20 September 2023 · Cookbook Preview
Ahead of the publication of chef Stuart Ralston’s Catalogued Ideas and Random Thoughts: A Cookbook, ckbk caught up with Ralston for a candid glimpse into his culinary world, reflecting on his innovative cookbook, personal inspirations, and the dynamic Edinburgh food scene of which he is such an integral part.
Ralston discusses his desire to create a unique book that mirrors his creative and eclectic style, drawing inspiration from his youth in Scotland, working for Gordon Ramsay in New York City, and bringing together some of the dishes served in his renowned Edinburgh restaurants, Aizle and Noto.
He talks about his new Edinburgh restaurant, tipo, and gives an insight into the cookbook’s influences and primary sources of inspiration — from renowned chefs' works to global travel experiences. In an exclusive preview from Stuart’s book, you can try his Chocolate Tart recipe, below, which Ralston especially recommends as a family favorite. [Stuart’s book was published on 5th October and is now available in full to ckbk Premium Members].
Q The format of the book, a kind of scrapbook of ideas and thoughts pushes the boundaries of traditional cookbooks. Tell us about some of the things that inspired you in putting the book together.
I always wanted my own book to standout and not be a set format like you traditionally see of say, starters, mains and desserts from a chef’s most-known restaurant. I have always been drawn to very creative people, artists, painters, musicians, and especially those with unique styles, so I wanted my book to feel different. I wanted all the things I love in it, but also past and present, giving people a chance to get to know my own story.
Q What are some of your favorite recipes from the book?
The Prawn Toast I could eat as one of my death row dishes. I crave a simple Chocolate Mousse with hazelnuts often at home so these and many more are included - the book is meant to be used by all, from home-enthusiast to the professional chef.
Q What ideas or random cookery-related thoughts have you had this week?
Koji chocolate tart [koji is a starter culture, often fermented rice], lobster-stuffed onions, a cannoli for tipo [Ralston’s new Edinburgh restaurant], savoury bread and butter pudding, cocoa-sprayed mushroom parfait, edible wrappers, whipped macadamia butter, umami bread, roast banana miso…
Q The title of your book implies a blend of structure and creativity. How did you balance cataloging ideas with the spontaneity that often comes with cooking?
I don’t think there is a balance to be honest. Cataloging the ideas has always been random, random times of the day, random amounts of time spent thinking about it. Even when I cook things I tend to cook them differently each time, perhaps changing only slightly the techniques, but updating all the time, so there really isn’t much of a structure to the ideas. The structure comes in when the dishes hit the menus – then we need consistency and rigid weights and times. The balance comes in when the idea meets the guests – everyone has to have a great experience and that’s where the consistency is key.
Q Can you share an example of a recipe that beautifully marries both innovation and tradition in the book?
A very simple example of this is the Onion Croustade. The flavour of cheese and onion is traditional and the croustade largely uses traditional methods, however aerating the cheese sauce in the espuma gun gives it a light, warm cheese mousse feel, which feels more innovative than say, just shaving cheese on top. The fact that it’s warm and a mousse at the same time feels fresh and new.
Q How did your early experiences growing up in a family of chefs in Glenrothes influence the recipes and concepts in the new cookbook?
Growing up in Glenrothes there was next to zero food influence, except watching my mum and dad, who both worked within the industry. My dad at one time was an ambitious chef – as I am – whereas my mum was always a great home cook, so both of these worlds appealed to me for the book, and inspired my own career. There’s a Prosciutto and Tomato Herb Tart, which is basically a fancier version of a ham and tomato quiche that my mum would make us for an inexpensive supper, so everything is intertwined in some way.
Q If you could cook a dish from your cookbook for your younger self growing up in Glenrothes, what would it be and what advice would you give to young Stuart about it?
Tough question. Probably something like Chocolate, Amazake, Salted Milk [amazake is a sweet Japanese drink made from fermented rice]. I would loved to have exposed myself to this kind of dish as young as possible to understand what's possible in cooking and what’s possible with fermentation, to know what fermentation is. I explain that we can make anything we want if we research, read, travel, and be open-minded. It took me into my mid-20s to actually understand this – at a young age I thought custard was always from a packet or a can, so just exposing that cooking is a craft would be my message to myself.
