Home Cooking Tips From Catering Pros Spook London

Founded by private chef Emily Few Brown back in 2014, London-based catering and cocktail company Spook has created food for some of the biggest brands in the world – think Prada, Facebook, NET-A-PORTER and even the royal family. Alongside running the day-to-day business with head chef Joe Leckie, Emily is soon set to open Spook’s first restaurant – Riley’s – in Bermondsey. Here, she tells us how to recreate some of their signature dishes and drinks at home, as well as her everyday cooking tips.

Have you always loved to cook?

Cooking has always been such a big part of my upbringing. Growing up in a farming community in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight meant I’ve always had a deep interest in where food comes from, how it’s grown and when it’s in season. I try to encompass this in everything I cook at home, and what our head chef Joe cooks, as well.

How would you describe your cooking style now? 

I love simple, seasonal dishes that are packed with flavour. If I can, I include elements of foraging into my cooking. I always try to stick to the classics but if I can incorporate some wild, natural elements, I go all in. Winter is always a bit harder, but spring is just around the corner so I can’t wait to start using new seasonal ingredients, too.

Let’s get into the food. What’s your go-to, easy midweek supper?

I don't necessarily have a go-to but every Saturday I make my way to the organic stall at Venn Street Farmers Market where I pick up a week’s worth of vegetables. Depending on what’s available for the season, I get an assortment of root veg and leafy greens. Last week’s dinner was roasted delica pumpkin with soy pumpkin seeds and a soft cheese I also got from the market. With spring coming, I can’t wait to incorporate wild garlic, three cornered leeks, nasturtiums and sorrel into my dishes.

Has lockdown changed the way you cook at home? 

During the first lockdown, it was the height of spring, so I spent a lot of time foraging and growing vegetables for cooking at home. Lately, the dark of winter has definitely made me lazier and more prone to ordering the odd take away.

Which store cupboard staples do you always return to?

A dish is nothing without a really good olive oil – I currently use one grown and cultivated on Mount Etna. The oil has a really distinct flavour and peppery finish, and it makes a simple tomato salad taste amazing.

Are there any store cupboard essentials you think people don’t know about?

I came across Old Bay seasoning when I first started working with Joe a few years back. It’s a robust seasoning mix which includes celery salt, black pepper, crushed red pepper flakes, and paprika. It’s delicious on a roast chicken or crispy potatoes – and extremely underrated.

Do you have any new food discoveries to share?

Joe recently made a rosehip vinegar which was a delicious addition to freshly caught oysters. We might even feature it on the menu at our new restaurant Riley’s, which is set to open once lockdown lifts. 

We’re all trying to make our food healthier. Do you have any tips to do this?

Eat what feels good for you and what makes you feel good – try to stay away from fad diets and eat a healthy balanced diet with natural, quality ingredients that are good for our soil and the planet. Intensive farming has ruined our soils and in turn, our food, making it full of pesticides and lacking in nutrition. Try to look out for biodynamic produce and shop locally from your butcher, fishmonger and greengrocer. Be curious about where your food has come from.

What's your ultimate comfort dish?

I’m a self-proclaimed bread addict so it would have to be freshly baked sourdough with a slab of cold salted butter that slowly melts into the slice. 

Do you have a favourite homemade soup?

I like to make a hearty chicken broth made from whatever veg is left in my fridge that week. I typically head to my local butcher where I pick up a free-range chicken. I boil that up with onions and seasonal root veg and seasoning. I then shred the chicken into the broth and add some quinoa. 

What are some of the best starters to prepare in advance?

I like starters to be fresh and light so I can have a main course, pudding and cheeseboard, too. For that reason, a salad is always a great option. I love to make salads both in the summer and the winter. You can prepare these in advance and there are no rules – at the moment I’m loving winter leaves with citrus flavours and hazelnuts. 

So, you’re a fan of a cheeseboard. What goes into making a great one?

A cheeseboard is all about the quality of the cheese – you have to get them from your local cheesemonger or farmers’ market – no supermarket cheeses! For me, a great one must contain Beenleigh Blue, Dorstone goat’s cheese, Black Bomber Cheddar, Cornish-aged gouda, and Rollright Cheese. In terms of crackers, The Fine Cheese Company make delicious crispy slices of toast which are seriously moreish. Figs and apples are a must in autumn, while chilli jam, truffle honey and quince are essential year-round.

What’s a simple, seasonal pudding that still impresses?

A tarte tatin – it has crisp pastry, juicy autumnal fruit and a sweet, buttery caramel topping. I particularly love making it in the colder months when pear, quince, plum, and apples are in season. 

What would you serve at a great dinner party once we’re allowed to meet up again?

I have a staple menu that isn’t for the faint-hearted – or anyone feeling extra healthy that day. To start, it’s a grilled purple sprouting broccoli with chilli flakes and lemon, followed by oxtail ragu with really good parmesan and a bottle of red wine. Desert is sticky toffee pudding with vanilla ice cream, followed by my signature cheeseboard, of course.

Any general tips for entertaining at home once we’re allowed?

After lockdown, I’m most looking forward to having lunch with friends, with a few bottles of wine and some delicious food. My top tip would be not to rush things and try and prepare some of your dishes in advance. For me, the best bit is letting the day run away with guests once the cooking is done.

Do you have a favourite cocktail? 

You can’t go wrong with a great margarita. We like to use small batch producers and often add a seasonal or foraged element. We use El Rayo Tequila and have recently been adding burnt blood orange juice to make a delicious burnt blood orange margarita. To make it extra smoky, you can swap the tequila for mezcal. Simply mix tequila blanco, blood orange juice, fresh lime juice and a touch of agave syrup in a shaker, then serve over ice. It’s a great choice for a party, too.

What’s the best Friday night cocktail to have in your repetoire?

A Pisco Sour. Sours are one of my favourite cocktails and pisco is a drier option compared to whisky. Pisco is from Peru and is a form of brandy. A little tip if you need to make your sours vegan is to use chickpea water (aquafaba) instead of egg white. 

What essentials should every home bar have?

Simple – good tequila and beautiful glassware.

Finally, tell us your top three cookbooks…

There are so many cookbooks I love, but at the moment, my top three include Ducksoup by Claire Lattin and Tom Hill for everyday cooking, Spring by Skye Gyngell for fresh, seasonal dishes (her oxtail ragu is my dinner menu go-to recipe), and Hunter Gatherer Cook by Nick Weston for foraging. I also love anything by Francis Mallmann, a renowned celebrity chef from Argentina.

 

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