Between making awesome tunes and flying all over the world, John B also spends time making delicious meals and letting us all have a look at them on Cooking With John B, his tumblr account devoted to food.
John B took some time to answer a few of my questions about food and cooking, and even share a few hints about his Mum's potato soup.
Photo credit john-b.com
SO: Your food looks delicious! How long have you been cooking?
JB: I started really getting into it a few years ago - when I broke up with my last girlfriend. She was really into too healthy stuff and I just kinda let her take over when we lived together, roasted vegetables with a bit of paprika on them, and over the top simple salads just wasn't cutting it! Plus - I now find cooking dinner for ladyfriends is such a good date activity. It’s much more fun than going out for dinner, cheaper too, and you get to demonstrate positive qualities.
SO: Got any favorite dishes you've been making lately? Anything you've perfected?
JB: I think I've really started to nail soups. My mum makes an awesome leek and potato soup which I did a couple of times last week, it’s pretty simple to do, but really healthy and super yummy. Just sweat off a couple of leeks, an onion, carrot, seasoned etc for 15 mins-ish - then chuck in diced potatoes and some vegetable stock and simmer for a while. Then whizz it up with a hand blender and serve with cream and bacon on top. Love it. I'm getting pretty good at duck now too - pan frying it skin down to get the skin all crispy, then just brown off the rest and whack it in the oven for around 10 minutes - slice it nicely afterwards and do with a plum sauce and mash or whatever.
SO: Any particular favorite ingredients or techniques you've been using?
JB: I did a couple of slow-cooking casserole kind of dishes over the winter, Lancashire hotpots and lamb stew stuff. I bought a really nice casserole dish and lots of herbs - just following pretty standard recipes and cooking it low and slow until the lamb is super tender. It’s pretty heavy though, so I try to cook healthier, lighter stuff as well whenever possible.
There's a Gordon Ramsay recipe I always seem to go back to recently - think its on my site - the spicy chilli beef with mini gem lettuce and a nice sauce made with chilli, toasted sesame oil, fish sauce - good to share too.
A version of the Gordon Ramsey recipe mentioned above - using mushroom instead of beef. Photo credit cookingwithjohnb.tumblr.com
SO: I know you're a wine drinker - do you have any bottles you can recommend?
I'm a white burgundy man, currently really into Macon Villages, pretty cheap but just really nice. A good Chablis or Sancerre can't go wrong either. I had an amazing Pinot Gris from Alasace lately too - £11 a glass at the hinds head in bray though so can't drink too much or ill go broke!
SO: You're on the road all the time, do you have any favorite food destinations from your travels?
Whenever I'm in Miami there's a few places I always love to go - mainly light, sushi. Sushi Rock on Collins is always a favourite - but Doraku on Lincoln Rd is now my number 1 sushi in the whole world place. Followed by Sushi Samba in Vegas, I had a sushi with tuna, fois gras, caviar and gold leaf last time - amazing. Whenever I'm in Russia I love to get Blinis Ikroi - just the little blinis with the red salmon caviar - its much cheaper there than anywhere else and definitely a treat I reward myself with for flying on domestic Russian airlines.
SO: It's a particular interest of mine, but do you have any interest in nose to tail eating?
Errrrrr. Not entirely sure but I think I can grasp the idea. Not sure I'm fully into that but I’m all for trying new things. There are certain parts of an animal I don't think I'd like to eat, eyes, brain, and trotters etc. Even though apparently they're quite yummy. I do however like the idea of not wasting anything - that roe one you did looks interesting. I always thought you were supposed to throw that stuff away but I'll give it a go next time I do my seductive scallops.
SO: You should! Scallop roe is delicious. If the world were ending is there anything in particular planned for your last meal?
My Mum’s homemade lasagna would probably be up there - plus presumably I'd be eating it with my family which you'd want to be doing if you were about to melt into a fireball.
SO: Thanks again for doing this!
No problemo Sir!
And there you have it! Lancashire hotpot, Mum's lasagna and white burgundy.
Just because it's one of my favorites, here's a link to Robot Lover from John B's latest album Light Speed.
Another great big thanks to John B, and keep checking back here for a version of Mrs B's potato soup coming soon.
A good friend recommended a hotel for us to stay while we were in London, and while St John Hotel is fantastic it is not inexpensive. When we arrived we went to the first hotel, dropped our bags and went for a walk, and not 100 feet from our doors we stumbled onto St John. My friends know me very well.
Needless to say, we stepped inside for a glass or two and some oysters. The appearance of the restaurant is striking. White walls, high ceilings, plain and sturdy furniture, chalk board covered in menu items. If I'm being honest, it was intimidating and exciting to just stumble, unprepared, into a restaurant that's been on my mind for years.
