An Interview With Tony Rodd
Over the next two months, MasterChef finalist, founder of Well Dressed Plates and mustachioed ‘master chocolatier’ Tony Rodd will be teaming up with Gousto to present Season to Taste, a series of masterclasses showing how flavour pairings can be easily tailored to suit different tastes.
During a one hour masterclass, attendees can look forward to learning how a few simple, fresh ingredients can create an entirely new, eye-opening dish. We caught up with Tony ahead of the first class on 8th March, to find out more about the skill of food pairing and what people can expect from Season to Taste.
Tell us a bit about the Season to Taste workshops you’re running with Gousto; what can people expect?
The workshops will be a fantastic opportunity to watch me cook through some popular Gousto recipes and get tips on cooking processes and techniques. We will discuss alternatives to ingredients and taste different flavour combinations to see which food pairings work best. By the end of the workshop you should have the confidence to cook a classic recipe or adapt the dish to your own tastes or preferred ingredients.
Is there an easy way to explain food pairings to help someone use them in their own cooking?
Food pairing essentially focuses on creating a balance of the various possible tastes: sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and umami (savoury). A good place to start is looking at where the ingredients come from; earthy flavours such as wild mushrooms, sage and nuts can often be found growing together and delicate seafood combinations such as fresh fish, seaweed and shellfish are all naturally found in the ocean. The key is to combine these ingredients so that each of the flavours comes through in the right amount. No one ingredient should overpower the other.
Most classic ingredient pairings are about creating balance in a dish. Can you recommend some timeless pairings for people to try out at home?
There are so many classic pairings and often you’ll eat them without even being aware. Consider a classic pizza topping of tomato, mozzarella and basil. That combination works superbly on top of a chicken breast, in stuffed pasta, or as a simple salad. Many sausages use groups of flavours to mimic an excellent dish like pork, sage and apple. Try cooking a pork chop in a pan with butter and sage leaves and adding the apple towards the end. Sticking to three ingredients is a great start, and much easier to achieve balance.
When you visited Gousto HQ recently you mentioned using fig, seabass and prosciutto in a dish – a daring pairing! What made this combination work so well?
Fish and fig isn’t something you’d instinctively consider to work together, however in this dish each ingredient lends something unique. The sea bass is the star and has a meaty, nutty and metallic taste along with the saltiness of the sea. The fig is sweet and goes perfectly with the salt (think salted caramel). We get earthy savoury notes from porcini mushrooms and salty, sweet notes from the Parma ham. Sweet potato lends a creaminess and the dish is finished with a white wine sauce which adds a slightly sharp or sour flavour with hints of earthy thyme. I also wanted to consider texture. Crispy fish skin, smooth potato puree and soft, fatty ham makes each mouthful exciting and varied.
Last year, Gousto partnered with Green & Blacks to make a chicken mole dish using dark chocolate. On Masterchef you earned high praise from Greg Wallace who called you a “master chocolatier”; can you tell us about some other unusual ways chocolate can be used in cooking?
Chocolate is a versatile ingredient, but needs to be handled carefully as each type of chocolate has it’s own flavour profile. Start with a dark chocolate, ideally 70% cocoa minimum as there will be a cleaner flavour rather than added dairy or sugar. I love rolling venison in cocoa powder to add bitterness, or pork in cacao nib for a nuttiness. I made a chocolate and chicken stock jelly to go with lamb last spring and shaved dark chocolate over the top for extra flavour and texture. Seafood and chocolate is a hard pairing but white chocolate and scallops can work for those with a delicate touch. If this all sounds too much, stick to dark chocolate and sour raspberries for a winning combination.
When did you first learn to cook, and how has your cooking developed over time?
I started to cook quite late in life as my Mum was fantastic in the kitchen. When I left home at 18, I soon realised that if I wanted tasty food, I’d need to make it myself. I started with classic dishes, traditional pairings and food from my childhood. There were lots of “one pot dishes” and cheaper cuts of meat. As I grew older and had access to better ingredients and equipment, my style developed into more restaurant quality dishes and I focused on both flavour and presentation. All of this was self-taught. I read countless cookbooks, watched cookery shows and scoured the internet for advice. I even learnt to butcher meat and fillet fish from YouTube videos.
What’s your current cooking obsession?
Right now I’m passionate about Scandinavian cuisine. I spent a little time in Stockholm and learnt that due to the difficulty in growing produce and raising animals year-round, they have to treat ingredients differently. They preserve a lot of ingredients through pickling, curing, drying and smoking. This adds a new flavour to an ingredient and creates even more opportunity for an exciting dish.
What sort of person will get the most out of Season to Taste? Do you need to be a seasoned cook (excuse the pun) to attend?
This course is great for all levels of cook. You are always learning and this workshop will give the basic cook tips on cooking techniques and the more seasoned chef an opportunity to try new flavour combinations. I hope that everyone enjoys looking at ingredients in a new light following the evening.
If people want to learn more about ingredient pairings, what can they do?
There are so many ways to develop cooking skills. Talk to the people you buy from. If you use a local butcher, befriend them and ask their advice on how to cook the meat and what to cook it with. Your greengrocer and farmer can do the same. Read; cook books and the internet have a wealth of information to use. I have a fantastic book called “the flavour thesaurus” which suggests pairings. And experiment. Eventually you’ll have to simply give it a go. Learn from your mistakes and enjoy the process.
Aside from Season to Taste, what else are you working on at the moment?
In addition to working with Gousto, I perform cooking demonstrations at food festivals and markets across the UK. I cater private dinner parties in my clients homes with bespoke taster menus and am currently setting up a Modern British restaurant with Scandinavian influence in Blackheath village which is due to open in the Summer.
Season to Taste classes will take place on Wednesday evenings in London from 8th March – 19th April at The Venturi’s Table, Clapham Junction. Tickets are available for £25, or free with the purchase of a Gousto box (available to both existing and new customers).
To find out more and book a place, visit: seasonoftaste.eventbrite.co.uk