Friends of the tribe – Wayne Barber
This is what I love about food. How someone from Yorkshire can just fall in love with another food culture and adopt it as his own. Meet Wayne Barber, the passion behind Passione Per Cucina. He loves (read, obsessed) Italian cuisine and you will too just from the way he talks about it. Read on…
Living in Yorkshire, how did you get so influenced and mesmerized by Italian cuisine?
Follow Wayne Barber for more exciting Italian recipes.Who could not fall in love with a food culture so full of history and tradition, so absorbing and so totally fascinating? I’m not really sure where my love of Italian food came from to be honest. I suppose it came from a combination of influence and laziness really, I have always spent lots of my working life around Italians and it is hard not to get caught up in their passion for the foods of their country. The one thing Italians are good at is talking about food and over these years I’ve been talked to, well actually more preached at, about the joys of Italian cuisine and I suppose it has just rubbed off on me. I could never understand why French cuisine was so time consuming, spending hours making a stocks, using so many different, and often complex, techniques and ingredients on a plate, I much prefer the Italian way of cooking, take a couple of good ingredients and let them shine. My family where not rich, so as a child we ate what we could afford, it was never fancy or gastronomic, but it was tasty and did us no harm, I can see some distinct comparisons between the food of my childhood and the Cucina Povera dishes of Italy.I guess the good thing about my approach to Italian food is as a kind of ‘faux Italian’, I have no loyalties to any particular region of Italy. I am not Italian, far from it, I’m from Yorkshire, but having worked with Italians, seen them cook, eat and enjoy the foods of their country, listened to their stories of growing up in Italy, hearing their memories of the food and celebrations of their childhood, makes me wish I had been brought up the Italian way.
Italian cuisine is all about using fresh ingredients. Do you have a herb and vegetable garden at home?
Unfortunately, my garden at home is a tarmac yard, but I still grow tomatoes, aubergines, courgettes, peppers, chillies and herbs in pots. I cannot cook without herbs; they just do so much for a dish, especially herbs like basil, sage, flat-leaf parsley and mint, herbs which I always have growing, either indoors or outdoors. I have also taken up drying my own herbs and chillis to use through the winter, its honestly such an easy thing to do and tastes so much better than the freeze dried shop bought alternatives. Cut your herbs back when they are flourishing, tie the stems together and hang them somewhere warm, dry and with a good flow of air, I use my kitchen, and in a week or so they will dry, so just pick off the leaves and crush them and store in airtight jars until needed, its really that easy. I am a big believer in cooking with the seasons so growing your own vegetables and herbs gives you a greater understanding of what ingredients work well together, “if it grows together it goes together”.
Do you cook fusion dishes mixing your traditions with Italian recipes?
I don’t really do any fusion dishes. For me classic dishes, whether they be Italian, French, Chinese, Indian and so on, are classic for a reason, they have stood the test of time and are as good now as they were when they were created, so why mess with perfection. Classic dishes have history, a story to tell, many Italian dishes reflect the countries troubled history, so as history can never be re-written I think that some classic dishes cannot be improved. Sometimes people seem to invent fusion flavours for the sake of it, tomatoes, basil and mozzarella taste great together, so why go and add something from the opposite side of the world.
Which Italian dish would you serve to introduce someone to Italian cuisine? Could you share the recipe with us?
The main problem with Italian food is there is no single dish that represents the country. As most of you will know, Italy is made up of twenty very different regions, which until a little over one hundred years ago, were actually different countries. Each region has its own individual history, traditions and cuisine, many dishes that we consider Italian are only eaten in one region and some dishes are never eaten in Italy at all. Pizza, known as an Italian classic all over the world is traditionally only eaten around Milan, Pasta is a minefield – every region has its own rules and recipes regarding shapes and sauces, with Parmesan or without and dishes like the world famous spaghetti bolognaise, isn’t really eaten anywhere in Italy (Italians eat bolognaise with tagliatelle).
If I had to introduce someone to the beauty of Italian food it would be with a dish that sums up the whole ethos of Italian food, freshness, seasonality, flavour but above all simplicity. One of my favourite dishes is a simple Tuscan pasta dishes that combines the regions fabulous new season olive oil with its native black, iron-rich cabbage Cavolo Nero.
For a new cook looking to learn Italian cuisine, what three tips would you give him/her?
There are a few simple rules when it comes to capturing the essence of Italian cooking. If you’re like me and you didn’t grow up in Italy, here a few simple, some quite obvious, tips to help you cook like a true Italian -
- Use fresh, good-quality ingredients. Everything is so much easier and the end results taste so much better when the ingredients taste good.
- Keep flavours clean and simple, no need for heavy seasonings and four-hour to prepare sauces.
- Cook by the seasons. Locally grown, in-season produce usually tastes best. Use your farmers markets and remember when it comes to matching ingredients “if it grows together it goes together”.
- Taste as you cook and build flavour. Only you know how salty or spicy you like your food. Season throughout the cooking process and adjust the seasonings just before serving. Many Italian recipes start with a soffritto, usually made of chopped onions, celery and carrots sweated in olive oil. Don’t rush this step. It builds flavour.
- But most important – Enjoy yourself. If the meal allows you to enjoy the company and conversation of others, consider your cooking a success
If you were to move to a city / country solely based on its cuisine, what would it be?
From a foodie point of view I would probably love to move to London. London is one of the top cities in the world of gastronomy, some of the world’s top cooking talents have restaurants in London, and I would never know where I wanted to eat next. From an Italian food point of view there are a few restaurants I would love to eat at. My four favourite chefs all have their restaurants in London and I would love to eat in them all. Theo Randall – The Intercontinental. Francesco Mazzei – l’Anima. Giorgio Locatelli – Locanda Locatelli. Jacob Kennedy – Bocca Di Lupo
Who are your go-to food bloggers for inspiration?
It’s hard to pin down a few food bloggers that I like as there are so many out there all doing a fantastic job, but here are my favourite food bloggers. Christina’s cucina, Sunday at the Giocomettis, Sylvia’s cucina and La cucina della prima donna, they all cook some amazing Italian food, but there really are too many to name, stop by my facebook page where all my favourite fellow food bloggers regularly share recipes .
What’s the tastiest healthy meal you’ve made? If I am a pastor with a shoestring budget, can I still cook for the Queen?
One of the best things about Italian food is by its very nature it is both healthy and cheap. Due to Italy’s troubled history, most of its regions have struggled through times of extreme poverty and disease. Most dishes we consider today to be the best Italy has to offer, where infact invented by the poor. The cuisine of La Cucina Povera (food of the poor/peasants) is some of the best Italian there is, filling, healthy, cheap and nothing should ever wasted. When you see articles on the news an in the press about the amount of food each year we waste I wish people would take note from the Italian way of cooking, food is held in such high regard that to waste a single gram of it is a crime. Italian food by its very nature is all about making something from nothing, using what few ingredients you do have and turning them into a feast to feed your family. Here are a couple of my favourite cheap, healthy but unbelievably tasty dishes.