When our much anticipated first morsels of food arrived I picked up my oyster and tried to slip it gently into my mouth but to my surprise it did not slip, the abductor muscle had not been cut. A few pokes with a fork and it was released, but it was a jarring first bite. Whether it was a mistake from the kitchen, or an aesthetic decision to not interfere with the food I can't say. I can say it was embarrassing, sitting at the bar at a Michelin Star restaurant unable to out smart my mollusc. It took a minute or two and another glass of wine to compose myself, but I did.
Roast grouse (my first), lamb shank, eccles cake and cheese, lemon sorbet and vodka - the rest of the meal went smoothly, and was delicious. The grouse was challenging, rare and meaty. The area of the bird where it had been shot was a bit bitter from the pool of blood, but my dining partner (an experienced grouse eater from Wisconsin) ensured me that this was part of the grouse experience. This will not be my last time eating grouse.
Anyone who has the chance, please go eat at St John. The aesthetic experience, the service and the food are all worth the trip. I plan on going again, hopefully soon.
The hotel itself is a lovely place to walk into on a rainy afternoon. The lobby is small, mostly a receptionist's desk, entry to the restaurant, elevator and stairs. The receptionists were all friendly and polite. Upon arrival we were told that we had been upgraded from a post-supper room to a room. The difference as far as I can tell is that the bathtub isn't in the bedroom, which is a quirky aesthetic choice I was looking forward to (not that the upgrade wasn't a wonderful surprise). The room is sparse, with a bed, table and a few stools. It's very white and bright with bright green floors.
Photo courtesy of www.stjohnhotellondon.com
Once we were settled I investigated the minibar. It was without a doubt the most amazing minibar I have ever come across. Far beyond the expected Coke and peanuts, there was a wide array of digestifs (Fernet Branca and Poire William being my two favorites) as well as what looked like some very good scotches and half bottles of both vodka and gin. There was also Champagne, cider from Normandy and Italian beer. The half bottles of gin and vodka were the most thoughtful addition. Honestly, who finds one evening cocktail satisfying? Especially when traveling.
An early morning shot of the minibar.
After dinner at the hotel restaurant we took a stroll around Leicester square and headed to bed for the night. A few hours later I was feeling a twinge of hunger, so after taking a look at the room service menu anchovy toast was on its way.
Simplicity is the essence of what St John is about. There are no decorations on the wall and there are no garnishes on the plates; simple, clean, minimal. There were a few experiences where this simplicity was almost aggressive. The feeling was of butting up against a wall, the wall being a firm aesthetic choice. The anchovy toast is a good example.
Full disclosure, there is one slice missing. The smell was hard to resist.
A large piece of toast, what I'm assuming was one slice from the full length of a sandwich loaf, toasted on a grill with some sort of fat and spread with what the staff calls 'gunge'.
It's brown. Gunge on toasted bread. There's nowhere to hide any sort of flaw - this dish must deliver on every level. And, happily, it does. The texture of the toast is given something extra from the fried texture it gets on the griddle, and the gunge itself tastes of more than anchovy (garlic for sure, maybe another spice or two) and has an appealing emulsified consistency.
Salty, savory and crisp. This anchovy toast is exactly what I wanted at 2:30 in the morning. The room, minibar and room service were all truly memorable and lovely experience.s Everyone who can make the trip please go spend a night or two at this unique, aesthetically thrilling boutique hotel.
A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to spend a few days in London, and a couple of those nights were spent at St John Hotel and St John Restaurant.
I'm a fan, I'll admit it. My copies of both the first and second cookbooks are worn and covered in food. But up until this point I'd spent no time with the actual food or restaurant. I was a fan in concept, but I had no experience with how that concept was executed.
The next few posts will be about my time at St John. The things that exceeded my expectations, as well as an instance or two where I was surprised or disappointed.
I'm looking forward to getting to relive my pilgrimage to St John, and maybe trying to recreate a favorite dish or two while I reminisce.
A peak at what the cooks are reading at the St John Hotel kitchen.
Thanks to an old friend from graduate school I recently had the privilege of teaching a nose to tail eating class at Newbury College. The students were all seniors, excellent cooks and enthusiastic about food.
We cooked a lot of food - grilled pig tails, chili beef heart, snapper collars, sweetbreads, marrow bones and as a special treat Jamie Bissonette left us a pig head from his butchering demo. It was an awesome day and I really hope they invite me back next year.
Here are a few pictures from that class - and if any of those students read this and want to cook some more offal sometime soon, definitely drop me a line!