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John Gregory-Smith Podcasts

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9 of The Best Podcast Episodes for John Gregory-Smith. A collection of podcasts episodes with or about John Gregory-Smith, often where they are interviewed.

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9 of The Best Podcast Episodes for John Gregory-Smith. A collection of podcasts episodes with or about John Gregory-Smith, often where they are interviewed.

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ep 194 - JOHN GREGORY-SMITH takes us on a virtual food tour of Tel Aviv

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This week sees the return of olive favourite and podcast regular John Gregory Smith, a food writer and author who specialises in writing about Middle Eastern food. John has written some great recipes for our Easter issue inspired by one of his favourite destinations, Tel Aviv. It’s a city that’s rich in food culture and we take an armchair tour from extravagant breakfast spreads to buzzing markets and late night clubbing and snacking which John really brings it to life with his tales and recommendations.

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Apr 03 2020 · 29mins
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Saffron in the Souks | John Gregory-Smith

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Saffron in the Souks
Vibrant Recipes from the Heart of Lebanon

By John Gregory-Smith

Intro:                  Welcome to the number one cookbook podcast, Cookery by the Book with Suzy Chase.

                                    She's just a home cook in New York City, sitting at her dining room table, talking to cookbook authors.

John:                  I'm John Gregory-Smith, and my new cookery book is called Saffron in the Souks. It's packed with vibrant recipes from Lebanon.

Suzy Chase:                  The first line in this cookbook says, “When I was writing my first cookbook in 2010, I went to work as a chef in Beirut.”

                                    Let's go back for a minute, and tell me how you got to that point in 2010, in Beirut?

John:                  So, the landscape was very different then. Social media was a completely different beast back in 2010, I think. I don't even think Instagram was really a thing back then. I was more like Facebook and Twitter. I'd read an article on a restaurant, very old school, like in the newspaper, that was like a community kitchen.

                                    The guys set up this place called Tawlet in Beirut, where they had a really good front of house, really good chefs, and they would invite people from local regions of Lebanon to come and cook their local cuisine. The landscape there was a bit, let's say, challenging outside of the city. It was still a bit dangerous. A lot of the people with the money who were living in Beirut weren't traveling anywhere. What you wanted to do was encourage people to come and cook, they could take home a bit of cash. Just do good things via food.

                                    I thought it sounded incredible, and I also thought it sounded like a very smart way to go to one place and learn about all the regional cuisine of the country. Lebanon is not a huge country anyway, but it wasn't a great place to be traveling around. You could just go to the city and stay there.

                                    I emailed them and they got back to me and said, “Yeah, come out. That would be great, we'd love to have you.”

                                    I basically was there for a couple of weeks. I'd go in every morning and do the morning shifts, and help the guys prep for lunch service. The way they eat in this restaurant is just beautiful. You go and you pay a set price, I think it's about $30 or whatever. You have this ginormous banquet laid out for you of hot and cold [mezzes 00:02:21], and then amazing stews and meats, and amazing vegetarian food from the different regions.

                                    The ladies who would come in from the regions would spearhead what they wanted to cook, and then the chefs would help them prepare it. It was really quality food, really interesting menus, and it was changing all the time.

                                    The desserts, oh my God, they were so delicious! They'd have this huge counter laid out, with opulent desserts. It was just incredible.

                                    I learned so much. Really, really enjoyed the city as well. It was a very vibrant place to be, there was a lot happening, it felt like it was really exciting. I was very much advised to just stay in the city, for my own safety. I don't speak Arabic, and that was ... When the locals tell you to do something, you tend to do it, do you know what I mean?

Suzy Chase:                  Yeah.

John:                  So, I had this incredible time, kept in touch with everybody in the restaurant. They were saying, "Oh, you know, the country is changing, it's really opening up, it's a lot safer now. You should think about coming back."

                                    I did, I just decided that's what I wanted to do. I went back, hired a car, and drove around for a few months on my own. Tapped into these lovely ladies who'd helped me originally. It was so nice, going to revisit them, and going to stay in their homes. Spend time with them properly, and cook with them on their own terms. It was just phenomenal.

Suzy Chase:                  Now, years later when you went back, did you go thinking about writing a cookbook, or did you just go back, just to revisit it?

