Tom Parker Bowles is no stranger to cookbook writing. The British food writer and food critic has five cookbook titles under his belt, and has won the Guild of Food Writers award in 2010 for his work on British food. Recently authored Fortnum & Mason’s first ever cookbook, Tom was at the Hong Kong leg of the book launch. We caught him for a quick chat (and scored a signed copy!).
Text by Iris Wong
1. What was it like collaborating with Fortnum & Mason for its first ever cookbook?
It’s a huge honour. Not many stores have been around for 300 years. It wouldn’t be too much to say that this store has essentially shaped British history. From Churchill to Wellington to Nelson to Dickens to Virginia Woolf… This is a shop that has been central to London life.
This is a major collaborative process. There was Ewan [Venters] (CEO of Fortnum & Mason), Sydney Aldridge (Executive Chef at Fortnum & Mason), the editor and myself. We all sat and worked out how to get the recipes, what recipes, and how to represent 300 years without it being useless to people in the modern age. These recipes are for everyone. It’s a cookbook, not a museum piece or a coffee table book. We want people to be able to use it. We wanted this book to be the soul of Fortnum & Mason and hope we’ve done that.
2. What is your favourite part of The Cook Book?
With the British, I think we have made a pretty good claim for our baking and our tea, and the Tea section is magnificent. If there’s a recipe for a scone or a Victoria sponge, Fortnum’s would be pretty on the money for doing the definitive version.
3. What does British food mean to you?
The food you grow up with is comfort food. We get annoyed that British food is often seen as awful. It’s a very simple food, and often ingredient-led and very seasonal. Britain’s built on immigration and we take everyone in and mix it around, and that’s why London is such a great eating city because we embrace immigration and we are made great by immigration. The curries that are popular in the UK such as chicken tikka masala – they are British, they’re not Indian at all. They use Indian ingredients, but the dish is very classically British.
4. How do you feel being back in Hong Kong, the “world’s greatest food city”?
Well, I would disagree and say London is the greatest food city! [laughs] Hong Kong is certainly one of the great eating cities in the world. Always has been and always will be. When we come here we tend to avoid international cuisine not because we don’t respect them but we can eat that at home. I want to come to Hong Kong and have Cantonese food. There’s a very strong food culture here. Especially since historically we have this relationship with Hong Kong over the years, for most British, Chinese food is Cantonese food.
Hong Kong has this very unique energy and style. Everyone is food-obsessed. You have a very discerning audience here. You don’t last long in this city if you aren’t very good. You can’t come here half-copped and expect to get away with it. People take their food very seriously.
5. Favourite Hong Kong street food?
I like those weird bits and pieces on skewers. And I quite like snake meat.
6. Favourite restaurant in Hong Kong?
We always seem to love to go to China Tang. It’s a reliable favourite. We used to go to Luk Yu Tea House, which is not so much about the food but for the history of old Hong Kong. There’s something about that place with the slightly grumpy waiters.
7. What was the last meal you had?
We went to China Tang for lunch, and last night we went to Mott 32.
8. Your favourite cities for food?
Hong Kong. Mexico City. Naples. Beirut. Tokyo. I’d say those are probably my top. Marseille is also fantastic, Lisbon in Portugal, and Lima in Peru is a knock-out. We can be here all day.
9. What’s your go-to comfort food?
Scrambled eggs and smoked salmon with toast. Boiled eggs and soldiers. It’s a very British thing. Also Shepherd’s Pie.
10. What do you usually make when you cook at home?
Lots of Thai food. Also Mexican food. Not Tex-Mex, but Mexican. Then there’s always the roast beef and roast lamb. Sometimes Chinese, like mapo tofu.