We caught up with our friend James Ramsden, founder of Pidgin, at his cosy home in East London. (12 minute read)
Do you have a favourite book?
I couldn’t answer, it totally depends on the old, you know, mood.
Any key titles at the moment?
Well, any of the Fuchsia Dunlop ones, Every Grain of Rice and The Food of Sichuan. They're good for sort of hungover Sundays. She is always very reliable, (Baan by Kay Plunkett-Hogge) that’s just amazing but I'm terrified of it, it's an incredible book.
Have you been spending a lot more time in the kitchen at home during lockdown?
It's such a blur isn't it, lockdown stuff. I suppose I have. Especially when you’re home more often than ever, you know my wife and I are both at home in the day, which just never ever happens, so suddenly I'm cooking lunch and I never cook lunch.
Does your wife cook too?
We both like to cook, but I prefer to avoid putting the kids to bed, it's stressful, so I’ll be like “I’ll cook something don’t worry”, probably not fair but she’s wise to my games.
Do you ever cook together?
I think we’ve always tried to separate our work, because we have different approaches, so it's healthy to keep it separate. But occasionally we might do something together and it's quite fun. I think we were both scarred for life from the Abergavenny food festival when we had to do two dinners for 100 people, in the smallest kitchen where the oven didn’t work, so I was getting up at 3 in the morning to go downstairs and check the lamb was still cooking and that was traumatic. There wasn’t even a chopping board, no knives, no pots or pans, nothing. I think it must have been 2011, it was bad. I think that’s the last time we did anything serving professionally together. She now runs what used to be an art class / supper club, with live drawings online which has been really popular.
Do you find cooking relaxing?
I love it when the kitchen is tidy. What drives Rosie mad is that I’ll... well if there's various bits of chaos, the front room can be just covered in kids' toys, I'm alright as long as the kitchen is clean and tidy.
You also have quite a big podcast – ‘The Kitchen is on Fire’.
That’s generous, Cult is the word we use, which is code for not very widely listened too. I do it with my business partner Sam, we’ve been doing it since before podcasts were a big deal, before Serial even came out, we started 2014 I would say, and we’ve done 250 episodes I think now. We love doing it but we've never really bothered to actually market it at all, so that’s our excuse for not having a massive reach. it's just us talking shit, sometimes about food, usually with a guest. We just had Tom Kerridge this week.
At Pidgin you never repeat a dish, how hard is it to have new dishes every week?
Sam and I are less involved in the menu writing these days, but it was always easier than you would think actually, I mean sort of logistically difficult but creatively it wasn’t actually too bad because you just sort of get into a rhythm. The chefs love it and definitely the younger chefs, the amount of stuff you learn is just huge.
Pidgin is quite a contrast to Sons and Daughters…
Yes well, we opened (Magpie) somewhere which was a disaster in Mayfair. Quite early on in that, when we were feeling something didn’t quite feel right, we kind of sensed it. It not going the way we wanted it to be and also having found the whole process of opening it sort of stressful, it’s like we want to do something but we don’t want to open another “restaurant” restaurant. And I thought well there isn't any specialist sandwich shops about, well there was Max’s up in Crouch Hill and that was about it. So I just decided that was going to be the move. It's done alright so far, but that area Coaldrops yard, is still a new development so you underestimate how long it takes.. It’s getting there but Covid hasn’t helped.
Why ‘Sons and Daughters’? Obviously S-and-D links to sandwiches?
That was coincidence! I don’t know if you’re a fan of The National the band? - But I was going to look at a site in soho and that ‘Daughters of the Soho Riot’ song was on, and there's a line in it, that says "Out among the missing sons and daughters of the Soho riots” and I thought that would be a cool name. So it was completely accidental, and then we didn’t end up opening in Soho anyway, so we never would have told people that’s why we named it. The official response is that we wanted to name it after our kids but didn’t want any of them to get jealous so we just called it sons and daughters, as we’ve got two sons and three daughters between Sam and I.
So what are your future ambitions, what's next?
So we’re moving to Yorkshire, sometime next year. Slightly Covid dependent and slightly dependant on when we have to move out of this place, and I don’t really know when. I will still be up and down with Pidgin, Sons and Daughters, and I cook a bit at the Ten Cases in Covent Garden, so I'm going to keep doing that, and I don’t know, in time I’d like to open something up North, a pub I think.
I think just everyone's thinking in a slightly different way now, the future of restaurants and retail, buying trends and habits, in a way It’s quite nice just having that huge skew this year has brought and hopefully be able to come up with different opportunities.
How do you approach food with your kids?
With trepidation, my son is a very good eater and he eats anything and everything. He’s 6 next month, and then my daughter, well it's not even that she’s fussy it's just power play, it's just how she exerts her authority, age three. She used to hate pizza then suddenly she loves pizza and will eat it all the time. She won't eat sandwiches which is obviously quite traumatic. She loves chips. She likes to help in the kitchen and she likes to wash up. She said to me the other day “and mum even let me wash up”, if you think that’s a treat then that’s perfect!
Are you giving them childhood classics?
Neither of them like mash potato, so all the things for me like shepherd's pie, or bangers and anything with mash they won't eat. A lot of sausages though, toad in the hole we had the other day, but basically, it's just pasta, like most kids they just want pasta all day every day. I mean they’re good, they will eat their veg and they’ll have pretty gruelly porridge in the morning, they will eat that. And Nora quite likes it to be fully spec'd up, so she wants the porridge, then she wants granola on the porridge, yoghurt, honey, date syrup... We can’t take them to restaurants yet, I mean we do, but it’s just 10 minutes in, how they get that much food on the floor and then start yelling at each other and hitting each other... yeh it’s fun!
Where do you like eating out?
We go to Bright quite a lot.
Where do you recommend for a Sunday roast?
The Bull and Last is worth a trek, and you can have a nice walk on Hampstead Heath before and really build up an appetite. Adam and Eve is a really nice pub, but I just think a roast is something you make at home.
Do you have a guilty pleasure with food? Something we wouldn’t expect from a cook?
A bit of a boring answer really, but I don’t believe in guilty pleasures, I love a Shin Cup Noodle so you know like the ramen cups. It’s like a good pot noodle, so usually there's a pack of five kicking about. Other than that, well my guilty pleasure which is terrible, is finishing the kid's tea, not just finishing, but accidentally putting too much pasta in the pot, they’re not going to eat all that, it's like pre planning.
What's your ultimate comfort food?
Well I mean the first thing that came into my heard was a thing I used to make at uni and my wife basically one day said we’re not having that ever again. It was like a chorizo, tomato cream pasta, just what you need when you're under the weather. It's kind of basic, but it's always pasta really isn't it, pasta noodles, rice and kind of starchy carbs tends to be what we go for, or roast chicken. I mean all good food should be kind of comforting its own way shouldn’t it.