John:                  Absolutely writing a cookbook. I got the green light that I could ... Basically, I said to the guys I'd stayed in touch with in the restaurant, if I come back, the way I write books is I need to drive around, I need to be on my own, I need to soak things up. I need to feel that I can go anywhere, do everything, meet everyone. Is that doable?

                                    They were like, “Absolutely.”

                                    So, I spoke to my publisher. I felt if I could do it, go for it. They were quite supportive.

Suzy Chase:                  Did you have a translator?

John:                  Yes. My Arabic is dreadful. It's a really hard language.

Suzy Chase:                  Yes.

John:                  I'm very bad at languages, anyway. I can speak three words of French. Arabic is a very different beast. I can say hello, and thank you. Most of the times when I say that, people don't really understand what I'm saying. I would very much have a translator.

                                    Actually, what I found when I was there is that most of the guys would speak a bit of English. I could get around it quite easy. It was nice when I did have a translator, because I could get the beautiful stories, and the nuances of the food quite a lot better.

Suzy Chase:                  Tell me about the title, Saffron in the Souks? It just rolls off the tongue.

John:                  So, what I like to do is, when I go to these countries, I get incredibly overexcited. I'm quite an excitable person. I charge around, full of energy. I see everything, do everything, and I tend to just love it all.

                                    What I want to do is communicate that to everybody, really. It has to be through the recipes, through the writing, and the title. What I was trying to come up with was something really evocative, and beautiful, and that would inspire how the country had inspired me, really.

                                    Saffron in the Souks just felt like it had that lovely hint of something exotic. It felt perfect for it.

Suzy Chase:                  It's nice. You could even name a restaurant Saffron in the Souks.

John:                  Yeah, it's gorgeous. I love it.

Suzy Chase:                  It's really pretty.

John:                  Trademarked, by the way, so you can't.

Suzy Chase:                  Oh, darn. I was going to do my new Twitter handle, Saffron in the Souks.

John:                  Funny.

Suzy Chase:                  What is typical Lebanese street food?

John:                  So, the really good stuff would be kebabs. Amazing kebabs, they eat them meat over fire. You wouldn't cook it at home because you don't have a huge fire pit. That is served everywhere. Any town you go to will have a really good kebab shop. They make everything from chicken sheesh, which is the very basic marinated cubes of chicken, to more elaborate lamb kebabs, and ground meats.

                                    The other thing is, again, because they don't have ovens, you use communal bakers. Even in the tiny villages, they'll have a local baker. The baker will obviously cook the bread, but they also do these really wicked things called manouche, which is a flatbread that's cooked fresh with zaatar. Zaatar is a spice blend of different dried herbs. Sumac, which is a red berry that grows in dry areas. It's ground and it's got a very tart flavor. Then, finally, sesame seeds. It's quite a sucker punch of flavor. They drizzle oil and put the spice mix over the raw dough and bake it. You eat that as breakfast on the go, and it's just divine.

Suzy Chase:                  Tell me about picking fresh zaatar in Nabatieh? How do you pronounce it?

John:                  Nabatieh.

Suzy Chase:                  Nabatieh.

John:                  Yeah, that was really interesting. Actually, that was right in the south of Lebanon, by the Israeli border. I was advised not to go there. I think people just felt it could be a bit risky, basically.

                                    Anyway, I was with the guys who I'd been working with the whole time, who ran this kitchen. I was say I really want to go down there, but I've been told not to. They went, “Listen, we know this brilliant farmer there. He's really lovely. Let's call him and see what he says.”

                                    We called this guy, he's called Abu. Abu was so lovely. He went, “Look, it's completely fine at the moment, it's really safe. It feels like it's been safe for quite a while. Why don't you come down to the farm?”

                                    I went with a friend of mine, she actually drove me. Now, I did drive everywhere in Lebanon, and it was only out of laziness she decided to drive. It also meant that the journey, which probably would have taken me maybe four hours, because I drive so slowly, took about an hour because they drive ... She drove so fast.

                                    We went there, and it was exquisite. It was a really vibrant, green part of Lebanon. Beautiful, it was springtime. Wild flowers everywhere, and this herb called zaatar grows there. If you buy this blend called zaatar, say in America, it will probably have thyme or oregano in it as the herb. In Lebanon, they actually have a herb called zaatar. It's native to their country, and it's got this incredible perfume.

