Friday, 11 March 2011

Interview with first-time cookbook author Genevieve Taylor

After years of working behind the scenes on other writers' cookbooks, Bristol mum Genevieve Taylor has finally penned her own.
This week sees the release of Stew!, a collection of 100 simple stews, braises and curries from around the world.
It is the first time Genevieve has seen her name on the front cover of a book despite working as a food stylist and photographer on a number of successful cookbooks.
For Genevieve, who lives in St Annes with her husband and two young children, it is a dream come true and, she says, the result of sheer persistence on her part.
“I had worked on half a dozen books as a food stylist and every time I did one I would joke with the publishers and ask to them when they were going to let me write one of my own. I think I ground them down in the end.”
For the past few years, Genevieve has split her time between looking after her children, running her Zest catering business in Bristol and working freelance for Bath-based publishers Absolute Press.
Out of the blue at the end of last year, Absolute Press art director Matt Inwood told Genevieve that they were looking for an author for a new book about stews and suggested she wrote a proposal for it.
Genevieve says: “I jumped at the chance, but then Matt told me I had to write it in eight weeks.
“It was a mad deadline but I dropped everything took myself off to the Brecon Beacons for a couple of long three-day breaks with my dog, laptop and various pots and pans.
“I rented a cottage up a mountain in the middle of nowhere with no television, no kids, no mobile phone, and just cooked and wrote. It was the only way I could get some head space.
“I had some of the recipes already but the book is also a combination of dishes I cook for my family, mixed with recipes from around the world.”
The book is a veritable encyclopaedia of stews and slow-cooked dishes, from simple Lancashire hotpot and coq au vin to pork braised with ginger, garlic and sweet soy and Sri Lankan salmon curry with coconut sambal.
As well as rich and comforting winter warmers, there are fresh and vibrant recipes for spring and summer, such as lamb, petit pois and little gem lettuce with mint.
As Genevieve explains, they are all dishes that involve the age-old method of cooking meat and vegetables gently in some sort of liquid. This is certainly not fast food.
“Stewing is essentially about cooking something solid such as meat, fish or vegetables in a liquid. You can take it as far and wide as you like.
“Most people just think of hearty winter dishes when they think of stews but there are many lighter stews for the spring and summer so I have included a whole chapter on those.”
Genevieve is a self-taught cook and came into the food world after a career as a freelance television producer working on wildlife documentaries for the BBC and Bristol-based Endemol.
“When I had my two children, I knew television producer wouldn’t be a viable career again so I set up my own catering business and took it from there with the food styling and now the writing.”
Now that Genevieve’s first book has been published, she is already planning more and is clearly proud to have made the leap from food stylist to author.
“I was absolutely thrilled to see the book when it came back from the printers as it was the first time my name has been on the front as the author.
“I had been wanting to write a book for ages and never thought it would actually happen. I have been jotting down recipes and ideas in notebooks for years just in case.
“I’m coming up with new ideas all the time and one of my roles as a food stylist has been to create recipes for certain ingredients, such as asparagus, so that has helped.
“I really hope this is the first of many books. I’ve always enjoyed writing and I really enjoyed the process of doing the book.”
Although she has yet to decide what the next book might be, it may well be based around her new blog, An Egg a Day, which she describes as ‘the culinary diary of a novice hen-keeper’.
Last November, Genevieve started to keep four hens in the back garden of her St Annes home and decided it would make for an interesting blog, creating recipes from the eggs her hens lay every day.
Recent recipes have included a ‘sublime’ onion tart, sticky beetroot and ginger muffins and coffee custard and bananas.
Although the initial outlay for the chicken coupe came to around £300 and the chicks cost £15 each, Genevieve says it was money well spent and the chickens have become a part of family life in the Taylor household.
“I have four chickens – Sam, Doris, Ellie and Mabel – who lay between three and four eggs a day so the whole idea was a diary of what I’m doing with these eggs, with anecdotes about what it’s like keeping chickens in an urban garden.
“The chickens are very easy to look after and the eggs are absolutely delicious. Getting the first egg was amazing – I was so thrilled by it.”
It looks like Genevieve has already found the subject for her second cookbook.

