Mexican Street Food and Farmers’ Markets with Chef Thomasina Miers
04 April, 2019
Learning to cook by her mother's side, Thomasina Miers got a taste for something she liked aged six. The recipe was a béchamel sauce.
Years later, shifting from Italian to Irish cuisine, the now chef/ author/ restaurant owner enrolled at Ballymaloe Cookery School in East Cork for three months, but it was working her way through London's scene-y kitchens that earned Tommi her (apron) stripes and toque blanche.
Flipping between food cities and regional cuisines faster than a pancake at brunch service, it was a trip to Mexico - paired with a notable gap in London's dining scene - that took Tommi to her next food foray: Mexican street food.
From founding Wahaca, the UK restaurant group selling Mexican-style street food, in 2007 to plating up umpteen servings of vibrant Mexican market food in the process, home cooking and shopping at her local market, Thomasina's unsurpassable appetite for authentic food experiences ensures the food-focused entrepreneurs mind (and stomach) is ever rumbling.
Where are you from and how has that shaped or inspired you?
I spent much of my childhood in rural Wales and Gloucestershire where I ate local, seasonal foods and produce. This continues to shape my cooking today - it's such an easy way to get the best out of the ingredients both in terms of flavour and nutrition.
Does travel inspire your cooking?
Absolutely. Travel is the most inspiring thing for cooking; learning about new ingredients and how different cultures use different techniques to cook their local dishes. Our trips to Mexico are invaluable for informing our menu development and recipe creation as well as inspiring the kitchen team to think about how we prepare our dishes.
Where's your next adventure?
We are plotting a trip to Shakti Ladakh in India for some mountain air, hill walking and wonderful food.
Where are your favourite places to dine in London?
We are so spoilt in London with so many exciting new places opening all the time, but two places I have rediscovered and keep returning to are Pastaio and Duck Soup. Both are in the heart of Soho where our office is, so it's a little dangerous.
What makes a good restaurant?
You obviously need great food - that is why we go to Mexico and put so much care and attention into our menus - but you absolutely must have great staff too. We spend a lot of time on staff training - making sure they're happy, engaged and interested in what they are doing. Going out for dinner is not a proper experience without a friendly, informative face to guide you through your meal.
How did Wahaca come about?
I spent a year living in Mexico in my twenties, exploring and learning about the food after a trip there before university. I became obsessed with the food, its freshness and vibrancy, how regional it was and the incredible diversity of ingredients.
There didn't seem to be any restaurants cooking street food in London at that time, but it seemed to be the best place to start - most chefs are inspired by the street food of their country even if serving Michelin-starred food. That was where we had to start.
Must-order items on the menu at Wahaca…
Our char-grilled rib-eye taco is sensational, while our sweet-potato taquito is a constant hit. We have also just signed off some rather delectable corn fritters for the summer that I think will go down very well. Look out for our new, incredibly soft, corn tortillas too.
Tell us some of your most loved and loathed food trends right now...
I am not mad on trends as I think they are faddy and die out quickly, but the move to eat more vegetarian and vegan food is exciting and not going to disappear anytime soon.
Wahaca has always had a menu that is 40-45% vegetarian and I think people love that. It is encouraging that so many are starting to feel they can make a difference to the planet through their food choices.
Where are the best places to shop for produce in London?
I love Neal's Yard in Covent Garden and La Fromagerie in Marylebone for dairy produce and Michanicou Bros (Holland Park) and Ben's Fruit & Vegetables (Westbourne Grove) for stunning seasonal fruit and vegetables.
Where possible, however, I would always recommend a farmer's market where you can buy straight from the producer, putting money directly into their pockets. This means you can buy incredibly good quality food at a much better price than a butcher or fishmonger.
Must-visit food cities include…
Lisbon, Bangkok, Ludlow, Mexico City.
For street food, don't miss…
Anywhere in Mexico City. For amazing Asian food, you can't beat Singapore's hawker markets.
Which chefs are you excited about?
I am a judge for Young British Foodies (an award pin pointing up-and-coming talent on the UK's dining scene). I had the most incredible dinner cooked by Roberta Hall recently at their launch dinner. She won the best chef award last year and cooks in a wonderful restaurant called the Little Chartroom in Edinburgh.
I am also incredibly excited that chef Jackson Boxer (of St Leonards and Brunswick House fame) has just opened Orasay in West London. It is high time more of these exciting and innovative chefs opened in West London.
Cooking schools worth travelling for...
Ballymaloe Cookery School. As an alumnI this is a slightly biased vote, but they are so deserving. They are incredibly forward thinking; a truly exceptional place.
Food items always in your cupboard…
Anchovies, mustard, homemade vinegar courtesy of Cult Vinegar's vases, olive oil.
What are you reading at the moment?
Late nights on Air by Elizabeth Hay.
And finally, what's in your SUITCASE?
Sunblock and moisturiser are musts wherever I go. I always keep space for exotic finds on my travels - I love coming home with something from somewhere new.