                                    Abu was this wonderful man. Really just so much energy and life, he was gorgeous, grew this herb commercially. When he first started growing it, everyone was like, you're insane. This just grows wild everywhere, we can just pick it. He basically knew that he had found the best zaatar plants. He had the last laugh, because now is zaatar is very coveted all over Lebanon and beyond.

Suzy Chase:                  Mm-hmm (affirmative).

John:                  I think he even stocks some restaurants in London now with it. He was just so lovely.

                                    We strolled around his farm, and he took me down to this incredible river that was in this gorge. It was just so beautiful. I was thinking I was so lost in the whimsical beauty of this place. I was like, my God, we're actually in a really dangerous part of the world. Who would have thought this kicks off here? It's just too beautiful.

                                    He developed ... He was such a canny old man. He developed this technology, this machine that could spin the herbs. He would dry it and spin it, and it would remove all the little bits of grit, and separate the lovely top bit of herb from the grit. I'm like ... the journalist in me was like, I want more information. Tell me about this? How does it work, what does it do? He was really funny, because it was all through a translator. I could just see his face, he was very serious while she was talking. Then, he'd just roared laughing. I even understood what he was saying.

                                    He was like, “There's absolutely no way that I'm telling you how this works. This is my trade secret. Back on your horse.”

                                    It was just so wonderful, it was such a lovely experience. I'm really glad that I went down there. I felt completely safe, and it's great for me to be able to report back on it. I'm not saying everyone should run down there immediately, but if you choose to and it's right for you, it's pretty fabulous.

Suzy Chase:                  I love the photo of him on page 139.

John:                  Yeah, it's amazing.

Suzy Chase:                  There's just so many stories in that face of his.

John:                  Yeah. Yeah, yeah, he's amazing.

Suzy Chase:                  Describe the Lebanese seven spice?

John:                  Lebanese, they do use a lot of spices, but actually it tends to be, in general, quite herb heavy and fresh. It's more the old, Arabic dishes that they use spices in.

                                    One of the blends is called seven spice. It's typically more than seven spices, that's what I came to realize when I was there. I was like, that's not seven, that's about 12. People would just look at me, very blankly. It tends to be quite heavy, woody spices. Cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, those sorts of things. They add in this incredible spice called mahleb. Mahleb is actually cherry stones, so the pits or the seeds from a cherry, and they're ground, which sounds disgusting. You'd just be thinking, why would you want to grind a gross old stone after you've eaten it? But it has the most incredible sweet perfume. Actually, in Syrian cuisine, they use it a lot in desserts. Lots of pastries and baklava, they'll add it too.

                                    It goes into some seven spice mixes, and you can smell the ones that have it. It can be quite hard to find. I think America is very similar to the UK, in if you order it, you get it, but that can be a bit of a faff. I think you can get a mix called [baharat 00:12:17]. I know, for example, in Whole Foods, you can buy baharat. That's a sort of similar style blend. I've tried to put that in. Everywhere I've said seven spice, I've put that in, just so you can stay on top of the cooking.

Suzy Chase:                  How do you spell that, if we want to look for it at Whole Foods?

John:                  Oh, let's try. I'm quite dyslexic, but I'll give it a go.

Suzy Chase:                  Okay.

John:                  I think it's B-A-H-A-R-A-T.

Suzy Chase:                  Okay.

John:                  That's it.

Suzy Chase:                  So, it's spelled like it sounds?

John:                  Yes. I think so. Maybe check on Google just in case-

Suzy Chase:                  Yeah.

John:                  -I've got it completely wrong.

Suzy Chase:                  Well, just look in the Bs.

John:                  Yeah, exactly.

Suzy Chase:                  I found it interesting that Beirut used to be called The Paris of the East.

John:                  Yes.

Suzy Chase:                  Talk a bit about that?

John:                  So, Beirut was originally a very Liberal city, a coastal city. Beautiful beaches, beautiful people, beautiful drinks, beautiful food. It was a French doctorate for quite a long time, Lebanon. It had a massive French hangover, almost. The architecture there was very Parisian, beautiful wide streets, very unlike typical Arabic. It would have wide balconies, beautiful French windows. Things were very open on the facade, whereas if you go to a very Arabic city, everything's very closed because they like to do things behind closed doors. So, it had this beautiful architecture, really good art scene, and it was known as being a quite decadent city.

