Lou Marchionne, Head Chef and ‘Salad Queen/Machine’ of the Better Food deli on Whiteladies Road. Like a culinary Trojan she cooks salads, soups, stews, bread, terrines, pate, pizza, tortilla, Italian flatbreads, and frittatas on a daily basis. Upon request your meal can come served with nutritional advice from her too, as a side-option.
It seems that your daily output is immense, but with lots of creativity. How is it that you got into this line of work?
I am writing these answers ironically, for a site called ‘Cook, Eat and Travel’ which is the very reason behind my getting into this line of work. I have been fortunate enough to travel extensively in my life which included a 2 year stint in Australia and New Zealand. I started cooking whilst in Sydney and was fortunate enough to become friends with a great bunch of friends who regularly got together to share suppers and they were all great cooks. Before this I trained as an art teacher and I believe I approach cooking in much the same way as I did painting. I love colour. I now love colour and flavour and am always looking and thinking about ways in which they can marry well. I am also always concerned about the nutritional benefits of what we eat as well. My paintings were of multi medium, my approach to cooking is much the same. On my return from the Southern Hemisphere I was fortunate enough to gain employment with Barny Haughton who owned and ran Rocinantes – a lively bar and Bristol’s first organic restaurant. I learned a lot from him and from his head chef at the time who was an American woman who had previously worked with Alice Waters (Chez Panisse)
Were there any landmark, truly awesome moments that inspired you to cook professionally?
I always loved to cook, I was the oldest girl in my family with a single working Mum, so was often given the task of cooking for everyone. I have always known that I really enjoyed delicious food, prepared well. My landmark was experiencing the food culture in Sydney at the time. It was ‘streets ahead’ of London, which is where I had been living before I left the UK. The markets, the cafes and the general standard of food was more multi cultural, was simply better and much more exciting.
What was your first job in the world of food?
I started life in a kitchen as a Kitchen Porter. Which as anyone who has been one knows, it is hard graft, but rewarding. I enjoyed the camaraderie of the kitchen.
You have been a chef for a few years now, would you say that throughout that time you have developed a personal cooking style?
Probably but I might not be the best person to ask! I know I like flavours and lots of them. I enjoy different textures and I like to try to match both. I love experimenting with both as well.
Do you have a signature Lou Marchionne dish or flavour?
I would like to think not, but my Farinata might be the nearest thing to it. I often turn up at parties with a batter, a pan and a spatula.. I hope everything I cook will touch a taste bud, be it a food memory or an inspiring (I hope) idea with someone.
Some chefs compare eating a meal to a conversation, do you have any thoughts on this?
Food is a conversation and a celebration. From the seed to the table and each part of this process is equally important and should be mutually respectful. I aim to be considerate and inclusive in this process. Qualifying in Allergy therapy and food nutrition has increased my awareness and proven to be an affirmation in this belief.
If you could only eat from one cuisine for the rest of your life – where would it be from? And why?
My father was Italian, so it would be rude not to be biased! My Mother’s ancestry was part Irish. I love traditional style and artisan cooking. But I also love the contrast as well as the depth of flavour in Asian cooking.
What and where was the best meal you`ve eaten?
This is really hard to answer. I have been fortunate enough due to family connections to eat in some great restaurants. The whole experience of fine dining is just simply a great sensory experience. I have had some great suppers cooked by friends. BUT I have also eaten the most delicious and simple food and by chance. Roadside trattoria in Southern Italy: great cheeses and cured meats and an average glass of wine but all of it together at that moment in time, sundown, was perfect. A restaurant carved out in a cliff face also in Italy, with huge fishing poles and nets that came off the cliff face and were lowered into the sea. You got what they caught it was grilled served with bread, delicious olives, and salad with great olive oil. It was deliciously hot and the shade of the cave was a welcome relief from the sun. And then the simple, maybe less than average dinners but they are dinners that are great and that is because it is all about the company…
You are surrounded by food all day, tasting flavours and sampling dishes. If you don’t mind us asking; what about when you are at home; do you still have the motivation to cook?
For people, always. For my son and his friends, always. There is always something somewhere to be made into something to be eaten. To gather people together to mark the end of their day, to share their company and their stories. My fridge, my freezer, my cupboards are always worth looking into.
Do you have a favourite go-to, nourishing and replenishing meal?
For me personally? A simple sprouting bean salad with rocket or chicory dressed with apple cider vinegar. It feels cleansing and energizing at the end of a busy day of cooking and tasting.
What do you believe are the crucial elements for a smooth operating kitchen?
To work as a team. It should feel a bit like a family. To have routines and systems in place. To have a good sense of communication, to be encouraging and inspiring. Awareness of standards and aims. To be supportive of one another and aspiring. To have a big sense of humility for those for whom you are cooking. ‘No point in eating unless it is nice’ – Have you heard me say this?!
Are there any pieces of kitchen equipment that you couldn’t live without?
A good knife, a board, a pan and a spatula. But now more recently due to the condition in my hands this is an interesting question. Now every bit of equipment and any aid I can have in place to help preserve my time at a stove has become increasingly more important. Grinders, Food processors, mixers, blenders, juicers .. Yep, I’ll take all of them please!
And finally do you have a favourite cookery book?
No, impossible to say. Recipe books should always be well sourced and read like any other book. Then find the recipe you would like to try, find several versions of it if you can, read them all and the methods, then close the book and go cook it! Food and cooking is an organic process, it grows and develops with you. There is always something to learn and to be inspired by.