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?

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

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2016. All rights reserved. You may share using our article tools. Please don't cut articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.

More on this topic

Suggestions below based on Food & Drink

FT Foodies: Elena Arzak

’When you are a chef, you learn to think about food all the time. I saw a washing-up liquid advert that inspired me to make something’

FT Foodies: David Shrigley

‘I like things that look like really minimal abstract paintings on the plate - but you need a bowl of pasta beforehand’

FT Foodies: Stevie Parle

‘We used to cook at Rose Gray’s house quite a lot - we’d go to Southall, get loads of ingredients and cook Indian or Sri Lankan’

FT Foodies: Hugh Jackman

‘I like to make orange and ricotta pancakes, crêpes and eggs. You know men - we usually go for breakfast because it’s the easiest thing to cook and then we try to make it seem fancy’

FT Foodies: Chris Galvin

‘My father won on the horses and drove us through France for two weeks. That was when I got hooked and was inspired to cook’