                                    There's a city outside of Beirut called Baalbek, which is an extraordinary city near Syria. Baalbek used to have ... It's famous for Roman ruins, actually. It's got the most incredible Roman ruins. The temples look like the Acropolis. It's the Temple to Dionysus, which is the God of Booze. They used to do these incredible festivals there in the forties, where all the Hollywood greats would go. It was a real roaring place to be.

                                    Unfortunately, just because of politics, and religion, and strife, it took a massive turn for the worst. The people who live there remember that, and they hold onto that, and they treasure that. What's really lovely now is that people are like, “We want that back, and we're going to get it back.”

                                    You really feel that when you're there now. Beirut has so much energy when you're there. Really amazing, all along the coast, really rocking beach bars where you just hang out all day. Really creative artsy side of the city as well, so lots of poets, and musicians, and artists, and they're really injecting life back into it. Fingers crossed that they can do it, because it's certainly a cool place to be.

Suzy Chase:                  Speaking of Dionysus, when you think about an Arabic country, you would assume no one drinks or parties.

John:                  Exactly. Boy, do they drink and party there.

                                    Lebanon is a very small country. It's near, obviously, Jerusalem, so it has ... During the Crusades, it was always quite a hot spot. That coast was very dominant. That whole area has always been ... What's a nice way to put it? A slight tussle between the different religions, let's say.

Suzy Chase:                  A tussle.

John:                  Yeah, really top line way of saying it.

                                    When you're there, there's obviously a massive Christian community still there. In this small country, you've got big Christian community, there's a big Arabic community. They've got Drus, they've got Jews, they've got loads of different communities there. A lot of those communities are very happy. Arabs do party, but they just party in a very different way. There's a lot of them there who certainly like to party with a good drink in hand.

                                    The interesting thing about Lebanon is they have, to the east valley called Becker Valley. Becker Valley is the wine region, so it's filled with vineyards. They make some exquisite wines there.

Suzy Chase:                  So, describe the sour tang that the Lebanese palette is so partial to?

John:                  Yeah, right. It's extraordinary.

                                    They love sour. When you're cooking with Lebanese, there're certain ingredients that their eyes light up, and they love the taste of sour.

                                    Pomegranate molasses, which is essentially just pomegranate, which we know are full of those pits with that lovely bejeweled bit of fruit around each one. They just squeeze the juice out and simmer it down. The natural sweetness turns it into this very sticky molasses. They will shove that in salads, stews. They'll make vinegarette and sauces out of it. It gives this very sweet sour tang.

                                    The lemons there are incredible. They are tart, but they're not like really horrid, bitter lemons that make you wince. They're more like Amalfi lemons. They're huge, slightly sweet flavored. They're gorgeous, and they will really go for it with that.

                                    The other ingredient, I think I mentioned earlier, is the sumac, which is the ground red berry. Quite often, they'll use all three.

                                    For example, when they make fattoush, which is a classic Lebanese salad, which is essentially chopped ingredients with bits of crispy fried bread. Just deeply pleasing. They'll make the dressing with pomegranate molasses, lemon juice, and sumac, and then they put in their gorgeous olive oil. It's very, very sour.

                                    It's interesting when you're cooking with someone who's palette's a bit more developed in that direction than you. I'd be like, oh, just a little hint. They're like, "What are you doing? Keep going, keep going."

                                    Actually, it does work. When you're using really lovely fresh ingredients, they can quite often take a sour that's lovely.

Suzy Chase:                  When I think about Lebanon, I don't think about exciting produce. Talk a bit about that?

John:                  Yeah.

                                    It's a funny old place. Again, for such a small country, it's got the most incredible different terrain. You've obviously got the Mediterranean Sea to one side, so you get all the coastal food. Then, you've got the mountains in the North and the South. Really, you've got a band of band mountains in the middle, and then a valley on the other side. It's very fertile, it's incredibly fertile country. They grow everything from fruit and vegetables to amazing herbs. Really, really amazing herbs. Rice grains, everything grows there.

                                    They get really good seasons. You get really long, hot summers. You get good autumn, good spring, where it's a lot cooler. Then, cold winters so things can regenerate. You do get this incredible, incredible turnaround of produce there.

