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Interview with reknowned Chef Angela Gray

(August 25, 2010)

Interview with Angela Gray

CC ... Having established yourself as one of Wales' most well-respected cooks, what inspired your interested in cooking?

AG ... The Galloping Gourmet - Graham Kerr, he really was the original celebrity chef, very flamboyant, so entertaining- always slurping wine, setting light to dishes. I was totally enthralled, and when he picked someone from the audience at the end of the show to share the food at his dining table, I wanted to be that person so badly. I use to sniff the television to see if I could smell the food. I was six years old and totally smitten.

 

AG1

 

CC ... I was always a great fan of Floyd, his sheer exuberance was wonderful to watch. Do you have a favorite chef, and if so, why?

AG ... I think the first answer covers this one.

CC ... Is there is particular style or region of cooking which is your favorite?

AG ... I love classic French, and used techniques and recipes as a guide when I first started out. The Roux brothers were a great influence as wasRaymond Blanc. As my adventure continued throughout my career I discovered all sorts of cuisines and fell in love with each and every one. These days it just depends on my mood and who’s coming to dinner- it could be anything from Tappas to Lebanese.

 

AG2

CC ... What would you say is/are your 'signature dish' or 'dishes'?

AG ... That’s a difficult one, as I love cooking most things. However I love creating lavish over the top desserts and cakes, I think that systems from being greedy, having a terrible sweet tooth when I was younger, and also people’s reactions when you put something visually beautiful before them. I love doing special 3 or 4 tier cakes for people, but they are a bit different. I recently did a 3 tier chocolate cake for Only Men Aloud, it had gold musical notes and stars on gold wires coming out of the cake, it was studded with gold almonds and little jewels, and sat on a puff ball of shot magenta taffeta containing fairy lights. I called it couture patisserie!

 

AG3

 

CC ... I recently tried (cooked) oysters with Parmesan and spinach.  I had not eaten oysters before, but had always wanted to try them. Is there is meal or dish you've always wanted to eat?

AG ... I think this would be more of an experience. I am about to go to Pietrasanta in Tuscany for my stepdaughter’s wedding. Her intended Massimo is also a great foodie and is arranging for me to visit a couple of restaurants there where I can chat to the chef and do some tasting. Now that to me is sheer heaven - I will discover and learn new things and taste some local specialities - I am sooooo excited!

 

AG4

 

CC ... What are your recommendations as the five best ingredients from Wales and how would you use them? 

AG ... Pembrokeshire crab from Dash, they collect the crab off the coast of Little Haven and steam them. The meat is succulent, juicy and world class. I love to dress the crab myself and mix it with a little of my brother’s (Castle Dairies) butter, chopped parsley, a little ground mace, salt pepper and lemon juice- spread on crusty bread. I also like it in seafood curry, or even with spices, cream and egg yolks served in a savory tart. I could go on and on! 

Welsh summer lamb - cooked any how. But I love a boned shoulder stuffed with aromatic spices blended with fresh chilli, chopped apricots (the dried soft brown ones), pine nuts, orange juice and zest, loads of herbs from my garden, honey and pomegranate molasses, rolled up and slow roasted- Mmmmmmmm!  

Cheese - I my goodness I couldn’t choose here. I had a real problem selecting cheeses for Juliette Harbutt's World Cheese Book. She asked me to write the Welsh section- I would go with Gorwydd Caerphilly, Perl Las, Teifi mature Farmhouse, Saval (Teifi), Pant Mawr Mature Cerwyn, and for a flavoured cheese one from Blaenafon Cheese Co - Susan is always creating something new - check out her cheesecakes for weddings. 

Sewin - my dad is a great fisherman, and occasionally is lucky to bring home this beautiful fish. I love it with blanched samphire, sweet pickled cucumber and a citrus and creme fraiche dressing. I also like it baked whole in the oven until just cooked and served with a wedge of lemon. 

Bacheldre flours - I love baking, and this company makes a fabulous range of flour, which is slowly produced to maximize the flavour. You can order a mixed box of flours on-line, and then spend a rainy Sunday baking with the radio on, it’s the best. I love fresh baked bread torn into chunks with a slab of my brother’s butter - oh did I mention that before - it’s Castle Dairies! (this also one of my favourite ingredients, it goes into practically everything and is a true Welsh butter).

 

CC ... Do you have a favorite restaurant in Wales, and if so, why would you choose this above others?

AG ... 'I don’t have one particular favourite, Wales has some real gems now. For me it just depends where I am in Wales. In Cardiff I love the Mint and Mustard Indian restaurant, in the west it’s Y Polyn, 100% top notch every time, I love Stephen Terry’s food at the Hardwick, and I also had a delicious meal at The Park (Slebech Park, Pembs).'

