February 24, 2012 10:48 pm

FT Foodies: David Eyre

‘Bread is my Proust’s Madeleine. Every day, at about 3pm, my mother used to make it’

Chef David Eyre grew up in Mozambique and Malawi. He was the founder of The Eagle, Farringdon, and in 2001 opened the Eyre Brothers restaurant and tapas bar in Shoreditch. He has recently made a recording for the British Library’s oral history archive on food.

Do you have a Proust’s madeleine, something that brings back instant memories?

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Bread, in all its forms. Every day, at about 3pm, my mother used to make it, and there was always the smell of bread coming from the kitchen. Nearly all cooks say their mother was a fine cook, but mine really was.

What were your school dinners like?

For nine months of the year I was at school in what was then Rhodesia, and the food was shocking. Vegetables cooked for a very long time, grey meat, tapioca, sago and gristle – all the food that makes small children cry.

What was your career plan?

I was always meant to be a mechanical engineer, which is what I came to university in England to study. I thought I would go back to Africa and do something in the sugar factories. Instead I freaked out my parents by saying, “Thanks for all the education, but I’m going to get a job as a waiter.”

Why restaurants?

I’d always cooked. If I wanted sweets, my mother gave me her Good Housekeeping and said “Off you go.” My sweets were peanut brittle and coconut ice. And as a student in Newcastle I was damned if I was going to eat horrid food. My flatmates didn’t know one end of an onion from the other.

Is the customer always right?

Quite often not.

If someone says cook it until it’s dead, then fine, I’m not one of those chefs who won’t allow well done. But if someone starts asking me in the middle of a busy night if I can make an omelette, then no. Especially the ridiculous American request for an egg-white omelette. Just no.

What do you consider bad manners at the table?

Using a telephone, or even worse, a laptop. It’s awful, people with spreadsheets over lunch, and the wretched iPad is making everything worse. It’s lunch, it’s not work.

Does food ever get boring?

Sometimes you skip in to work, sometimes you drag your heels. But I can’t think of any other business where in one 24-hour period you design a menu, bring in the raw materials, make it, market it on the blackboard, sell it and bank it.

Who would work in your dream kitchen?

My best meals have never been in conventional restaurants, but places in Spain or Portugal down a track or alley. So I think my kitchen would be full of old mothers dressed in black. And on potwash, maybe Jamie Oliver. I think he needs to do a grubby day’s work.

www.eyrebrothers.co.uk; www.bl.uk/listening

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