                                    What's lovely is they don't have a culture like, say, mine or yours, where we're so used to going into the supermarket and you get whatever you want, whenever you want. There, they do have supermarkets in the cities, but everything is just seasonal. You just get what you get, and it is really lovely. They'll be certain things at certain times of the year.

                                    For example, strawberries. Well, they'll just go bad for it. Or, in the spring, when the green beans come, farva beans. They just love it. You see little stalls popping up everywhere, selling just one ingredient. The farmers will come, we've got a glut of them. Everybody gets really excited about it, it's so sweet. They may only be around for a couple of months.

                                    I don't have that. I've just grown up in London where you go to the supermarket and get what you want. I just love being around that excitement over something so simple. It's really gorgeous.

Suzy Chase:                  One recipe that was surprising in this cookbook is the Garlicky Douma Dumplings. Is it Douma?

John:                  Oh! Yes! They're so good.

Suzy Chase:                  Tell me about those.

John:                  Douma is this beautiful little Christian village. It looks like you're in Tuscany, it's in the hills before you get to the mountains. It is so beautiful. Really, it's extraordinary. I took my parents there, and they couldn't believe it. You've got these little villages with huge churches in. Everything is dome, tiled roofs. It really looks like Italy, it's really weird. All the olive trees going around.

                                    In the villages there, they make these dumplings. They almost make a pasta dough, and they fill them with meat. They actually look even like little tortellini. They serve them in a yogurt sauce.

                                    When I first got given this bowl of joy, I was so overexcited. Because I'm such a geek, the first thing I wanted to do was take a photo. The light was really bad. I was in this beautiful old house, with this amazing kitchen, and these lovely women cooking and chatting. I got given this bowl of food and yelped, and made a run for what had been the door to go outside.

                                    I hadn't realized that someone had actually closed the glass door, so I just ran into it, into the glass door.

Suzy Chase:                  No!

John:                  Luckily, nothing bad happened, but the whole bowl of food just flew all over me. I was like, turned around covered in these dumplings dripping down my face. They were all just in utter hysterics.

Suzy Chase:                  Oh, my.

John:                  They thought I was weird enough anyway, and that was definitely the cherry on top.

Suzy Chase:                  Just pushed you over the top.

John:                  It was so funny. They are absolutely dreamy.

                                    They're quite easy to make, because the dough is ... There's actually no egg in it. Unlike pasta, there's no egg in that dough, so it's super easy to work with. They are delicious.

Suzy Chase:                  Last weekend, I made your recipe for Beirut meatballs on page 111.

John:                  I saw!

Suzy Chase:                  Now, this is a traditional recipe named after an Ottoman name Daout Basha

John:                  Yeah.

Suzy Chase:                  How have you adapted this recipe, and how did this guy get a dish named after him?

John:                  So, funnily enough, the woman who told me this story, it was really funny. She was this incredible woman, she was so glamorous and cool. I met her in the restaurant in Beirut. I didn't meet her 10 years ago, I met her this time around because I kept going to the restaurant for lunch. Whenever I was in the city, I'd always pop in to say hi to everyone.

                                    I met her. We got on like a house on fire, and actually went to her house. She showed me how to cook these. She was like ... You know how when you meet some people, you're just naturally drawn to them?

Suzy Chase:                  Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah.

John:                  They've just got something about them.

                                    She'd been through really bad cancer. She was so full of life and energy. Her son was an opera singer. They were just really cool. I'm a bit obsessed with pasta and meatballs, and for some reason we were talking about that. She was like, “Oh my goodness. There's this dish that I've got to teach you.”

                                    She showed me how to make them. They're sort of like sour meatballs in a ... There's a lot of onions, and pomegranate, and it's very perfumed. I was asking her, where is this recipe from? She gave me that story, that this Turkish guy had come. This was named after him.

                                    I said, why? She just went, “Well, it just is.” That was the end of the story.

Suzy Chase:                  Okay.

John:                  I was like, oh. Can you give me any more detail than that?

                                    She's like, “No, they're just named after him.” I've Googled it, and spoken to other people, and they all said the same thing.

                                    Whoever he was, came over, and left this dish. That's it. Regardless of the slightly stunted story, they are delicious. They're really, really nice.

Suzy Chase:                  I even made my own pomegranate molasses, which was so easy.

