but from the book, it's actually the small stuff that really gets me involved, like collecting spruce tips with my daughter to make syrup for pancakes, or making Julia Sherman's candied peppercorn orange slices to enjoy as snacks. Rita Sodi's riff on a vermouth spritz is also delicious.
To ask a question posed in Wild Kitchen: What's your number one treasured item in your kitchen and why?
I have a silver desert serving spoon embossed with fruits that I'm really fond of. It's not an heirloom but my nan used to have a similar one, which she would use to serve up trifle on special occasions. I'm sentimental when it comes to material things. Plus, her Sunday roasts were the best.
The common thread with these 20 culinary thought-leaders is their local, nutritious and sustainable perspectives - did you gain any unexpected insights from their individual approaches to procuring produce and cooking?
One takeout for me was from Mette Helbaek in Sweden who is all about spending more time cooking outdoors. It is built into her regular routine: she makes a fire, takes vegetables from the garden and prepares simple, freshly grown food at a table outside. Once you have the set up right, there must be so much pleasure to gain from that. I'm also totally inspired by New York-based chef and creative director Camille Becerra and her use of adaptogenic herbs in her cooking. It all sounds so complicated but even I can make cold-pressed tea from saffron. When it comes to all the power plants, there's so much to learn.
What three to four ingredients are you excited to use this month?
Top of the list are end of summer' black concord grapes so I can try out Emiko Davies's grape focaccia and pretend to be in Florence rather than the north west of England. I'm also really interested in all the healthy gut and high-nutrition foods, so the kitchari recipe by Jasmine Hemsley is my number two. My ultimate flavour is black truffle, so Rodney Dunn's cabbage and root vegetable salad with truffle salad cream feels very right for this time of year. It is going to be a treat.
Are any of these recipes on repeat in your kitchen at home at the moment?
Always the pecorino-parmesan pesto by chef Rita Sodi. It's a staple. And Cliodhna Prendergast's buttermilk pancakes. They are a regular Saturday morning thing.
Wild Kitchen is published by Thames & Hudson.
Images credits: Claire Bingham, Gentl and Hyers and Mike Karlsson Lundgren.