New Column for Wild River Review’s Wild Table/The Five Questions
August 18, 2010
Chef Jon Ashton @chefjonashton (Twitter)
A few weeks ago I interviewed Andrew Zimmern for the Wild River Review’s Wild Table column. We had such a nice chat, albeit short. He was on an air break while taping a show and didn’t have much time for me to try to become his best friend in ten minutes. But I learned very quickly that developing a concept of “The Five Questions” could be something that interested people, not just culinarians, but the common man, woman or child. To dig a bit deeper is a gift. To find out what is not asked or told in your “usual” interview. I like to get the hidden stories, certainly not the popular culture stuff, written by faceless writers answered by others under the name of the luminary.
This concept has snowballed into a full fledged column within a column- and from there? Who knows. I will tell you that the response has been overwhelming and not in a bad way. In the past few days, I’ve secured interviews from several more chefs, cocktail luminaries and CEOs. How is this possible? I’m here somewhere in New Jersey, developing my craft, living my passion and then encouraging others to use Social Media to define themselves and their dreams. Through the use of social media, I’ve created my own brand. It is surprising and humorous (to me at least) from my humble perspective that people who don’t even know about my writing would be interested in baring their culinary/personal secrets to my readers.
Maybe it is the smile that I portray as part of my persona? I know this shines through, but not everyone in life gets this chance- perhaps this is the time to share my passion for good story-telling to quote Joy E. Stocke who is my editor, friend and mentor at the Wild River Review.
The other day, Chef Jon Ashton started following me on Twitter. I’d first heard of him after seeing him with Giada De Laurentis several years ago. He has an infectious smile, a lovely Liverpudlian accent (his patient, quiet voice reminded me of the Beatles music) Jon has the determination to follow his dreams through living his passion. What is his passion? I’ll let the questions and his answers speak clearly of this energy for humanity.
I replied back to Chef Jon that I’d like to interview him for Wild Table and I mentioned to him that Andrew Zimmern was my first person in this (hopefully) long series of interviews. We hit it off immediately, Facebook followed, then my request to have Jon answer the Five Questions. Each of the five questions that I ask are designed specifically for each person. I do the journalistic research, find out what I need to know from web-pages and the media and off I go- trying to discover that hidden persona. The person behind the public face. This is not always easy. When interacting with high profile individuals, one often has to go through PR agencies.
Chef Jon answers his own phone. He speaks with a smile and it shines through every word he speaks. Please let me explain. Not that PR agencies are bad, far from, they are the gate-keepers. It is nice to know that the person on the other end of the phone is real. (please forgive this sentence to all the wonderful PR agencies I work with!)
Jon and his ‘RECIPES FOR LIFE‘ make cooking synonymous with living life well. (from his website)
Without further delay, may I present the Five Questions.
Chef Jon: I see you use Twitter. You have an amazing self-made brand, and Twitter is the great playing field leveler. Chef Jon was heading for work in Australia when we spoke with a stop off in California. We spoke about food and life. It’s very obvious to me that he speaks with a huge smile… you can feel it over the telephone. Such enthusiasm burned a hole right through my iPhone. It put a huge smile on my face in return! Chef Jon spoke to me like a friend, not like another interviewer.
1. You started following me on Twitter. Why? How did you find me in the world of millions of food writers?
” I was at the airport. I travel a lot and it seems as if I spend much time going from here to there and back again. Sometimes I scan through Twitter to just look at the pictures of people and try to learn about their stories, I came across your photo and said, this chap looks interesting and I decided to follow you.”
2. You were born and raised in Liverpool. Your grandmother’s warm, cottage kitchen features immediately into your life. Who taught you to cook? Was it your mother or father? Was it your grandmother?