John:                  Wow. That's really top marks. You win. That's amazing. I would never do that.

Suzy Chase:                  It was really easy.

John:                  Really? How long did it take to cook down?

Suzy Chase:                  About eight minutes. Not that long.

John:                  That's so good, that's amazing.

Suzy Chase:                  I didn't need that much.

John:                  Is that because you couldn't find a bottle?

Suzy Chase:                  Yeah, I couldn't find-

John:                  Oh.

Suzy Chase:                  I used pomegranate juice.

John:                  Oh, that's great. How intuitive of you.

Suzy Chase:                  Yeah, look at that.

John:                  Look at you.

Suzy Chase:                  Look at me cooking.

                                    I also made the recipe for roasted carrots with tahini and black sesame seeds on page 51.

John:                  Yeah, that's nice.

Suzy Chase:                  Describe this dish.

John:                  Obviously I said earlier about the way the produce works, and the way things are just eaten in season. They have an innate love of vegetable. They just love veggies. They do them really, really well. Most meals you go to, actually, will have ... Actually, quite a lot of people will eat vegetarian food quite a lot of the time, certainly in the more rural areas where they've not got so much cash. Even if you eat a big meal, it will tend to be a little meat or fish, then loads of veg.

                                    This was just one of those dishes that was very simple, and it makes the vegetables sing. What you want is ... Do you have the word ... You do have the word heritage for vegetables in America, don't you?

Suzy Chase:                  Yes. We call them heirloom.

John:                  Okay, so heirloom carrots.

Suzy Chase:                  Mm-hmm (affirmative).

John:                  You want the nicest carrots that you can get. All different colors, all different flavors. You just roast them up with a bit of cumin. The lovely bit is the tahini. Carrots have that deep sweetness that you get from a root veg. Tahini is almost like a peanut butter, but it's made with sesame seeds. It's a ground sesame seed paste, and it has a wonderful, rich sweetness that just compliments the carrots. It's just two ingredients that work so well together, and I just love it.

Suzy Chase:                  I also made the Akra smashed Lemon Chickpeas on page 16.

John:                  Whoa.

Suzy Chase:                  How is this different from hummus?

John:                  Okay, hummus is chickpeas, tahini, garlic, and lemon. That's how you make classic hummus.

                                    This recipe, it's called Akra Smashed. Akra is the name of the restaurant in Tripoli. Tripoli is this fabulous, old Venetian city on the coast, north of Beirut. It really is buzzing, it's brilliant. I think, actually the best street food in Lebanon is in Tripoli. There's this ginormous restaurant called Akra. It opens really early in the morning, like six o'clock, maybe even earlier, and it stays open until about two. All they serve is hummus. It's got about 350 covers, it's packed the whole time. The point being, you basically get a whole bowl of hummus for yourself, with a little bowl of pickles, veg, and some pitas. That's a snack or a light meal. Actually, it's not that light because you eat so much of it.

                                    They serve the classic hummus. They serve a thing called hummus ful, spelled F-U-L. That's made with fava beans. It's quite an acquired taste, actually. Then they make this other style of hummus that I copied in this book. It's basically the same ingredients. You've got your chickpeas, your lemon, your garlic, and your tahini, but it's blended so that it has a bit more texture. It's more lemon juice than you would normally serve, so it tastes a bit fresher, a bit lighter. It's got a lovely texture to it. It's not that silky smooth complexion of hummus, it's a bit more chunky. Like a guacamole or something.

                                    What was so nice about it is you get that sort of texture, and almost dryness from the chickpeas. It feels like it's gagging for something. What they did is they drizzle it with a chile butter, a very rich chile butter, and then loads of roasted nuts. You get all the things in it missing, and it's just divine.

Suzy Chase:                  Now to my segment this season called my favorite cookbook.

John:                  Right.

Suzy Chase:                  Aside from this cookbook and your others, what is your all-time favorite cookbook and why?

John:                  Oh, all-time favorite book, that's really hard. Can it only be one?

Suzy Chase:                  Yes.

John:                  Yes, because that was the question, wasn't it?

                                    Oh my God, that's really hard. What would be the one book that I would hang onto?

