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Powell's Q&A

Simon Hopkinson

Describe your latest project.
One reason that Second Helpings of Roast Chicken came about, if I might humbly suggest, is because its predecessor, Roast Chicken and Other Stories, was, thankfully and in general, positively received by those who simply enjoy cooking something good to eat. Some also said they had taken it to bed as a good read! (Unduly high praise, indeed, especially as, personally, I would choose to have either Elizabeth David or Richard Olney on my bedside table, culinary wise.)

In Second Helpings, you will find 47 new chapters, plenty of exciting new recipes — and even a new roast chicken recipe! But is any recipe for roast chicken actually new, you may ask? Well, let's just say it is different from the first one and leave it at that.

Also, I very much enjoyed writing my first book (with the help of Lindsey Bareham, me being very much the novice regarding recipe construction and correct measurements, etc.) and still see a list of favourite ingredients as both sensible and inspiring — to both compiler and reader: at market, one buys beautiful aubergines; at home, one has a look at aubergine recipes. Jane Grigson, who I forever find constantly useful, was an early pioneer of this way. So, it could only seem a good idea to do it all over again, and, furthermore, there is a fairly endless pot of ingredients out there to plunder. Also, the superb illustrations by Flo Bayley are possibly even better than those in the first book.

Although mostly trained and brought up in restaurant kitchens, I have, hopefully, always written recipes with the home cook very much in mind. Having not actually been toiling away in a professional kitchen for the past 14 years (I remain, however, very much connected with Bibendum in London), now it makes me particularly passionate about how a dish that may have originated within a restaurant environment — ours or others — is looked at afresh when it is simply dinner for two. Readjusting all aspects of a large recipe from a professional kitchen to the domestic one can cause problems, as I only know too well.

In one of my early attempts at recipe writing in the Independent (UK) newspaper (about 1995), I had exactly reduced the ingredients for a steamed ginger pudding, but still the smaller recipe included too much baking powder. The letters from readers were many, ranging from fierce outrage to more humorous, forgiving notes: "Even our German Shepherd turned its nose up at the sorry result!" And, yes, I can become angry, too, when I am misinformed by, or disagree with, another's view of food and cookery lore. Or feel deeply opinionated over such things as provenance, accuracy, and ignorance. Then again, we are all guilty of errors — apart from those who are always right, naturally.

With this in mind, I would guess that Second Helpings of Roast Chicken is a touch more emphatic and insistent with regard to my beliefs about food and cooking. In fact, a good friend said to me, "You are a bit shouty sometimes, Hoppy!" Oh dear, I thought. But then, to quote John Cleese from an old Monty Python sketch, "There's no point in bottling it up!" All I sincerely hope, however, is that there be enjoyment at the stove and that the results will please both cook and consumer. One cannot — should not — wish for more than that.

  1. Second Helpings of Roast Chicken
    $7.95 Used Hardcover add to wishlist
    "Simon Hopkinson's passionate intensity in the kitchen continues at his writing table. He explains as well as anyone alive why good food matters so much, both for our individual happiness and for our global survival." Alice Waters
  2. Roast Chicken and Other Stories
    $10.50 Used Hardcover add to wishlist
    "Hopkinson is ravenous for wonderful food, and his appetite has produced a delicious, passionate book." O The Oprah Magazine

    "Among the most endearing and common-sensical kitchen primers ever composed....You could cook from this volume, and this volume alone, for several years without boredom or mishap." Dwight Garner, The New York Times Book Review

What fictional character would you like to date, and why?
Tom Ripley, with trepidation. But for his impeccable taste, good manners, and ambiguity. Let's face it — there would be a few thrills along the way.

Introduce one other author you think people should read, and suggest a good book with which to start.
Patricia Highsmith — and The Talented Mr. Ripley, naturally. Although Strangers on a Train would come a very close second.

Offer a favorite sentence or passage from another writer.
From The French Menu Cookbook by Richard Olney:

Finally, a good veal stock must be clear, not only to please the eye but for clarity of taste. The grey scum that is removed from the liquid's surface as it approaches the boiling point represents but a small fraction of the solids thrown into suspension, mostly albuminous material drawn from the meats that solidifies on contact with heat. In an undisturbed stockpot, these solids slowly fall out of suspension, gathering thickly on the sides and bottom, adhering more firmly as the cooking progresses, to reveal an absolutely transparent liquid — limpid amber.

How do you relax?
By cooking delicious things to eat.

What makes your favorite pair of shoes better than the rest?
The sandals that are made on the island of Menorca are my favourite footwear. They look very chic, last for years (I wear them almost every day throughout the year, at home, alternating between three pairs), and almost feel like there is nothing on your feet at all. They are also inexpensive to buy.

Describe the best breakfast of your life.
A bowl of congee eaten early in the morning at the Oriental Hotel, Bangkok. I was suffering from an appalling hangover, and the congee was so very comforting, with its soupy, savoury balm, I was ready to face another day.

Dogs, cats, budgies, or turtles?
Two Burmese cats, brother and sister. 11 years old.

Recommend five or more books on a single subject of personal interest or expertise.

Gay Themes:

The Swimming-Pool Library by Alan Hollinghurst

Call Me by Your Name by André Aciman

The Brothers Bishop by Bart Yates

The Facts of Life by Patrick Gale

Metes and Bounds by Jay Quinn

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Simon Hopkinson is a critically acclaimed food writer who rose to prominence as a young chef with the opening of Bibendum restaurant in London. He also wrote an award-winning column for The Independent for more than eight years. In 2007, his first book, Roast Chicken and Other Stories, became an overnight sensation in the United States. He lives in London.


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