It’s a sunny spring morning and we’ve dropped in to see talented chef and food writer Ben Tish at the east London home he shares with his wife, Nykeeta, and their French Bulldog, Piglet, who is full of bounce and character. We find Ben in his new kitchen. So new, in fact, that the builders are finishing touching up the paint on the wall above the sink as we chat.
I’m feeling a huge rush of interiors envy. The pale pink walls, dark blue cabinetry and substantial marble work surfaces fit together effortlessly with the parquetry flooring and a period sash window that looks over the street outside.
Taking centre stage in the kitchen is a brand new stainless steel Mercury by AGA range cooker. Ben has long been a fan and was keen to get one when he started on the kitchen.
“Aesthetically, they’re beautiful,” he says. “There’s an industrial element to them, which from a professional chef’s perspective is attractive, but I think they’re absolutely stunning cookers.
The most beautiful I’ve seen. “It’s just gone in, but I’ve cooked a couple of Sunday roasts in it. I’ve cooked a curry and a couple of baked potatoes. I’m loving it. The oven gets very hot and is very consistent. I’ve done a roast chicken, which is a good test of a cooker. If you can get a chicken perfectly browned and crisp without having to mess around with it too much then that’s the sign of a good oven.
“I think it’s not a million miles away from a professional cooker. It’s incredibly robust, the feel and weight of it and the gas instantly lights. It’s very reassuring turning it on and closing the door. There’s a nice clunk.
“The burners too are brilliant. They light instantly, they’re powerful. I cook quite hard at home. I bang about and use quite fierce heat and often set the smoke alarm off.”
Classically trained with more than 20 years’ experience, Ben spent his early career working with Michelin starred chefs such as Jason Atherton and Stephen Terry at various groundbreaking London restaurants.
He went on to head up his own operations at the Italian restaurant Al Duca in St James’s, London, and the Crinan Hotel in the West Highlands, which – under Ben’s culinary leadership – was awarded Best Gastro Pub in Scotland by the Independent and Best Newcomer in the Good Food Guide for its fine dining restaurant, being hailed a seafood Mecca by foodies and journalists alike.
He’s now culinary director of the Stafford London in St James’s, overseeing food throughout the hotel, and he appears regularly on TV, including Saturday Kitchen, Sunday Brunch and Masterchef, and writes for Delicious, the Guardian, the Daily Telegraph, The Times, Noble Rot and other publications. Ben has a lot going on right now. As well as the house renovations, he has a new book out. Moorish: Vibrant recipes from the Mediterranean was published in April. He has been immersed in the food culture of Spain and Italy for well over a decade and the book pays tribute to the flavours of the many regions and culinary styles. Moorish is a collection of recipes inspired by Ben’s passion for the region, along with a few twists of his own. He has divided the book into chapters based around the way he likes to cook at home, from quick and refreshing light bites and his much loved barbecue food, to lazy brunches and slow-cooked dishes that fill the house with evocative scents.
The book has been such a success that it sold out on Amazon around the time of its launch. It’s back in stock now and is winning new fans every day.
Although he’s been super busy, Ben seems laid back and unflappable as he cooks the most delicious lamb chops and chats about his future plans.
“I’m at Taste of London in June and I’m also opening a new restaurant on London’s Charlotte Street this summer. It’s called Norma and is loosely connected to the book as it will focus on Sicily and the Moorish influence there,” he says. Ben chose the name for three reasons: firstly, he likes the name for a person; secondly, Pasta al Norma is the signature pasta dish of Sicily; and thirdly, it’s an opera set there too.
“There will also be a focus on marsala wine,” he says. “We’re going to have a whole menu. People think marsala is just something you cook with or have at the end of a meal. But, like sherry was 15 years ago, there’s a whole range from dry through to sweet. So, we’re going to do all sorts of things.”
This interview was first published in AGA Living Magazine Summer 2019