E is for eating: Interview with Tom Parker-Bowles

30th November 2011 (Last Updated November 30th, 2011 09:07)

Tom Parker-Bowles has put his ‘wild child’ days behind him and earned a reputation as one of the UK’s most respected food critics

E is for eating: Interview with Tom Parker-Bowles

"I became a food writer because I was rubbish at everything else. I was fired from every job I did and the only thing I could do, and still can do, was just about string a sentence together. Obviously, with a name like Parker Bowles I thought Tatler was a better match than, say, the Socialist Worker and from my first food column in that magazine, a career was built. From there, I went on to GQ, Esquire, the Mail on Sunday and all the rest, but that’s really how it came about.

"Mexico and Thailand are my two favourite countries when it comes to food. I think Mexico is hugely under-rated, probably because of the proliferation of terrible Tex-Mex restaurants we have in the UK. It’s a huge and varied, and beautiful and vast country with so many different cuisines. Whether I’m on the Yucatán Peninsula or in Mexico City, I feel very happy when I’m in Mexico. I love all Mexican food – the moles, the tacos, the tortillas. Mexico City is one of the great cities of the world.

"I also love Thailand up and down; the food is varied, fragrant, balanced, spicy and sour and there’s a great Chinese influence. Last time I went out there, it was with Giles Coren, the Times food critic, and David Thompson, who is the great western expert on Thai food. David lived there for 20 years so he took us to visit the markets and try the street food. You’ve got to get in with a local.

"English food has been done badly over the years, but when it’s done well, it’s a fantastic, fantastic cuisine"

"What I tend to do when I’m going to a different country is read blogs like Chowhound and find out who is the expert on street food. Generally, people will very kindly give up half a day to take you around and give you a grounding. You don’t have to speak the language; the international symbol of a smile and rubbing your tummy gets you a lot further than stilted guidebook phrases.

"I also avoid tourist restaurants like the plague. As a tourist you’re never going to see the real thing, whether you’re in New York, London or Luang Prabang. If I’m in Mexico I want to get out into the streets and eat Mexican food and if I’m in Thailand the same applies. However, I do go for total and utter comfort when it comes to hotels.

"Food is an obsession for me – my mum, my dad and my sister are massive eaters. I grew up in the country and we ate simple English food, what English food should be, which is a good roast chicken, fresh trout or apple crumble. My mum was a good cook who lived on a farm and my dad fished and went shooting. I took decent English food very much for granted. It’s all about the ingredients, it doesn’t travel, there’s nowhere to hide with it.

"You can see the history of a country through its food; all food is climate, geography and history. It’s interesting looking at, say, Sicily and seeing the footprints of the Moors. For me, food is so much bigger than TV shows and recipes and magazines.

"I want to go to places like Lagos, cities that people don’t often talk about. I’m always convinced that there’s good stuff to be found in those bustling, manic cities, places people tend to avoid because they have a bad reputation. Mexico City is one; it’s among the most beautiful and safe places, relative to anywhere else, but people get the wrong impression because there’s a narcotics war going in the north and in Acapulco.

"It always tends to be places with good food that I travel to. I never cease to be thrilled with New York, Laos is a fantastic country, I always find, and the south of Italy is another destination I’m obsessed with. But in the end, everything has its place. The idea of a really good roast Sunday lunch is for me every bit the equal of David Thompson’s Thai street food; it’s all relative. My comfort food is still English food. It tends to have been done badly over the years, but when it’s done well, it’s a fantastic, fantastic cuisine."