“My grandmum was a huge culinary influence. I have a brother who fancied himself as Kato in the Pink Panther movies. He would hide behind doors, behind furniture and suddenly launch himself at me… attacking me at every opportunity! It was all in good fun, but he did this all the time! My grandmum saw this aggressive activity and thought that I should take that energy that was used fighting with my brother and put it into something more useful, like cooking, helping in the kitchen. Grannie Ashton looked after the kids andshe did a great job of it. One day in particular, my brother was hiding somewhere, popped up and was beating the living piss out of me. Granny came in and grabbed me by the ear (that got my attention immediately) and dragged me into the kitchen. I’d never really spent much time in the kitchen before. Certainly the kitchen was a place where I got the most attention from my grandmum. She showed me how to make Yeast Bread and my culinary journey started. I still make that recipe today- teaching it kids how to cook. It’s so easy, anyone can do it. I was bullied by many of my peers for wanting to take home economics classes- but my future passion was in my hands. I wanted to be a cook and share my passion for living with the world!”
3. Do you have a favorite food that you still prepare today that touches an emotional note (like bringing a tear to your eye) inside you whenever you prepare it? Who gave you the recipe?
“I love the yeast bread that Grannie Ashton taught me to make. She instilled an emotional key inside me with this simple recipe. I share this often and yes, it does bring a tear to my eye. Also, a place that has an emotional location in my culinary upbringing is Chan’s Chip Shop in Liverpool. It was not easy growing up in Liverpool. I was bullied and that has its own life-long effects. Chan’s shop was my place of solace. They were a beacon of light in my otherwise (at the time) bleak existence. Not that there was no love in my heart, just it was tough growing up. Chan’s is still in business today and although they still use the same delicious recipe, they don’t wrap their fish and chips in newspaper- too bad!”
4. From your website, you really portray “speaking with a smile” it’s infectious. What do you attribute your success? Your upbringing? Your passion and smile?
“I attribute my success to emotional success which is very hard to do, but I am able to do it. I teach people and try to influence kids to let your dreams become a reality. Food is fantastic in this regard. It involves respect for humans. Like wrapping fish and chips in newspaper, it connects us to the past, to our memories of food, family and friends. This feeling for making my dreams into reality started at an early age. I always had a passion for food. Not everyone shares in this passion but those who do can identify with me. If you have a passion for food, every day is a discovery. Food and life go hand in hand. From the day you are born to the day you die, food is part of your experience, food influences you from your head to your stomach.”
“I came to the USA with only two thousand dollars in my pocket. Not a whole lot of money these days or any day. I parlayed my passion for people with my passion for cooking. Who could resist my smile?”
5. Which of the “mother” sauces is your favorite?
“Interesting question.. no one has ever asked me that one before. According to the books and teachings of Auguste Escoffier, the mother sauces are the culinary basis for all further sauces. My favorite “mother” sauce of the five mother sauces, is the Sauce Espagnole. It is the culinary basis for so many other sauces, hence the name mother. In many ways preparing foods with the classical French influences reminds me of my own culinary experiences. It all started with me grandmum.”
We chatted for a bit longer about food, love, life and teaching. I did ask Chef Jon as an aside, if he enjoys bacon. Of course he does and he said it must be cooked low and slow in a cast iron pan. We share that love of food and the methods of cooking that go back to the very beginning of the craft.
Chef Jon brims with enthusiasm. I can feel his joy for humanity clearly and now know the secret to his success. In his words: “Food is fantastic, it involves respect for humans.”
Thank you Chef Jon for your enlightenment. Cheers to you, mate, let’s enjoy a pint of bitter next time you are in NYC.
Here is Chef Jon’s favorite Chip Shop in Liverpool, back in Great Britan.
http://www.yell.com/b/Chan’s+Fish+and+Chip+Shop-Fish+and+Chips-Liverpool-L140JF-5640607/index.html. We talked about food memories and this one played a huge role in his culinary upbringing. It’s my honor to you, Jon to be able to mention Chan’s Chip Shop, Fish & Chips in Liverpool- in your interview.
Mary Luz Mejia @MaryLuzonfood (Twitter)
Mary Luz Mejia is a self professed (her words) cookbook nerd who was born in Colombia and raised by her parents in Toronto, Canada. I had a chance to learn some things from her yesterday that fit clearly into the Wild River Review’s philosophy of the Five Questions.