Q You described working at Gordon Ramsay's flagship restaurant in New York as a pivotal experience in the book. How did your time there shape your culinary philosophy and the recipes in your cookbook?
My time with Gordon Ramsay really taught me about refinement, hard work, organisation, cooking skills, and a passion to strive for something, not to fear it all the time, so I guess that attitude runs through the book a lot.
Q Tell us about the new restaurant tipo. What dish on the menu are you most proud of?
Our new restaurant tipo, is a restaurant that focuses on home-made pasta, something I love, but was truly inspired by my business partner and operations manager, Jade. She loves pasta and always told me we should open a pasta restaurant in Edinburgh, so here we are. The dish that I love the most is the Bigoli Cacio Pepe. It’s truly simple: pecorino, black pepper, and pasta that we make in-house from very fine semolina. It’s perfect, so simple but with a lot of technique.
Q Opening successful restaurants like Aizle, Noto, and now tipo shows your dedication to the local scene. What unique aspects of Edinburgh's culinary scene do you hope to introduce to readers through your cookbook?
Really I hope just to showcase what we do in Edinburgh to anyone who hasn't been. Within the restaurant scene, people will know me for the restaurants – perhaps not just the restaurants – so it’s about piecing my work together and showing a glimpse of that daily work. I’m most proud of being in Edinburgh, proud to be an independent business person, and doing my best to provide a service within our small city that people can enjoy being a part of.
Q Could you highlight a recipe in the book that carries a personal story or memory which holds special significance for you?
Probably has to be the Chawanmushi (Japanese savoury egg custard). I have being doing this since we opened Aizle and this version was actually designed for the Great British Menu TV show. I put a ton of work into it, working on the GBM dishes after service each night and on the show. There was a lot of pressure to do well, so there’s an emotional memory attached to it.
Q Which other cookbooks have inspired you along the way?
The French Laundry, all of Marco Pierre White and Gordon Ramsay’s books, Richard Bertinet’s bread books, Eleven Madison Park books, Daniel Boulud’s Letters to a Young Chef… There are so many and for all different reasons, but I have a ton of books.
Q Where else do you look for inspiration?
Nowadays mainly from travel and eating out. I eat out a lot – I plan trips based on eating at certain restaurants around the world. I like to get out of the UK, see other cities and how others live. I think experiences are the most important source of inspiration.
Q What’s the last thing that you cooked from the book?
I cooked the Chocolate Tart last weekend. My wife and kids love it. We make dessert on Sundays – I love my kids to be interested in how to make things from scratch. There’s something nourishing to me to see my kids eat food that we have made and know what’s in it. Handy now also because I have all the typed recipes on my phone!
“If this book was a wardrobe, this chocolate tart would be your good coat. It goes with everything and is guaranteed to receive plenty of compliments.”
200g Oreo biscuits
50g unsalted butter, melted
320g 72% dark chocolate, roughly chopped
75g cold unsalted butter, diced
340g double cream
1 recipe Chantilly Cream (recipe follows)
5g best quality cocoa powder
20cm springform cake tin, greased and lined
250g whipping cream
1 vanilla pod
8g icing sugar
Preheat the oven to 180°C.
In a food processor, blitz the Oreos to make a fine crumble, then mix in the melted butter and press into the base of the prepared tin using the back of a spoon. Bake for 8 minutes and allow to cool.
Place the dark chocolate and diced butter in a large bowl. In a medium pan, carefully heat the cream and glucose to a boil, then immediately pour it over the chocolate and stir until the chocolate and butter have melted and everything is well combined. Pour onto the Oreo base, gently tapping the tin against the work top to remove any air bubbles.
Leave for at least 6 hours to set completely. If it’s still a little soft, put it in the fridge for 20 minutes, then leave out for 30 minutes to come back to room temperature.
For the Chantilly Cream, put the cream in a large bowl. With a sharp knife, scrape out the seeds from the vanilla pod and add them to the bowl along with the icing sugar. Whip everything together, making sure the sugar is completely dissolved, until a heavy ribbon stage is achieved.
Serve small slices with a little Chantilly cream dusted with cocoa on the side.
Grown-up variation: reduce the amount of double cream to 300g and add 60g of your chosen alcohol into the cream mixture – Drambuie, Cointreau and Kahlúa are all good choices.