FT: Prandial Pleasure - Pearls of Wisdom


Real chefs aren't afraid of working with serious heat. "My mum tells me to turn it down when I cook at home," says Jun Tanaka above the crackle and sizzle of smoking goose fat.

There is something affectingly intimate about this talented chef's new shopping and cooking course. Once a month Tanaka forfeits his Saturday morning lie-in, hangs up his whites and welcomes a dozen or so foodies into the glamorous interior of his modern French restaurant, Pearl. First stop, after coffee, is Borough Market to hunt for the best ingredients. Stallholder and farmer Andrew Sharp offers no-nonsense advice on buying beef to bake in a grey sea salt crust: "Don't pay poncey prices for something that doesn't have a value. Buy less, but eat better." At the fish stall Tanaka holds up a glistening mackerel. "They're still in rigor mortis. If you pick a fish up and it's still rigid then you know it's fresh."

We leave the market with cep mushrooms and fresh garlic to roast with the beef; endives, pomegranates and blood oranges for a smoked mackerel salad; rhubarb to stew and pair with a Cox apple tarte Tatin and six wines - two for each course.

Back at Pearl there is no Saturday lunch service. We have the restaurant - in all its marble and pearl-strung glamour - to ourselves. Most thrilling, though, is that we get a glimpse of the inner workings of Tanaka's kitchen. We break open heads of garlic and peel potatoes, but mainly we watch as Tanaka works his magic. His hands are a blur of filleting, seasoning and tasting but we learn some of his secrets.

The food and wine, of course, are sublime. But as we emerge blinking and tipsy into the London afternoon, it is not the recipes I relish; it is the deliciously illicit thrill of a morning spent as guests in the kitchen of a phenomenal, off-duty chef.

"Shopping with the Chef" can be booked via Pearl Restaurant & Bar, 252 High Holborn, London WC1V 7EN (020 7829 7000). www.pearl- restaurant.com