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‘To own something from Elizabeth David’s kitchen is extraordinary’: Sally Clarke

November 27, 2017

My brothers and I bought this house in 1979 as an investment – our parents very kindly lent us the down payment. It’s been a family home for a long time. To begin with, my youngest brother and I lived here, and then later he moved out.

When my son was born, we bought the house next door – a modest Victorian cottage – which meant we could extend the basement kitchen and dining area. It’s now double the size. Originally, I could not have swung a cat in it, even if I had one. French doors from the dining area open on to the back garden, where I have lots of pot plants and an olive tree my mother gave me.

When we did it up about 10 years ago, I wanted a big central table and open shelving, with not much hidden behind cupboard doors.

I prefer not to have people around me when I’m cooking – I’m not very good at chatting when I’m trying to concentrate – but I do like having the kitchen as close as possible to the dining area.

I very much enjoy cooking at home. Even if it’s just cooking for myself, I get an enormous amount of pleasure out of laying the table and preparing something simple. Last night I had steamed broccoli finished with goat’s cheese and parmesan. It was just what I needed at 10pm – it filled the gap. The simplest things are often the most pleasurable when it comes to food.

The herbs and flowers are from my mother’s garden in Surrey. For over 30 years, she’s provided herbs for the restaurant. She’s 89 now, still gardening every day and picking herbs for us.

I was probably born in an apron. As soon as I get home, I put one on and turn on the radio – it’s always tuned to Radio 3 – even if I’m just making a midnight snack.

When I was growing up in Surrey, my mother, to my delight, would often leave me in the kitchen, while she was busy in the garden with my brothers and my father. I would be as happy as a clam making lunch for everyone, an Elizabeth David book open on the table. I read her from an early age. I loved her sense of place. She’s more than an inspiration, and she continues to be.

When she died in 1992, our restaurant, along with Simon Hopkinson, Alastair Little and Martin Lam, got together to create a feast at the ICA in London, which took place after the memorial service at St Martin-in-the-Fields. My mother made up the tablecloths for the buffet – I remember going to choose the cloth at Ian Mankin on Wandsworth Bridge Road. We each got to keep one.

I was fortunate when Jill Norman, David’s editor, asked me to choose something from her kitchen as a memento. I chose this terracotta chicken brick. I don’t use it that often, but having something from her kitchen is extraordinary, so it’s usually out on display. I also chose a wooden whisk. I’d never seen a wooden one before. It’s perfect for scrambling eggs or lightening up some cream cheese.

Alice Waters and Chez Panisse have been my other guiding lights for almost 40 years. Whenever I walk into my kitchen, I am reminded of their 10th anniversary party in Napa Valley. It was there that the idea of eating locally and seasonally started to make so much sense to me.

In the old days, when the Conran Shop in Fulham Road first opened, I’d buy all my Christmas presents there. It was the best thing ever and so easy to please everyone. One Christmas, about 20 years ago, I saw a stack of wooden bowls, all different woods and mouldings. They probably weren’t meant to be sold as a set, but I grabbed them anyway, as a present for myself.

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