We first came across Jenny when she was researching her latest book, the brilliant The Missing Ingredient.
Written through a series of encounters with ingredients, producers, cooks, shopkeepers and chefs, exploring everything from the brief period in which sugar caramelises, or the days required in the crucial process of fermentation, to the months of slow ripening and close attention that make a great cheddar, or the years needed for certain wines to reach their peak, Jenny shows how, time and again, time itself is the invisible ingredient.
From the patience and dedication of many food producers in fields and storehouses around the world to the rapid reactions required of any home cook at the hob, her book allows us to better understand our culinary lives.
Here, we talk about how sea salt comes into all of this, and what sets a brilliant plate of food apart from a good one.
WHAT DID YOU HAVE FOR BREAKFAST THIS MORNING?
A poached egg with a slice of toasted sourdough
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST JOB?
I was a bookseller for Hatchards. Working in the book trade was very useful experience for becoming a writer.
WHAT DO YOU EAT WHEN YOU GET HOME AFTER A LONG DAY AT WORK?
I am lucky enough to work from home, so food is always to hand.
When I’m cooking supper, I enjoy drinking a glass of chilled fino sherry and nibbling on roasted almonds or a little piece of very good cheese, like Colston Bassett Stilton or Montgomery’s Cheddar.
WHAT DOES HALEN MON GO BEST WITH?
I love the flavour of salt, so I am tempted to say ‘everything’. I do think it is particularly good on grilled meat, because of its texture.
HOW WOULD YOU SUM UP YOUR FOOD PHILOSOPHY IN ONE SENTENCE?
Food is fascinating
TELL US ABOUT ‘THE MISSING INGREDIENT’– WHAT GAVE YOU THE IDEA FOR THE BOOK?
The starting point for ‘The Missing Ingredient’ was the epiphany that time is an ingredient, a universal, invisible ingredient in the food we grow, make and cook. Having had that initial idea, I spent a lot of time thinking about how to structure and write a book on such a huge and complex subject. The book is divided into sections of time, from Seconds to Years. Within these sections, I wrote 70 separate essays on different aspects of time and food. One important strand in this book is preservation – the fight against the deteriorating effects of time on ingredients – which is what led me to write about salt, a vital preservative, and Halen Mon.
WHAT WAS THE MOST SURPRISING THING YOU FOUND WHILST RESEARCHING IT?
I was staggered by the speed eating records. Seventy hot dogs eaten in 10 minutes – extraordinary!
WHAT’S THE BEST SMELL IN THE WORLD?
For me, one of the most enticing is that of a ripe Alphonso mango. Just thinking of it, makes my mouth water.
WHAT MAKES THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A GOOD PLATE OF FOOD AND AN AMAZING ONE?
Using good ingredients is an important starting point, but I think it is the care with which a dish is cooked. One feels the love and attention that goes into it.