                                    I would be Delia Smith, How To Cook. Delia Smith is a stalwart British cookery writer and TV chef from the ... She was really massive ... She's still huge here now, but she was really big in the seventies and eighties. It was before cookery was cool, so on telly. It was a bit like a school teach telling you how to cook. Her recipes really worked. It was everything from how to make an omelet to how to make a roast chicken. I taught myself how to cook with that book.

                                    My mom had a copy. The cover, Delia has the most extraordinary, coiffed 1970s haircut you've ever seen. It looks like someone's put a weird bowl over her hair, tilted it backwards, and cut around it.

Suzy Chase:                  I love it.

John:                  It's extraordinary. If you Google it, it will just make you roar with laughter.

                                    That book, I learned how to cook from it. I think that would probably be the one book I feel so nostalgic about and hang onto.

Suzy Chase:                  In interviewed James Rich, who wrote the cookbook Apple yesterday.

John:                  Oh, yeah, right.

Suzy Chase:                  He said the same thing!

John:                  Did he?

Suzy Chase:                  Yes!

John:                  That's so funny. That is so funny.

Suzy Chase:                  Okay, so you've done Turkey, Morocco, and Lebanon. What's next?

John:                  I'm entirely sure, actually. I came up with a brilliant, very hair brained idea. I like really weird and wonderful, I love weird and wonderful a lot, and I my publisher thought my idea was way too weird, and perhaps not so wonderful. They've asked me to rethink.

                                    Yeah, I definitely want to continue with the Middle Eastern thing. I feel that I want to dip into another country there, because I just love it around there. I've got a trip coming up, actually. I'm going to Gaza in a couple of weeks, which is going to be very, very interesting.

Suzy Chase:                  Oh my gosh.

John:                  Yeah, I'm going with a charity to look at child nutrition out there. It's all quite intense. I think it will be incredible, I think it's going to be really extraordinary going to pretty much a war zone to see how people eat. Yeah, it's going to be quite an intense trip.

                                    I would love to go somewhere ... I love the Eastern Mediterranean, it's beautiful. I'd love to do a book in Iranian food, but I don't think now is the time to be going to Iran.

Suzy Chase:                  What does your mom say? Is your mom freaking out?

John:                  Yeah, completely. When I said the G word, they made that teeth wincing noise. She went, “Oh, my baby. What are you doing? Why are you doing that?”

                                    I said, I want to go because it's this amazing charity and we're going to help children. It means this tiny thing I can do to contribute could be a really good thing. She was just like, “But why there? Why don't you pick somewhere nicer?”

                                    I'm dead excited. I think it'll be great.

Suzy Chase:                  So, where can you find you on the web, and social media?

John:                  So, I use Instagram an awful lot, much to the annoyance of my family. My Instagram handle is @JohnGS. I've got a lot of content on there, I do a lot of free content. I'm trying to stick a couple recipes out every week for people to copy.

                                    Then, everything on my website, which is just

Suzy Chase:                  As the Lebanese people say, Sahtain, which means double health. Thanks so much for coming on Cookery by the Book podcast.

John:                  Loved it, and love you.

Outro:                  Subscribe over on

                                    Thanks for listening to the number one cookbook podcast, Cookery by the Book.

Sep 30 2019 ·
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John Gregory-Smith

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Alexandra talks to John Gregory-Smith! John is a chef, presenter and food writer who specialises in Middle Eastern and North African cuisine. He has written four cookbooks, including bestseller Orange Blossom and Honey and his newest venture Saffron in the Souks. He travels all over the world in search of the best recipes, contributing regularly to various UK publications. When in London, his pop-ups always receive rave reviews.

Come for Supper sees host Alexandra Dudley sit down with artists, actors, authors and chefs to discuss how they like to serve supper. In the show we learn about the guest’s culinary tips, tales and disasters whilst learning a little about their life along the way. From their dream dinner party guests, to their kitchen essentials, we dive deep into the world of food and the joy of having people come for supper.

This is a Studio71 production. 

Producer - Jack Claramunt 

Exec Producer - Tom Payne & Jody Smith

Production Support - Phie McKenzie

Created by Alexandra Dudley

Studio71 is a Red Arrow Studios Company.

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Jul 31 2019 · 37mins
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John Gregory-Smith Talks about Saffron In The Souks

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Welcome to All Consumed, a podcast about food, drink and travel hosted by Neil Davey and Chris Osburn.

