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Tim Anderson: Culinary Hero

Penelope Walsh talks to Tim Anderson, Masterchef Champion 2011, about food, fusion and the future

Written by . Published on September 23rd 2011.


Tim Anderson: Culinary Hero

AMERICAN Viking, fusion enthusiast and advocate of all things beer, cheese and Japanese; in April this year, Tim Anderson won Masterchef 2011 and became the latest talented amateur to be catapulted towards a culinary career. Anderson’s edge of ingenuity made him stand out as a worthy winner, and as a contestant who was possibly reaching only the very beginning of his creative capabilities. Despite this, even the next day, when he woke up as the new champion, even for Anderson it felt “unreal” and “like a dream.” “I thought I’d get far, but up to a certain point I didn’t think I had a chance because of the calibre of the other contestants,” he remembers.

In his view, there is plenty of “stupid fusion” which doesnt work, because it is about concept, rather than compatibility. In America, Anderson tells me, there are also several examples that are more intelligently thought out.

Since moving to England, Anderson has always been a fan of the show, and fittingly, it was by watching cookery programmes that his interest in food was first aroused. In particular, he recalls being intrigued by seeing Japan’s premier chefs use unfamiliar ingredients and ideas on Japanese Iron Chef. “It was the first time I thought food could be exciting,” he explains.

Perhaps partly due to this taste for the unfamiliar, Anderson’s cooking style has revealed itself to be eclectic and inventive. He dscribes this style as “American, more than anything”, and what he means by this, ties in neatly with his interest in fusion. In his view, there is plenty of “stupid fusion” which doesnt work, because it is about concept, rather than compatibility. In America, Anderson tells me, there are also several examples that are more intelligently thought out. “There has always been a blending of cultures. It just comes from having different cultures in close proximity to one another,” he adds. As such, this intelligent American fusion, he explains, “is based on what’s around, and what goes well together,” regardless of where the ingredients come from. Examples he gives include Caribbean sushi and Korean tacos.

Tim-Anderson-Prep-0338

To my (English) ears, this sounds like organised violence inflicted on food. Nevertheless, Anderson argues (and convinces me) that it makes sense. So much so, that he cites Roy Choi (the creator of Korean tacos) amongst his favourite chefs. “There’s no reason why it wouldn’t work either,” he tells me. “If you look at a taco, it’s just marinated spicy beef, fresh pickle flavours and toppings, which is what you get in Korean BBQ.”

This offers an insight into the thought process behind Anderson’s own cooking. It appears that what he admires most, is cooking which retains the essence of the original dish, but expands its context with new ingredients and consequently a new, improved identity. Fittingly, one of his signature dishes thus far is Japanese mezze, which intelligently reworks Greek classics by combining them with ingredients from his favourite cuisine. For example, he takes me through the thought process behind miso babaganoush, one of the components of this dish. Nasu dengaku is classic Japanese dish of miso-roasted aubergine. “If you chuck that in a blender with some olive oil and tahini, you’ve got babaganoush, with miso in it, and that,“ he explains, “is exactly how I make it actually.” Other elements include edamame houmous, mentaiko (spicy fermented pollock roe) taramasalata, Japanese pickles made with kalamata olives and their brine and dolmades made with shiso instead of vine leaves.

Since winning Masterchef, Anderson has been involved in several projects, including pop-up restaurants, private dinning and creating beers for BrewDog and Black Isle (due to be launched this month at the Euston Tap). He has even completed a stint in the kitchen at the Fat Duck. Most recently, he has become involved in recipe development for Malaysia Kitchen.

Dubbed by many as the original fusion cuisine, it is easy to see what excites Tim about Malaysian food. The complexity of references abounds; in addition to the native cuisine, there are layers of influences from India, China, Thailand and Indonesia. It is like “a crossroads for South East Asia,” Anderson comments. “I think that amalgamation makes it very diverse and interesting, possibly more so than other South East Asian countries,” he adds. 

Anderson clearly relishes a challenge, and being exposed to new ideas. Being charged by Malaysia Kitchen to rework traditional Malaysian dishes and ingredients has been no exception. “It has exposed me to a lot of really cool new ingredients,” he says, “that’s something that excites me, when I can get new ingredients and have an excuse to play around with them.” As a result of this experimentation, he has discovered a few new favourites. Amongst them is belacan, an intense and sour fish sauce made from salted, fermented shrimp. Another is durian, a fruit so notoriously pungent, that in Singapore, it is banned on public transport and in many hotels.

“Every time you encounter a new ingredient, you have to work with it in terms that you understand,” he explains. In the case of durian, which is after all a fruit, the obvious first step seemed to be desserts. It is, however, so intense and unusual, that Anderson was largely disappointed with the unexpected results, which included finding “bizarre oniony, garlicy aromas coming out of a dessert.” An inspired breakthrough came when he started treating it as a cheese. In both cheese and durian, he explains, “you get a sort of creamy, sweet texture, but you also have absolutely bizarre stinky funky flavours to it as well.” So, Anderson created a durian risotto, which worked well, because it kept the unique durian flavours, but a savoury dish proved to be a more fitting context for them.

Malaysiakitchen-1004-DBMalaysia Kitchen

Life has changed for Anderson, in fact, he says, “everything has changed.” “I’m cooking for money now, that’s what I’ve always wanted to do.” For Anderson, this is a dream come true. Even so, it isn’t the only dream, and he is still working on realising the rest. Amongst them are plans for a restaurant and a book. At this stage, he has already begun writing a proposal for the book, but both projects are still very much at the drawing board. 

The ultimate dream is to have his first restaurant open and successful. He is unlikely to chase any particular culinary accolades, or to follow the direction of previous winner Thomasina Miers by working on a chain. “I wouldn’t probably want to repeat myself,” he comments “if I was able to have one successful restaurant, I’d want to move on and do something different.” His ideas are varied and range from “somewhere that sells good noodles and fried chicken” to a “more complicated, more fine dining” restaurant. It is consequently unclear which direction Anderson will take his cooking in, and I ask if he is at a crossroads in this respect. “I don’t see why I can’t do both,” he says with a chuckle. “It is just a matter of which I want to do first.” Talking to Anderson, something tells me he has only just begun flexing his culinary muscles. As such, I have no doubt he will do both, and maybe much more besides.

 

Malaysia Night , which takes place tonight (Friday 23rd September) from 3-10pm will offer visitors food from over 20 Malaysian restaurants, in addition to a taste of traditional music, dance, martial arts and fashion.

Entry is free.

 www.malaysiakitchen.co.uk

Follow @penelopewalsh on Twitter

Portraits by Paul Winch-Furness

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