Sometimes just thinking of what to have for dinner tonight can feel like a real drag, never mind throwing a dinner party for friends or baking something special to mark a celebration.
White Rabbit’s Amy Fenner isn’t just a brilliant chocolatier, she’s also a dab hand in general in the kitchen and is the creative genius behind our café’s showstopping cakes as well as our tantalising pop-up restaurant menus.
Here, in the first of a two-part blog, Amy reminisces about the source of her love for food and reveals how she finds inspiration to unleash her inner kitchen goddess.
Igniting a life-long passion
“I’ve had a passion for food from an early age,” said Amy. “My mum’s family lived on a smallholding in Northern Ireland and I have fond memories of visiting granny and granddad. They grew their own produce, and I’d get involved in ‘field to plate’ cooking with them.
“I remember baking in the kitchen with granny, she used to make amazing apple pies! That nostalgia and those memories of making food for the family, that whole feeling of togetherness it engenders, is very deep seated.”
Holidays in Europe helped cultivate the young Amy’s developing interest in cuisine. She said: “I have strong food memories of France and Spain and as a child enjoyed a massive pleasure from discovering new tastes there. I recall that wonderful smell of entering a French bakery, and sandwiches made with Swiss mountain honey, all these things are what ignited my passion.”
Amy’s connection with France continued as an adult when she studied French at university and spent some time living in Paris, which is where she met her husband Pierre, and Amy cites being surrounded by all the culinary delights Paris has to offer as something that helped her grow as a cook.
Pierre’s grandparents live in Burgundy where they farm Charolais beef. Amy said: “My own granny had the same breed of cows! Pierre’s grandparents have an amazing garden with peach and apricot trees, I’ve spent many happy hours in their kitchen baking fruit tarts.”
A bonding experience
For Amy, cooking and eating is more than the sum of its parts. “It’s important for me and my family that making and eating food is a communal, bonding experience, she explained. “Everyone’s involved in prepping the food, shelling the peas, chopping the cucumber for the salad, everybody has a part to play so the food is a representation of everybody’s teamwork, and that really does increase the pleasure in eating it.”
Her family make a point of enjoying the whole process of meal creation together. “Every Sunday we have a nice lazy breakfast,” Amy added. “It’s different every week, sometimes the children choose what we have. It might involve croissants, with everyone making their own version. We’ll get home-made jams out, some cheese, dry cured ham, maybe scrambled eggs. Or we might have a home-made brioche loaf with chocolate spread, or crumpets with smoked salmon, or fresh and dried fruits on a platter.”
Tap into your creativity
So, returning to our original conundrum, how do you rejuvenate your cooking mojo if it’s flagging? Amy has a few words of advice: “Think of an ingredient that is special to you for some reason and then consider ways in which you could let that ingredient sing.
“It might be an ingredient that reminds you of something or just a favourite food, take it and craft a dish around it. Then go through a mental checklist of what could accompany it. So if I’ve chosen salmon, one of my favourite things thanks to its depth of flavour and purity, I’d go through a list of vegetables that might go with it, or sauces and dressings.
“There are classic combinations such as avocado, horseradish, and lemon, so I could play around with variations on these themes by introducing something similar but different, for example pink grapefruit. Think about textures too, introduce something crunchy to offset the softness of the salmon and grapefruit, try a crisp salad or brittle crackers, you could even have a go at making your own crackers.”
Amy constantly challenges herself to be inventive and not play too safe. She said: “It’s good to be brave and try something different, and what starts out as new and strange might soon become part of your normal repertoire. There are endless possibilities with food, you’ll never run out of things to try.”
If all else fails and you find your home cuisine has got stuck in a bit of a rut, Amy suggests looking to other people for inspiration. “All it might take is to eat out somewhere exciting or even just look up some recipes from a favourite chef,” she added. “A treat at a lovely restaurant or a bit of internet research really can help you refresh your own approach.”
Keep an eye on our Facebook page for details of future White Rabbit pop-up restaurant evenings, where you can enjoy Amy’s creative cuisine.