You’ve seen him on TV, you’ve probably seen his recipes in assorted weekend supplements, you may well have one of his previous four books… you might even have seen him in an airport, rushing off on a travel assignment or a research trip. Today though, John Gregory-Smith is in London – only just, he’s off to Australia after this chat – and chatting about his life, his career and, particularly, his newest book, Saffron In The Souks (available now, Kyle Books, £25).

Listen now:

Download and subscribe to All Consumed at Apple Podcasts.

Jun 08 2019 ·
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Ep 18: Food and travel guru - John Gregory-Smith

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Doesn’t being a food and travel writer sound like the dream? Well, for today’s guest it’s all reality… John Gregory-Smith is the fabulous food and travel writer, chef, and cookbook author who specialises in Middle Eastern and North African cuisines. He travels far and wide to bring us unique recipes and untold tales. He’s just released his fifth cookbook, Saffron in the Souks, which takes us on a culinary adventure through Lebanon. John invited me over to his gorgeous flat in London where we drank strong Arabic coffee and talked about his latest book, about Lebanon and why he fell in love with the country, and how he went from working in recruitment to having, what I think, is pretty much the dreamiest job in the world.

John is awesome! I love his books and his writing and I hope you’re going to enjoy this conversation as much as I did...

You can find out more about John on his website and follow him on Instagram here.

May 24 2019 · 53mins
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ep 153 - JOHN GREGORY-SMITH - Lebanese food special and kebab cook-a-long!

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This week's podcast sees the return of chef and author John Gregory-Smith. Janine catches up with him to talk about his new book Saffron in the Souks which explores the wonderful world of Lebanese food. John really brings the country to life with his vivid tales of travelling and eating and they also cook one of his favourite dishes, hole-in-the-wall kebabs, live on the podcast!

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May 23 2019 · 37mins
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olive magazine podcast ep98 - Ecuador food and travel special with John Gregory-Smith

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This week on the olive magazine podcast food director Janine has an extended chat and live cook-along with one of our favourite contributors, food and travel writer John Gregory-Smith. John talks about the food of Ecuador and cooks tigrillo, a breakfast dish that features in the new issue. He’s also got some great tips on eating your way around this vibrant South American country.

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Apr 19 2018 · 45mins
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Hoovering – Episode 11: John Gregory-Smith

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Welcome to HOOVERING, the podcast about eating. Host, Jessica Fostekew (Guilty Feminist, Motherland) has a frank conversation with an interesting person about gobbling; guzzling; nibbling; scoffing; devouring and wolfing all up… or if you will, hoovering.

This week I’m joined by an actual chef – one from telly AND more importantly, real life: John Gregory-Smith. He makes me a glorious shakshuka and I make him a deeply repulsive vegan chocolate mousse which he is hilariously charming about- it was inedible. And I say that as someone who, if you’re a regular listener will know, once sucked port out of a 2nd hand rug.


For John’s shaksuka – you’ll have to listen, and carefully, with a pen and a pausing finger ready. For my vegan chocolate mousse lick but be warned, unless you’re a HUGE mousse and multiple-types-of-fat-in-your-mouth-at-once fan, I’d steer clear.

Honourable Mentions

John’s latest book is Orange Blossom & Honey and his first book, which he also mentioned was Mighty Spice

The insane Taiwanese restaurant in Hong Kong that’s coming to London summer of 2018 is Din Tai Fung

The hot sauce he mentions being totally filthy and addictive from his cupboard was THIS one and the mucky Turkish sausage was sujuk

“The wankiest of all roses” was Whispering Angel

And the local supermarket I don’t think I could live without was the Turkish Food Centre, which has branches all over south London.

John's beautiful table John's beautiful shaksuka (in the making) John's beautiful cupboard My crappy mousse Berber chicken & chips

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Apr 06 2018 · 59mins
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olive magazine podcast ep72 - Morocco with John Gregory-Smith

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This week on the olive magazine podcast, we have a special chat with food and travel writer John Gregory-Smith to celebrate his new book, Orange Blossom & Honey, and his magical Moroccan recipes. Plus, the team discuss Portuguese custard tarts after this week’s Bake Off technical challenge – how to make them, and where to buy them in London, Lisbon and beyond.  

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Oct 06 2017 · 39mins