Mary Luz is an authority on Mezcal and Latin American foods, so it came as no surprise to her today that the New York Times would do an article on Mezcal in the Wednesday Food Section. We spoke for a time yesterday about food, memories of her childhood in Canada and being in love with food as a metaphor to living well. You can sense Mary Luz’s energetic smile on the phone. Clearly, Mary Luz is excited to talk about food and her memories of food while growing up. She has been called “”one of Toronto’s most dedicated and passionate food journalists” by Saveur Magazine’s James Oseland. Her passion for the joy of life and how food influences every portion of her life must be shared. Mary Luzwrites with a smile. I can sense it. Her earliest memories surround foods of Medellín, Colombia, the place of her birth. I first met Mary Luz through following her on Twitter. Thank you Mary Luz for helping me find my passion for food and good story-telling.
1. When did you have your first run-in with Saucission? Not Salami from the supermarket, but the real thing that speaks clearly of its Terroir. Real cured sausages. How old were you?
“I was a little kid, perhaps five or six-maybe seven years old. It was the sausage of my homeland, Colombia that my father made for me. Colombian chorizo are different fromItalian cured sausages because of the use of cumin. (cumino in Spanish) My mom and dad used to try to coax the flavors of Colombia into our home in Toronto. We had a tiny apartment and a smaller kitchen. My dad ground his own meats for this sausage and added the seasonings of our homeland to the mix. We washed the casings in water and filled the sausages by hand. I still have my father’s sausage grinder- and now that he is gone, it is a memory that brings me back to those days immediately whenever my husband makes sausages using my father’s grinder. As a child, we didn’t have the room in our tiny kitchen to make huge batches of this Colombian Chorizo, but we tried to make use of every little bit of space. My father hung the chorizo on jury rigged broom handles to cure. This created in our tiny kitchen a veritable forest of sausages. A mythical wonderland of fat, little chorizo, curing, waiting to be fried up in oil and served with scrambled eggs or however my father wanted to serve them. It was truly a wow moment, one that I will never forget. My father loved to make them. Bandeja Paisa was one of his favorite dishes to prepare. It is not health food in any way. White rice, beefsteak, fried eggs, beans, chorizo, fried plantains, and avocado- a veritable heart attack on a plate!”
2. Who taught you how to cook? Was it your mother? Father? Grandmother? Do you have a favored recipe that was passed down through your family? Are there any foods that bring a tear to your eye? In other words when you cook a specific food, does it remind you of someone who is gone? What is that dish?
“Father did most of the cooking, he had injured his back and was home a lot. He did most of the cooking at home. At the age of about seven I received a copy of the Betty Crocker Boy’s and Girl’s Cookbook from the library. It opened my young eyes and I started baking. The first things that I made were cookies- peanut butter, chocolate chip, etc. I graduated to French Toast and scrambled eggs. It gave me a great sense of accomplishment to be able to help out at home by cooking for my family. Over the years my passion for cooking developed and I went to Madrid, Spain to become a Spanish Foreign exchange student. I literally begged my mom to send me there. Spain is a magical place with a rich culinary history. Plus, speaking the language like a native didn’t hurt! I lived with a well-to-do family in Madrid. They encouraged me to eat and helped me develop my culinary prowess that follows me to this day. My favorite recipes are those of my father. He loved Chicken with Mustard and also Colombian Blood Sausages. He was an old-school Latin American man. I inherited his favorite meat grinder when he died. Here in Toronto we have an artisan maker of Slovenian Smoked Sausage. They are named Richard and Son’s. They make beautiful sausages that remind me of growing up and my memories of food as a child. One of my favorite foods is something from Latin America that is directly influenced by the foods of Europe. This dish reminds me of my grandmom. It is Schnitzel. In Latin America we eat Carne Milanesa. Every time I eat this dish I think of her. From the very way the dish is prepared, either with chicken or veal… or even with steak, the results are always delicious. Egg wash, breading, fried in butter with a wedge of lemon, this is a dish that does it all. We celebrate life with food and mourn death with food. It’s a universal glue that binds us together.
