The Courtyard Dairy interviews food writer: Jenny Linford

An interview with Jenny Linford; food and cookery book writer – including author of the fabulous Great British Cheese Book.  Find out what got Jenny into food, her secret foodie ‘gems’ and what she thinks about the British food scene.

Brief synopsis of your career?Jennylinfordfoodwriter

I first began writing about food in the late 1980s. My first book was Food Lovers’ London – a guide to the cosmopolitan joys of London’s food scene, especially its food shops, focussed on London’s different communities, which is still in print – currently in its 7th edition! I had the idea for Food Lovers London because (in those pre-Internet days) I spent a lot of time nostalgically trying to find ingredients with which to cook dishes from countries I’d lived in as a child, notably Singapore and Italy.

Since then I’ve had several books published, including Great British Cheeses (loved researching that). The Creamery Kitchen (a dairy-themed cookbook) and, most recently, The Tomato Basket. I also do a lot of journalism – have written for magazines and papers including recently The Financial Times, The Simple Things and The National Trust magazine.

In 1994 I founded Gastro-Soho Tours, offering London’s first guided food shop tours, in order to show people the wonderful variety of food shopping on offer in London.

What made you get into doing what you do?

My childhood in Singapore and Italy – both places where a love of food is very much part of the culture – gave me an interest in food. I also always loved reading and writing. I did a degree in English and Politics at York University and graduated without any idea of what I wanted to do for a job! While working as a bookseller, managing a branch of Hatchards, I began writing freelance and an article I wrote about social attitudes in cookbooks came to the attention of The Guardian’s food editor, the late, great Christopher Driver, who contacted me and commissioned an article. As I loved food and writing, that gave me the idea of becoming a food writer.  When Food Lovers’ London was commissioned by Macmillan, I left bookselling to do a short journalism course and become a food writer.

Describe a typical working day.

The best thing about my job is that there really isn’t any such thing as a typical day! I spend a lot of time working at home in front of my computer, researching, writing and doing telephone interviews. When I’m writing a cookbook, I do a lot of food shopping for ingredients and spend hours in the kitchen recipe-testing. More sociably, because I lead food shop tours, I spend a lot of time walking round food shops with groups of people. When I update Food Lovers’ London, I go all over London visiting all the new shops to see whether I want to include them or not – so do a LOT of walking then!

What’s the best part of your job?  And do you have a favourite memory from work?

I love learning about food, so my favourite part of my job is visiting food producers and food shop owners, talking to them, getting their stories, researching what they do. I have several great food memories – one of my favourites was visiting Duckett’s Caerphilly with my family, watching Chris Duckett (a lovely, gentle man) and Jemima Cordle making cheese and getting to pack curds into moulds. Jemima kindly sent my son Ben his own-made Caerphilly cheese a few weeks later – he was thrilled!

When you are at home what is your staple dish for the family?

No one staple dish – a family favourite though is Beef Rendang, an Indonesian recipe where the beef is gently cooked in coconut milk flavoured with lemon grass, galangal and a few spices.

What is your favourite place to go eat (if you’re not eating at yours!)?

A restaurant I really like eating in is A. Wong near Victoria, where the owner and chef Andrew Wong offers creative, elegantly presented Chinese food which packs real flavour.

Do you have any other hidden foodie gems you think are worth people knowing about – shops, producers or otherwise?

I love The Roti King, hidden away in a basement near Euston Station, which makes fresh, tasty roti canai – a light, layered Malay flatbread, eaten with a curry dipping sauce. Great value, down-to-earth dining. Brockley Food Market is a food market I’m very fond of – great line-up of food producers and really nice community atmosphere.

Do you have a favourite cheese at the moment?   If so, why is it your favourite?

Cheese is my favourite food, so that’s a tough question. I’m very fond of goat’s cheeses – love St Tola and Perroche. My current favourite, though, is Capra Nouveau, made by Brock Hall Farm Dairy. It’s a washed rind cheese – and the richness of that style, combined with the voluptuous, smooth supple texture and the intriguing, nutty flavour of the goat’s milk with spruce notes at the finish, makes it very seductive

If you had to choose a drink to go with cheese what would it be? and why?

It would depend on the cheese! I often enjoy cider or beer with cheese, as well as white and red wine.

Where do you look for inspiration in cooking / food?

Great food writers, like Jane Grigson, Claudia Roden or Harold McGee, are a source of inspiration, as is my collection of wonderful cookbooks. Travelling, of course, is a great way to be inspired. I love visiting food markets. Food is so evocative of place; am always amazed at how the taste of a specific food can bring memories flooding back.

What couldn’t you live without? (ingredient or equipment!)

My Le Creuset casserole dishes – have a fondness for slow-cooked dishes like curries and casseroles.

What is your plans for the future?

To keep writing and to keep eating good food! I’m working on a new cookbook at the moment, but not yet allowed to say what it will be about!

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