Fluid London’s Alix O’ Neill recently caught up with Warner to discuss his latest project, Ration Book Britain, personal maintenance, and being (Russell) branded a culinary sex God.
FL: Tell us about Ration Book Britain
VW: It’s a one-off programme to mark the anniversary of 70 years since the introduction of rationing. I cook some of the food that people were eating and talk to the people who lived through rationing.
FL: Did you have to eat Spam?
VW: When we were filming, I was thinking ‘Oh God, the dreaded Spam’ because I used to get it at school, but actually, it was a delicacy from America so was considered a real treat. We had to do things with dried eggs, of course, and we did a kind of mock goose and an egg less sponge cake, which was really, a joyless sponge cake.
FL: What do you think you learned from the experience?
VW: What really struck me was the fact that everyone really got together, partly out of necessity, but they recognised there was a real effort to be made at home as the war was being fought on the home front. Also, compared to now, nothing was wasted. As individuals, we eat more food than we need in a day. We’ve got a world food crisis yet we throw away so much of what we buy. Back then it was really about humility in using stuff and being very careful in planning meals. There was also a great camaraderie about the war. It was very selfless time, more thoughtful.
FL: BBC bosses have dubbed you the ‘Russell Brand of the kitchen’. Is this an image you deliberately try to cultivate to exploit the link between food and sex?
VW: Oh no, not all this again! a) I didn’t invent this comparison and b) I only have one button undone on my shirt. I don’t look like him, I don’t behave like him, I’m not anything like Russell Brand.
FL: You do seem very excited in the kitchen…
VW: I don’t put it on. That’s genuinely how I am. I just really love what I do.
FL: British food is often lambasted for being flavourless and our chefs, for their lack of finesse. Do you think this is a fair assessment of British cooking?
VW: I think that’s wrong. We’ve been through stages…if you look at old coaching inn menus; our food has always been quite simple. We could cook and there are good things in this country. To say that it has always been terrible, I find that very hard to believe.
FL: How would you define modern British cooking?
VW: Right now, it’s going back to rediscovering things like chutney and string and greaseproof paper. Waitrose is now selling cuts of meat we seem to have forgotten about. Because of the current financial climate we live in, it’s much more about doing it yourself and with that comes old books and learning how to preserve things, so that’s what we’re kind of in at the moment. People are also taking more care of what they’re buying and want know where their food comes from. Farmers markets for example, are springing up everywhere.
FL: Best food market in London?
VW: My favourite one is Marylebone Farmers’ Market, just off Moxon Street.
FL: Best neighbourhood restaurant?
VW: The little Moroccan on my street where I go at least once a week. It’s on Golborne Road in Notting Hill.
FL: You’re big into Mexican food. Do you think London does it well?
VW: I think it’s starting to be done well. Unfortunately Mexican food has been maligned as being heavy and stodgy, all beans and cheese. But Mexican food is huge; there are a lot of different influences. It really is worth investigating. Ready-made fajita mix has nothing to do with Mexican cooking. Corn tortilla is what Mexican food is about. The smell of these in the morning is amazing.
FL: Best place for pub grub
VW: Full beef sandwich at the Cock and Bottle, just off Westbourne Grove. Ooh, actually, can I have two? The Anchor & Hope (The Cut, Waterloo). Not only do I love the pub, but the restaurant has to be one of my top three favourite restaurants.
FL: Favourite thing to do in London
VW: There’s so much to do in London. I love going to art exhibitions and I love pointlessly walking up and down Portobello Road. I do that at least three times a day.
FL: Best thing about living in London
VW: The variety. You can indulge in all your interests. There is always stuff to see, it’s so lively, you never truly get underneath it. There are always restaurants you can eat in and you’re always discovering new things. Huge art shows, etc, all come to London. There’s just so much to do
FL: Do you rate celebrity restaurants like The Ivy, China Tang, etc.?
VW: I don’t go to those kinds of places. It’s not that they’re bad. The point for me is to go and eat good food, not to be seen. I don’t spend much time eating in the Michelin starred places. That’s not the kind of food that interests me.
FL: Who would you most like to cook for?
VW: I’d love to talk to David Attenborough. He’s an amazing fellow. And if I just wanted to have a laugh, it would have to be Angelica Houston
FL: I like your hair. I like a good head of hair in a man. How do you keep it so voluminous?
VW: Absolutely bugger all. In fact, it’s actually beginning to leave me. I’m not a product dude – you won’t see my face on ‘Because I’m worth it.’
'Ration Book Britain' is on Yesterday on Friday 15th January at 5pm.
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