Nowness: Preserving with Skye Gyngell
Pickling squash and nostalgic recollections as Tarajia Morrell talks to the Australian chef
The memories inspired by the process of preserving food are explored in a three-part weekly series for NOWNESS, launching with a trip to Skye Gyngell’s north London residence. “It’s a lovely thing to see glowing jars of preserved produce sitting on shelves—there is a romanticism to it,” says the Australian-raised chef, who was awarded a Michelin star in 2011 for her vegetable-focused menu at Petersham Nurseries Café. “I dream of flavors from my childhood: penny sweets such as musk sticks, freckles, cobblers, jaffles and minties,” she says, (though is quick to counter that she no longer indulges in such sugary pleasures). The author of three cookbooks and currently the Director of the culinary program at Heckfield Place in Hampshire, Gyngell’s on the eve of announcing her long awaited new restaurant project and below she divulges her culinary inspirations.
What is it about pickling and preserving that appeals to you?
Skye Gyngell: I love the way you can elongate the seasons of certain fruits and vegetables in an authentic, natural and time-honored way.
Is there an ingredient you are most enamored of?
SG: What enchants me more than any single ingredient is the bounty that each season brings. Cooking seasonally feels very comforting and familiar, and I am always enchanted and surprised by how well ingredients work together from their own season: I find it miraculous and awe inspiring.
What was the moment you realized that you’d found your calling in the kitchen?
SG: In my first year at university I got a job washing up in a restaurant in Sydney, and loved the atmosphere of a working kitchen. I was soon given small tasks to perform, like making basic stocks, peeling veg and making the sweet pastry for the desserts. I loved it, it felt very comfortable and right. I soon fell in love with these little tasks and craved to learn more. Those feelings have remained with me over the years.
What’s the greatest life lesson that cooking has taught you?
SG: That life is so much nicer when you are doing something you love. That it’s important to persevere. That talent is one thing but it doesn't ever make up for hard work. The world is full of talented people but it rarely amounts to anything if you're not prepared to put in the work.
If you weren’t a chef, what would you be doing?
SG: It would be unthinkable not to be a chef—but perhaps a gardener?
Guilty pleasure after a long shift?
SG: Toast and Vegemite with lots of butter.
Fondest food memory?
SG: Eating a perfectly ripe peach with my father just outside Florence in the summer of 1983—it made me truly fall in love with produce in its purest form for the very first time.
Aphrodisiac (edible or not):
SG: It’s got to be oysters.