Stew! By Genevieve Taylor is published by Absolute Press, £12.99. To follow Genevieve’s blog, go to

Review: No.1 Harbourside, Bristol

It is almost a year since No.1 Harbourside opened beneath the Watershed cinema in the heart of Bristol's dockland area.
The second project for Coexist, the sustainable, creative collective behind the hugely successful Canteen and Hamilton House across town on Stokes Croft, this café bar and restaurant has brought something fresh and exciting to the waterfront.
In a stretch of the docks that has for years been dominated by brash bars and chains, No.1 Harbourside has been a breath of cool independence.
If nothing else, it has attracted a different crowd of drinkers – by which I mean people who go for fun and enjoyment, not drinking 12 pints of lager and spoiling for a fight.
It hasn’t been the easiest transformation, but then major changes like this don’t happen overnight.
In its first year, No.1 Harbourside has had to find its feet and gauge exactly what people want. It was never going to be simply transplanting the unique Stokes Croft spirit into a city centre bar.
For a start, there are no residents – part of the success of The Canteen is that it is used by the people living in the area – and much more passing trade, especially curious tourists and city visitors.
Whilst No.1 Harbourside has gained a reputation as a bar with quality live music most nights, it has struggled to become a food destination.
My early experiences of the food on offer were not memorable and even though the chefs were creative and introduced a locally-sourced tapas menu, the food tended to promise more than it delivered.
There were occasions over the past year when eyebrows were raised at such dishes as parsnip ‘three ways’ and pheasant trifle – two perfect examples of chefs cooking for themselves, rather than the people who pay their wages (the public).
Thankfully, there has been a major reshuffle at No.1 Harbourside and a new menu and kitchen team launched last week.
The owners have gone back to the drawing board and returned to the original plan of offering a short menu that is both affordable and accessible.
This means, out with the pheasant trifle and in with the house mussels with black pepper fries (£5), along with four daily specials scratched on a small chalkboard above the long bar.
The new menu from ex-Canteen chef Rhys Williams comes with the tagline of ‘eat something wholesome every day’, with dishes described as ‘square meals’ – a quaint term that belongs to a pre-fast food era.
Not only is there more of an emphasis on simpler food and a commitment to locally sourced ingredients (the aim is 90%), but value for money is key here and to prove the point every diner gets a free bowl of soup with slices of homemade organic bread before the main course arrives.
On the lunchtime I popped in, a hot bowl of well-made leek and potato soup arrived as I supped my pint of Stroud Brewery’s hoppy Budding ale – one of four local beers on offer.
The short menu read very well indeed – pan-fried fillet of grey mullet with lemon and chive butter (£7), bubble and squeak cake with homemade ketchup (£6) and duck casserole with pearl barley and mushrooms (£8) being the three main dishes I bypassed en route to ordering what was described as ‘giant pork chop with sage and apple sauce’ (£9).
Giant is an understatement. About an inch and a half thick, with an inch of sweet fat around the edge, this bone-in chop took up most of the plate.
The meat was juicy, impressively tender and boasted a genuine farmyard porkiness. The sage and apple sauce was a little shy and could have made itself known more but the unadvertised curly kale and sautéed potatoes were spot-on. For £9, it was excellent value, free soup or not.
I couldn’t see any desserts on offer, but there are cakes for those who still feel hungry. There are also bar snacks in the evening, including oysters.
When I reviewed No.1 Harbourside in the first week of opening last year, I wasn’t that impressed with the food and I thought the kitchen was trying too hard to impress.
The new menu and concept is much more on track. By offering generous portions of simply cooked food, it is finally achieving its original aim of making local, seasonal and organic produce something for the masses and not just the middle classes. That in itself is something to celebrate and reason enough to support No.1 Harbourside.

