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Food therapy: Alex Aitken

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We put Jetty Restaurants’ chef patron on the couch and extracted revelations of smoked haddock ice cream, durian fruit punishment and the joy of mopping up beef dripping with sourdough during service …

alex aitken

WHICH FOODS TAKE YOU BACK TO CHILDHOOD?

I remember eating soused herring and bread by the fire with my father. The herring was landed at Dunbar in Scotland; I later went to work on the trawler that caught the fish – it was my first job.

WHAT DOES HOME TASTE LIKE?

Socialising takes place around the table at our house, so the answer is simple things such as steak and roast dinners. My son Justin runs a butchers so we’ll cook rib of beef, whole chickens and suckling pig. Our family has gained a reputation for overfeeding and our grandsons, who often stay, call dinner with us ‘the buffet’.

WHAT WAS THE LAST THING YOU ATE?

We’ve had a wonderful glut of cherry tomatoes this summer so I’ve just made a late lunch with tomatoes from the garden, fresh pasta, shallots, garlic and torn basil with a grating of Old Winchester over the top.

WHAT WOULD YOU NEVER EAT AGAIN?

Durian, the Asian fruit known for its pungent smell. My dad was in the RAF so I spent part of my childhood in Singapore. We had a young woman who did a bit of cooking and cleaning for us and one day she brought a durian as a “treat” for me. It was foul. Looking back, I’m not sure if it was a present or punishment for all the extra cleaning I caused.

WHAT’S YOUR BAD DAY COMFORT-FOOD FIX?

My wife’s sausage and mash with a good bottle of red wine. Sausages have to be cooked slowly in the pan and definitely not oven roasted. Taking the time to cook them for 20-30 minutes ensures the skins don’t burst and the fat doesn’t escape. You want a sausage which is going to ooze when you bite into it and leave fat dribbling down your chin.

WHAT’S IN YOUR FRIDGE?

Lots of cheese. It’s a quick fix with some good bread and a glass of wine when I get home late from the restaurant. There’s usually some fresh pasta, charcuterie and steak in there too, along with new cuts of meat I’d like to develop into a dish – I do a lot of menu development at home.

WHAT DO YOU EAT WHEN NO ONE IS LOOKING?

I’m never embarrassed by what I eat. One of my favourite things to snack on during service is a slice of sourdough dragged through beef dripping, topped with piped mashed potato and a sprinkle of black pepper.

WHICH RESTAURANT MAKES YOU HAPPY?

My Jetty Restaurants, either here in Mudeford (in the grounds of Harbour Hotel) or the one in Southampton. Other than that, I remember a little hut in Gambia with a sign saying ‘beer and barbecue’. When we ordered, they brought us the beer and, after a few failed attempts, launched a boat to catch our fish. They wrapped it in banana leaves and cooked it in the embers of a fire – it was delicious and such an experience.

IS THERE A DISH YOU’D RATHER FORGET?

When Heston was doing the experimental thing, I made smoked haddock ice cream with leftover poaching milk. It was disgusting, though I did tease my sommelier at the time with the task of matching wine to it. I had to ‘fess up that I wasn’t being serious after about 15 minutes of his polite suggestions.

www.harbourhotels.co.uk

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