In our second in a series of Q & A interviews with our culinary team, Food Services sat down to speak with Chef James Piggot of New College. Here’s what he had to share with us.
What is your idea of a perfect meal?
Probably a summer BBQ with my wife Judy and my daughter Charlotte. I love to BBQ in the backyard, and being with them gives me my sense of family and relaxation. I do barbeque all year round though. Some people take out the shovel to clean the driveway, I use the shovel to get to the BBQ! Still, something about summer barbeques with them is the very best meal.
What is your favourite food memory?
My best food memory has to do with my daughter, who we adopted from China. We were told to bring some child-appropriate snacks with us on the day that we picked up my daughter from her orphanage, along with the regular baby stuff. So my wife Judy and I brought along a little tub of Cheerios. At the orphanage when they placed our daughter in my wife’s arms, we offered her the little tub of Cheerios. Charlotte reached into the little container and took one Cheerio out, she took a small bit of half the Cheerio and then offered the other half to my wife. It was in that exact moment, I knew she was ours and we were hers. In that small act of kindness and sharing by my daughter I could see just how powerful food could be in our lives..
Do you have a special, secret ingredient that makes everything better?
The main thing would be salt. Most people do not season their food properly and salt is a big part of that. You do not need a lot, but you do some in order to help enhance and bring out foods natural flavours. My other secret ingredient is Old Bay Seasoning. Its an old school seasoning but it can add so much flavour and punch to things like Boston Clam Chowder or a seafood stew.
Who or what inspired your love of cooking?
There are two things that inspired me. First, I grew up on great cooking shows like The Frugal Gourmet, Yan Can Cook and Julia Childs. Those shows inspired me from an early age on just how magical kitchens and food could be. I used to watch those shows and then try to copy the dishes myself in my family’s kitchen….sometimes they worked and sometimes they didn’t. I think it was those shows that lead to my second inspiration which is my love of eating and trying new dishes. It might sound like a silly notion but in order to eat well you need to be able to cook well.
If you could have a dinner date with anyone living or dead, who would it be?
So, I have another two-part answer. First, I would love to have dinner out with my wife, just the two of us, which is very hard to do with an 8-year old! But my other answer is Philip K. Dick who is one of my favourite authors, everyone ‘knows’ him but they really don’t know him. He wrote a ton of the best science fiction ever, and so many stories that have been turned into movies like Blade Runner and Minority Report among others. I’d also have Robert A. Heinlein at the dinner party as he is another one of my favourite authors of all time. I think it would be a really interesting chance to ask them how they were able to create some of the greatest speculative fiction ever written.
If you could go to any country, live there for a few months and learn their cuisine, where would it be?
I would love to go to Japan because of their cultural aesthetic and the cuisine. I am really fascinated by the culture especially how it relates to cuisine. I would also like to experience ramen and sushi in the place that it comes from, because I am a big fan of both of those foods.
What is your idea of comfort food?
My favourite comfort food is chicken schnitzel dinner made by my wife. She makes the best schnitzel with braised red cabbage salad, rice or spätzle and peas. My wife’s family background is German, so she is a bit of a schnitzel expert. You drizzle a little bit of fresh lemon on the schnitzel and it is just my favourite meal in the whole world.
What is your favourite cooking utensil? The one you cannot live without?
Tongs, just simple, standard, stainless steel kitchen tongs. I do everything with tongs.
What are the top five things that everyone should learn how to cook?
Definitely a good pasta sauce like a bolognaise sauce. This sauce is so versatile you can also use it as a good base for a lasagna or even a chili. Next would be how to cook a good whole roasted chicken. People should always learn how to cook eggs because there are a million things you can do with them. You should be able to cook a good steak and learn that sometimes, depending on the type of meat, it is better seared in a frying pan and finished in the oven than slapped on the BBQ. Lastly, I would say learn to properly cook fish, particularly salmon, and learning how to not over cook it. Salmon is delicious when it is properly cooked; it’s just not as good when it’s overcooked, dry and flaky.
If you didn’t cook for a living, what would you do?
If I didn’t cook for a living I would be probably have been a lawyer and put my degree in philosophy to use.