No.1 Harbourside, 1 Canons Road, Bristol, BS1 5UH. Tel: 0117 9291100.

* An edited version of this review originally appeared in the Bristol Evening Post and Metro newspapers

REVIEW: The Paulet Arms, Wiltshire

With his shaven head, tattooed arms and generous girth, Adrian Jones looks like a proper chef, or at least a chef in a Guy Ritchie gangster movie.
Thankfully, his bark is worse than his bite. He’s a gentle giant and when it comes to talking about food, he’s a pussycat waiting to have his tummy tickled. He is passionate about cooking.
This is a man whose simple and robust cooking resulted in him being described as a ‘gastroterrorist’ by the fiery Irish chef Richard Corrigan no less. High praise indeed.
Earlier this year, Jones turned up at The Paulet Arms, a newly-opened village pub close to Westbury in Wiltshire.
The pub used to be called The Three Daggers and then The Lamb but a wealthy American businessman acquired the red-brick building last year and invested around £1.3m into making it a smart pub with four chic bedrooms.
The Paulet Arms doesn’t want to be tagged a gastropub and the handpumps of Wadworth 6X and Bath Ales Gem are there as much for the locals on the barstools as the groups of diners in the light, conservatory-style dining room.
The scrubbed pine table and antique leather armchair style is understated but not without its quirky touches, including underfloor heating under the slate flagstones and flat screen TVs concealed behind mirrors.
No expense has been spared in making this a comfortable and stylish pub – down to the linen tea towel napkins and stainless steel cutlery especially made in Sheffield.
Jones had carte blanche when it came to creating the menus for the pub but his time at The Salisbury in Fulham – where he garnered a rave review from Fay Maschler – has equipped him with the knowledge of what people want to eat in pubs.
His food is produce-driven and he uses predominantly local suppliers, including nearby Bratton Pig - breeders of free-range Mangalitza and British Saddleback pigs – and La Chasse, the Dorset-based hunter-gatherers.
“I want to be told by my suppliers what’s good that day,” says Jones. “That’s got to the best way to write seasonal menus, and we are lucky to have such great produce on our doorstep.”
There are already plans to expand the operation at the pub, with a farm shop at the end of the year (the village no longer has a local shop) and even an on-site microbrewery to supply the pub with its own ales.
In the bar, there are tapas-sized snacks such as salt cod fish fingers, rare roast beef and pickles and sausages and mustard.
You can eat from the main menu anywhere in the pub, which is a refreshing change from all those self-styled gastropubs where diners and drinkers are segregated.
At lunch, there is a eye-rubbingly good value menu for £10 (two courses) or £13 (three courses) and on the day I visited choices included chicken and sweetcorn soup; salt cod fritter with Dorset leaves and garlic mayo, and grilled sea bass, hot smoked salmon and celeriac.
My starter of grilled scallops, Trealy Farm cured meat and red watercress (a supplement of £6) was bang on the money. The bushy sprigs of watercress were intensely peppery and were the perfect match for the sweet scallops and rich, salty meats.
A main course of slow roast venison, red cabbage and soft mash was beautifully cooked. The meat had been cooked slowly for several hours and it was pink and velvety in texture. The red cabbage was sweet and sticky but retained an earthiness, the mash was generously seasoned with white pepper and probably contained as much butter and cream as potato.
A flourless chocolate brownie made using ground almonds was almost fondant-like in the middle and the richness was cut with kirsch-soaked cherries.
In the evening, things move up a gear with the likes of salt cod fritters with garlic mayo (£4.75), bavette steak and chips with béarnaise (£11) and lamb shank shepherd’s pie with roast carrots and peas (£13).
This is confident cooking of well-sourced ingredients by a chef who doesn’t go in for froths and fads.
Everything on the plate was there for a reason and it was as honest and unpretentious as good food gets.

The Paulet Arms, Edington, Westbury, Wiltshire. Tel: 01380 830940