 

AG5

 

CC ... One of the most popular questions our readers love for me to ask is:.if you were hosting a dinner party and could invite 8 guests, whom would you invite and why and what would you serve?

AG ... Jeff Bridges - The Man - he is the essence of coolness. I love him, and he’s such cool person. Check out his website.

Oprah Winfrey - what an amazing lady, I adore her. She is a testament to just how much good one person can do in the world.

Alan Carr - hilarious.  

Robert De Nero – Ever since Taxi Driver he has been welcome to dinner, and a nightcap. 

Deepak Chopra - what an amazing insightful man- he’s like my guru. 

Martin Scorsese - I adore his films. I would have so much to ask him, he could stay for the week. 

Liza Minnelli - a legend in her own lifetime. She truly is 100% showbiz and is just wonderful, flaws and all (she could tell some stories!). 

Tom Jones - I love a good singsong. And everyone knows Tom’s songs, he’s still so cool. He and I could duet on It’s not unusual.

 

If you asked me to do this tomorrow, it would probably be a different list. But I would feed them- spiced Pembrokeshire crab soufflé, slow cooked stuffed rolled shoulder of Welsh lamb from Aberdyfi (as mentioned before) with seasonal veggies and crisp roasted potatoes with fresh herbs, garlic and lemon. Finishing with a selection of Welsh cheeses and a dessert of baked nectarines with Chantilly cream and almond shortbread (made with my brother’s butter- it’s the best!).'

 

AG6

 

CC ... You've had the interesting opportunity to cook for celebrities. Did you find that the dishes they liked differ from the types of food non-celebrities like to eat?

AG ... Celebrities are just people (some of them need to remember that!) and have likes and dislikes like most of us. Many, especially the ladies, are weight watching all the time - poor things.

CC ... You were involved in ‘Wales at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival’, which over 1.2 million people attended in the Washington Mall. That must have been an amazing experience. 

AG ... As the saying goes, you had to be there. It was a one off and truly wonderful. We had the opportunity to introduce our country to the American people, share our culture, and enthuse every day. It was also an opportunity for us to discover just how rich and varied our culture is, as there were 130 participants, many whom I had never met. Getting to know them and their craft made it a rich experience for all.

 

AG7

 

CC ... Do you feel that initiatives, such as the ‘Wales at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival’, are needed to showcase the talent and resources of Wales to a larger audience?

AG ... Absolutely. I cannot believe how few people knew of this back home in Wales - we are not very good at promoting ourselves. Reinvention has been on the agenda in Wales for some years. I’m all for progress, but it’s the history, traditions and core culture that people from other countries want to know. That was a real message to us out in Washington. And I’m all for progress, but we need to remember our cultural heritage, and make sure that it is part of education and not forgotten.

CC ... Do you have any other such events planned?

AG ... No. As I said, this was a one off. Although I do have plans to run some events here in Wales based on what we did in Washington. It’s my way and contribution to keeping some of our culinary tradition alive. I have 10 German journalists coming to Fonmon Castle in September. They will be treated to a taste of Wales - past and present.

 

AG8

 

CC ... I recently completed a cooking course with you at Fonmon Castle, and I have to say, loved every moment of it. What inspired you to come up with the concept of the cooking tutorials?

AG ... I wanted to create something special in Wales. I know there are many cookery schools in the UK, but I wanted to develop something a little different. The venues are very special at Fonmon and Slebech Park. Next year we will add Ffin Y Parc in LLanrwst. People have the added value of spending the day at an amazing location, picking ingredients from the garden, having a full day of cooking, and taking home a feast. It’s great value. Teaching is a real passion, and sharing my knowledge with people gives me a real buzz. I love seeing people relax, forget about their worries and just create wonderful dishes using the freshest ingredients. It’s a gratifying experience for me, and has made me a lot of friends; I just love people to have a really good time.

 

CC ... I see that you also conduct tutorials in cooking basics; such as knife skills and how to prepare meat and fish. Learning the basics of cooking seems really important to you.

AG ... Cooking to me is a series of stepping stones. Get the basics right and your confidence will grow, as will your repertoire.

 

CC ... What plans do you have for the future?

AG ... I want to continue developing the cooking experiences; we are now running corporate events which are such fun. I also started a bespoke dining experience recently, for people who want to celebrate with friends and enjoy a very special exclusive evening with us. Our last party all arrived in black tie. They enjoyed a short cookery demonstration with me (I got a doctor from the audience to help me cook, it was such fun), then they had bubbly and canapés, followed by a 3-course candlelit dinner. It was a great night, and we were given a standing ovation at the end - you know you’ve done a good job, and I was very proud of my team. I am also working on a book, which I hope to complete next year. Other than that, just enjoying life and what I do.

 

CC ... Angela Gray, thank you.

 

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