If you’ve ever wondered what dish Stanley Tucci would describe as the best meal he’s ever eaten, then the much-loved Desert Island Dishes™ is definitely worth a listen. Margie Nomura hosts the hit weekly podcast which welcomes high profile guests to present their seven seminal dishes and recount the experiences that have shaped who they are today. We sat down with the chef, food writer and creator, to discover the inspiration behind her work…
Tell us a bit about how the Desert Island Dishes podcast started
It's a game I've always played with my family growing up. We were the kind of family who would be sat round the table having lunch and talking about what we were going to have for supper! So food has always been a big part of my life alongside the constant question: what would your last meal on earth be? !
I had been working as a private chef for many years and feel like I was one of the first amongst my friends to really get into podcasts. I loved the idea of doing one of my own but had no idea what it would be and then it came to me all at once. It was a real lightbulb moment! I was driving in the car and pulled over into a layby. I immediately checked to see if anyone was doing anything similar and if the name was free. They weren’t and it was! So I immediately trademarked the name and I think I'd recorded my first episode two weeks later.
Where did your passion for food originate?
I’ve always loved food and started helping my mother in the kitchen when I was quite small. The kitchen has always been the heart of the home and there were a lot of us, so it seemed like there was always something that needed doing, whether that was peeling carrots, emptying the dishwasher or laying the table. Cooking seemed like magic to me; I remember so specifically the feeling of making a cake and just being in awe of the notion that you can take a handful of seemingly unrelated ingredients, mix them together and suddenly you’ve made a cake. It was magic to me. I only ever thought of cooking as a hobby until I was studying for a masters in Law after university and I realised I really didn’t want to be a lawyer. The idea of turning your passion into your career was a scary prospect, but I decided to try. I went and studied at Ballymaloe in Ireland before coming back and getting experience cooking in various restaurants in London, including Clarke’s, before setting up on my own.
You spend a lot of time in your kitchen, what are your top 5 must-haves when cooking?
The kitchen kit I use the most often is definitely my microplane grater, a heavy bottomed cast iron pan, sharp knives, a small blender and some great wooden chopping boards, which can double up as serving dishes.
Obviously, your coronation chicken recipe is mouth wateringly delicious, and you make it simple to follow, but what are your other top dishes for entertaining for family and friends?
The key is to keep it simple and make things that you can prepare ahead. I want to be enjoying spending time with my family and friends and not feeling like I’m at work stuck in the kitchen. Make a pudding the day before so you can completely cross it off your list. I love lemon possets or a chocolate mousse or tiramisu. Or something like frozen berries with hot white chocolate sauce – this is minimal effort with maximum impact and that’s exactly what I’m after! Then go for something like a slow roasted shoulder of lamb that you can just bung in the oven and forget about. Serve with bowls of salads and have everyone help themselves at the table. That’s my favourite kind of food.
They say you eat with your eyes and your food always looks so beautifully presented; any tips for styling when entertaining friends?
Presentation is everything. My mum taught me that and it’s stayed with me. You don’t have to make everything from scratch by any means; for instance, buy store bought hummus but decant it into a bowl, add a drizzle of olive oil, a sprinkle of paprika and a few pea shoots and see how gorgeous it can look. You’ve taken something relatively ordinary and elevated it; I love that! Working in restaurants, everything had a garnish but it always had to make sense. I think a bit of greenery does wonders, so for a lamb stew on the middle of the table that can look a little dull, sprinkle over some chopped parsley, a little crumbled feta and some pomegranate seeds and suddenly it’s a feast for the eyes. Cooking for friends shouldn’t be stressful, keep it really simple. Dress the table with your favourite table cloth, give everyone a napkin and pop some flowers on the top – it’s these little things that can have a really big impact on someone’s experience. They won’t remember what they ate, they’ll remember how they felt.
Now, in true Desert Island Dishes style, it’s time for a quick-fire round…
What one ingredient is always in your fridge?
Mayonnaise. Probably not the most sophisticated answer but I have always loved mayonnaise and it’s a love that has never waned. I have a huge mayo collection.
Five foods you would take to a desert island?
A good quality olive oil, a huge amount of garlic, mayonnaise, lemons and tahini. I would say Maldon sea salt but I think I might have some time on my hands on the island so I’m hoping I might be able to make my own!
What’s your favourite indulgent food?
Pasta is my comfort food. In a world of no consequences I would eat pasta for breakfast, lunch and supper.
What one ingredient makes everything better?
Butter. Butter makes everything better.
What music do you like to cook to?
I love listening to podcasts when I’m cooking on my own. I’ve got two small daughters and we love a kitchen disco; you can’t beat a bit of Aretha Franklin and Natalie Cole.