Pippa Taylor, exec chef of Strings, on haggis, offal and the Duchess of York
What are your kitchen-tool obsessions? I have a lot of them: I use tweezers to plate small ingredients precisely, because fingers can get in the way; tongs are great for flipping meat and tossing ingredients together; small offset spatulas help me plate and flatten sauces with the offset so I can drag it across the plate; and I use a putty scraper picked up from the local hardware store to drag sauces. I also use lots of random-sized spoons to drizzle sauces and transfer ingredients from pan to plate. In fact, my spoon collection spans multiple generations of my family's kitchens. Different-sized and -shaped spoons can be used for all sorts of things; they all serve a very unique purpose, and I'm very particular about which spoon I use for different things. I think I'd use a spoon to eat steak if it was socially acceptable.
Most underrated ingredient: Offal. They're the cheapest and most undesirable cuts, but they're often the most flavorful, plus they're really good for you. The tripe, tendon, marrow and liver are chock-full of vitamins and minerals.
Favorite local ingredient and where you get it: Hazel Dell mushrooms are like tiny pieces of art. They're pure and woodsy and add so much depth to the right dish. I'm a bit of a budding mycophagist but unfortunately don't have a lot of extra time for foraging, so I find myself meticulously sorting through the mushrooms when they arrive to satisfy my itch.
Favorite spice: Salt. I love spices, but focus my culinary efforts on showcasing the inherent flavors of the proteins and vegetables in my dishes. Salt enhances everything -- every cuisine -- and brings out the natural flavor of an ingredient. You can use every spice in the book, but without salt, the dish will be lacking. Salt is essential.
One food you can't live without: Cheese -- or maybe I should say all dairy products. With so many varieties and styles, textures, smells and flavors to try, it's exciting to discover new cheeses and milks that I've never experienced before. We make a few cheeses at Strings -- a ricotta, cheddar and Brie -- which are served on our cheese plate. I enjoy tasting them at different times while they're being made and trying out the different textures, so sometimes they don't ever make it out to the guests.
One food you detest: Watermelon. I can't seem to get away from it in the summer, when it's served at every party and on every menu in some form, but I can't stand the texture or the flavor of watermelon. Blech.
What are your biggest pet peeves? Picky eaters and bad table manners.
Food trend you wish would disappear: Molecular gastronomy. I agree that there are some cool and ingenious techniques associated with molecular gastronomy, and I do think there's room for some molecular components on a menu, but at the end of the day, I want to eat a plate of food...not a plate of chemicals, bubbles, foams and powders. Restraint is something I often find missing on molecular menus.