3. Are there any foods that you have yet to try that intrigue you? I know you adore the foods of Latin America.
There is so much to learn about Latin American food. The flavors of Africa, in Brazil, Arabic foods, Spain, Portugal, France, there are so many things I have yet to taste, to recreate in my own kitchen. I’m especially influenced by the book Seven Fires by Francis Malmann. It’s a favorite cookbook of mine. This book examines the cuisine of Argentina. Of grilling meat over open flames using Terracotta wood burning ovens. The flavor of the clay interspersed with the embers of the coals creates a very specific cooking medium. Cooking this way brings deeper flavors into focus. It is a way of cooking that is so rustic. I am forever amazed at all these flavors, many not yet discovered. Another Mole anotherTostada and another sausage not yet tasted. This is what drives me. I am fascinated by the dish called Moqueca from Bahia in Brazil. *please click for a musical interlude* This is an Afro-Brazilian Fish Stew made with coconut milk. Beautiful tomatoes and onions. Pristine fish. Coupled with savory African flavors. Foods that are as simple and humble can be as good if not better than the fanciest of meals.”
4. Do you have a favorite Tequila and what is it?
“I love Tequila and I love Mezcal. For Tequila, I just adore the Clase Azul. It comes in a white “majolica” clay bottle. There are flavors of stone fruits, caramelized nuts and sunshine in every bottle. Each bottle is handcrafted and this tequila is produced using a blend of Bourbon, Cognac, and Sherry casks in the aging process.
5. Do you have a favorite Mezcal?
“For Mezcal, my favorite is Herenzia Del Mezcalero. The two year old is my favorite. It is reminds me of the smokiest single malt scotch I’ve ever tried. Even some people who love smoky scotch whiskey say that OMG this is too much!”
Thank you Mary Luz for spending some time with me today. I learned much from your words and will try to find a bottle of the Herenzia Del Mezcalero to try. When I sip (not shoot) this Mezcal, I’ll think of you and your father, grinding the pork, adding the spices and curing those fat little chorizo, then hanging them on brooms all around your tiny apartment. This image clearly has brought a tear to my eye- I must share that thought with you and my readers. Cheers to you! wb
San Francisco Photographic memories:
Warren Bobrow is a mixologist, chef, and writer known as the Cocktail Whisperer. In 2010, Bobrow founded “Wild Table” for Wild River Review and serves as the master mixologist for several brands of liquor, including the Busted Barrel rum produced by New Jersey’s first licensed distillery since Prohibition.
Bobrow has published three books on mixology and written articles for Saveur magazine, Voda magazine, Whole Foods-Dark Rye, Distiller, Beverage Media, DrinkupNY and other periodicals. He writes the “On Whiskey” column for Okra Magazine at the Southern Food and Beverage Museum and has written restaurant reviews for New Jersey Monthly.
His first book Apothecary Cocktails, was published in September 2013; and immediately went into a second printing. In 2014, he published Whiskey Cocktails. He was born and raised in Morristown, NJ, on a Biodynamic farm.
Warren Bobrow in this Edition
COCKTAIL WHISPERER, Editor
Apothecary Cocktails: Mexican Sleep Cure
Billy Reid: Bourbon, Branch and a Splash of Southern Lore
Blue Hill/Stone Barns: Time Exists in Harmony with Nature
The Cocktail Whisperer asks Anthony Bourdain Four Questions about Scotch
The Five Questions: Andrew Bell, American Sommelier
The Five Questions Catherine Reynolds
The Five Questions: Lincoln Henderson (Master Distiller)
The Five Questions: Natalie West (Foppiano Wines)
The Five Questions: Randall Grahm
The Five Questions: Sustainable Sushi
A Glass of Bourbon, Branch, and History
Midnight in the Bronx: Visit to Hunt’s Point Wholesale Fish Exchange
A Modern Day Absinthe Alchemist
A Summer Cocktail Party for Artie Shaw
Tales of the Cocktail: New Orleans, Louisiana