“I’ve always liked the word “gather,” chef, food writer, author, food stylist, and cooking teacher Gill Meller explains in the introduction of his new cookbook Gather: Everyday Seasonal Food from a Year in Our Landscapes. “It feels hopeful; natural and very human.”
The word “gather” in Meller’s new cookbook doesn't necessarily denote a gathering of people to share a meal — although, even Meller admits “gather” is a multilayered word. Instead, “gather” is a look at how and where he sources ingredients. He writes,” My own gathering release me, for a time, from the four walls of my kitchen... I go out into the light and air of the landscapes that surround me, because I believe that something the best way to get great ingredients is by going directly to the source.
To this point, Meller has outlined the chapters of the book in the following way: Farm, Seashore, Garden, Orchard, Field, Woodland, Moor, and Harbor. Each chapter includes main ingredients Meller would find in that locale and how he would prepare them in honest and creative ways.
“My respect for, and appreciation of good, fresh, seasonal ingredients and where they come from have shaped and honed the way I cook,” Meller explains. “Mine is an approach that doesn't call for complex processes or tricky techniques. More often than not, my recipes contain just three or four main ingredients, combined in such a way as to complement each out without compromise.”
For those who revel in fresh, seasonal, healthy, and supremely gorgeous food, this cookbook is a must. Meller's fried pears with roast red onions & crisped puy lentils, for instance, involves just six ingredients and creates a delicious blend of colors, textures, and flavors.
Meller also shared with The Daily Meal a number of his recipes including Fried Mutton Loin With Shaved Cauliflower, Preserved Lemon, and Smoked Paprika, Barbecued Little Gems With Cucumber, White Beans and Tahini, Chocolate Rye Brownies With Bay and Almonds, and A Crab Soup.
Meller was kind enough to answer a few of our questions about his philosophy and his approach to food. Continue reading below for the interview.
The Daily Meal: What is your philosophy of cooking (and/or eating)?
Gill Meller: My respect and appreciation for good, fresh, seasonal ingredients and where they come from have shaped and honed the way I cook. The ingredients I cook with have taught me to rely more and more on the natural qualities they possess and helped me to define a style of cooking that is both simple and, for the most part, quick. It's an approach that doesn’t call for complex processes or tricky techniques. A lot of my food contains just three or four main ingredients combined in such a way as to complement each other without compromise. My ideas are conceived out of a love for simple, but not always typical, combinations. The role of each element within the dish is usually quite obvious, but in many cases will also bring a subtlety and delicacy. Over the last two decades, I’ve discovered that cooking with the seasons is not only the best way to enjoy great ingredients in their prime but also the most creative way to embrace them.
How did it inspire the recipes you chose to include in this book?
The recipes in Gather evolved quite organically. They were driven by the seasonal output of the food producing landscapes that make up the chapters of the book. It was a great way to compile and format a recipe book. It felt really different and fresh. I never have a problem coming up with recipes, it’s finding the right vehicle to carry them that can prove tricky with books. In this instance, landscapes worked really well.
What is your favorite recipe in the book and why?
There is a recipe in the ‘Harbor' chapter for ‘Scallops cooked in their shells over the embers of an open fire’. It’s the very last recipe in the book but probably my favorite. I don’t know why I love this one so much. I think it has a lot to do with the romance that cooking outside evokes. It epitomizes cooking at its absolute simplest. There is no call for pans or plates, just a fire and the ingredients themselves. The scallops are cooked in a seaweed and garlic butter, which compliments the delicate scallop meat so well. You must try it.
What are some of the foods you can’t live without?
There is nothing specific I really need to live. As long as I have water and plants I will be happy. As I’ve gotten older, my approach to food and the things I eat has changed—I’m not a vegan, I’m not a vegetarian, but I’ve come to accept that some foods, like meat and fish, shouldn’t be eaten all the time, and when we do eat them, it should be done in the most sustainable way possible. As people, we need to learn to rely on plants to live, so in that sense, I couldn’t live without them.
Would you rather dine out or cook at home?
I love eating out, but I’d rather stay at home and cook, that is, if I’m near my home. I feel really comfortable there. I can experiment, I know exactly what I’m putting into my body and where it’s come from, and I can usually cook a pretty tasty supper. And at the end of the night, I’m not handed a bill. It’s different if I’m abroad. I love to learn about the local cuisine, to taste, to smell, to absorb. You do that by immersing yourself in the food culture, and that means going out to eat.
What is your favorite go-to meal or drink?
I make a very simple dark rye bread with a fermenting rye leaven, molasses, coriander seeds and barley. The recipe is in my book and it’s absolutely delicious. I have it thinly sliced and toasted with eggs, fresh chili, and the best olive oil.
How do you hope readers will use this book, what do you hope they take away?
This book isn’t just about the provenance of ingredients. It’s not necessarily about the people who grow, catch, farm, harvest or collect them, either. It’s not even completely about the landscapes. It is, more or less, a collection of simple recipes I love to cook, centered on a group of seasonal ingredients of which I’m particularly fond of. Through these ingredients, I hope to give every home cook an idea of context; a sense of the productive and beautiful places these foods come from. I’m sure many of them are ingredients you spend time preparing in your kitchen, too.
Alongside this, my book is very much about that moment of pleasure when we first taste a dish. That fraction of time given over to the appreciation of all that makes a mouthful of food a joy. It should be this way; joy is, after all, the single most wonderful thing about eating, as pure an emotion as love or fear: the fragility of a perfectly cooked piece of fish as it flakes in the mouth, or the crispness of a fried potato, spiked by the hard edge of rosemary’s perfume; the clean, glassy crunch of a fresh lettuce leaf, a lick of lemony acidity its only foil. All these gorgeous textures, tastes, and smells are owed in part to the cook’s careful and sure hand, but also to the journey the ingredient has made before it hits the plate or the pan or the hot embers of a barbecue.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
I have become increasingly aware that the most important thing about cooking is not so much the finished dish but the ingredients that have gone into it and where they have come from. The food producing landscapes that surround me are broad and varied these are the inspirations for my book.