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Tales From My Kitchen Table

Claire Ratinon

Gardener and grower Claire Ratinon on the flavours and dishes that make up her earliest and most significant food memories. Food is Claire’s love language; for her, preparing food, slowly and gently, is a way of nourishing, taking care and expressing how we feel about the people we love. 

Tell us about your favourite food memory from your childhood...

I have so many good food memories from childhood but the one that is embedded in my heart is from a time in Mauritius, standing in the warm sun, watching my grandfather in a field near his home as he used a billhook to cut down a stem of sugar cane then stripping it so that my cousins and I could chew the pieces until they released their sugary sweet juice.

 

What would your advice be to someone who is new to cooking and is looking to put more love into the ritual of preparing food at home?

Slow down. If you have the option to, slow down. Speed appears to be the organising principle of so many recipes and approaches to cooking, so I think slowing down is the best way to bring a gentle joy to the process, to truly appreciate the ingredients and to really gain an understanding of how a dish comes together. 

 

Tell us about one of your cooking rituals at home... 

I’ve found that one of the ways that I can manage my anxiety is to carve out a solid few hours to cook or bake something that requires my whole attention, preferably with multiple steps and periods of pause throughout the process. Following an overly involved and drawn out recipe - such as cardamom buns or chocolate babka - is something I find deeply soothing.

 

What’s your favourite thing about having friends and family round for dinner?

Feeding people is my love language. I suppose that’s why I love growing food, as it’s an entirely natural extension of the way I convey love. I have felt the most nourished and cared for when my belly is full of food cooked by someone who cares for me - my partner or my parents most often - so offering that particular expression of love to whoever is at my table brings me immense joy. 

 

Tell us about one of the most memorable meals someone important in your life has cooked for you...

Throughout the writing of my book, Unearthed, I did a terrible job of taking care of myself. There was so much work to do and it was such an enormous and emotional undertaking that I struggled to even take breaks. But my partner, Sam, made sure that at the end of each day, there was something delicious on the kitchen table for us to eat together. The generous dinners that he cooked for me got me through the entire writing process.

“Speed appears to be the organising principle of so many recipes and approaches to cooking, so I think slowing down is the best way to bring a gentle joy to the process”.

QUICK FIRE 

Taste that most makes you think of home: Thyme

Favourite song to cook to: Currently, anything by Koffee

Some advice for beginner foragers: Never take more than you need and make sure you know what you’re picking! 

You have friends coming round for an impromptu dinner, what do you cook?  Pizza - cooked in a frying pan and finished under the grill…! Don’t tell my family who live in Milan!

Your most proud career moment to date: When my book, Unearthed, was published at the beginning of June.

Best place for a cosy dinner in your local area: I’m currently obsessed with Farmyard in St Leonard’s

Favourite summer lunch: Fresh bread with a brush of garlic and a drizzle of olive oil with homegrown tomatoes and basil, finished with a pinch of smoked salt.

The ingredient you’re most looking forward to incorporating into your dishes this season: I think, after two seasons of waiting, my raspberry canes are finally going to yield so I’m really excited to bake something celebratory with my first harvest.

@claireratinon

Claire's book Unearthed, on race and roots, and how the soil taught me I belong, is out now.