South African chef Jenny Morris has been fascinated with the glamorous Riviera since she was a girl, learning to cook dishes from her Italian uncle Tony’s native land. Movie stars like Elizabeth Taylor and Bridget Bardot would holiday there, only fuelling her intrigue.
In her new show, Jenny Morris Cooks the Rivera (9pm April 25 on Food Network), the chef finally gets to experience Mediterranean flavours in the region, and goes on an epic culinary travelling adventure to Monterosso, Portofino, Genoa, Savona, Badalucco, Monaco, Nice, Vance, St Tropez and Sanary Sur Mer.
In each beautiful place, Morris cooks and meets the people who’ve kept their foodie legacy alive for generations. She explains more:
What sparked your interest in food?
I come from a family who grew almost everything they ate; my father wouldn’t let my mother buy anything, except mushrooms, because he said he could grow them all. As a child, it was really wonderful to go out into the garden; it was like a farm, we were able to pick dinner.
What delicious treats do you cook in the Riviera?
When I say a wedge of focaccia, you’re going to think of a nice piece of bread, with olive oil all over it, with salt and rosemary. In the show, I meet this lady who’s third or fourth generation Italian and has been making the focaccia for years. However, it wasn’t like focaccia bread, it was filo thin rounds of pastry and she put cheese in the middle and covered it with another round and cooked it in a wood fire for a couple of minutes. When she brought it out and gave it a poke all over, lots of olive oil and cheese bubbled out. I wanted to rub myself in it. It was just too delicious for words. I tried some really nice exciting local dishes.
Where can people try the food they see on your show?
You definitely have to go to Monterosso and to meet Luigi. Luigi is the anchovy man – he makes everything in his restaurant with anchovies. He’s so famous and his food is fantastic. It will cost you a lot of money, but you must try the smoked goats cheese in Vance, it’s just delicious. And there are little rustic experiences, like the olive oil man in Badalucco. That was fantastic. This tiny little place makes the most unbelievable olives and olive oil. Meanwhile, the herb lady [also in Badalucco] is miles up a steep, narrow hill. She’s really high up and has an outside toilet, they just sit on the toilet in the fresh air looking at the mountains; incredible! Also chinotti citrus is wonderful, it grows in Savona – the most picturesque village, which is too gorgeous for words. Every house has a little farm, and they grow everything they eat. It’s completely sustainable and you can smell the seasons and ripe peaches on the trees. It’s a beautiful little village with nice people.
What do you think we can learn from the way people cook in the Riviera?
In both countries [France and Italy], I found that they are so in tune with the seasons and everything is so available. In Monterosso we went porcini mushroom foraging, that was fantastic, and what I really learned from the woman [I went mushroom picking with] is that we are so greedy. I wanted to pick every one I saw. “No, no, no” she said, “we need to leave some so we can have a next generation of mushrooms”. They only have a five-day life, so they slow roast them in the oven and then they can serve them when the season is over. What a lovely way of life. There’s such a respect for the earth and people around them.
Are the Brits doing it all wrong? We import most of our food…
I wouldn’t say you are doing anything wrong, you can get anything you want in the British supermarkets, and you don’t often have the climate to grow your own things. What I have noticed is that the British are more aware of where and who their food is coming from.
What cuisine sings above all others for you?
I love Asian cuisine, I could eat my 10-a-day, never mind my 7-a-day, in one meal. I love vegetables and I love the balance, the yin and the yang. The hot, sour and salty, everything is so beautifully balanced. They don’t eat big chunks of meat, but the meat they do eat is so beautifully cooked. If you think about how the Chinese eat, when a lady has a baby they’ll make a broth to get her right back on the road to recovery and strength. There’s fragrant food, if you look at Vietnamese or Thai cooking, it’s just so fragrant and delicious.
Where do you want to do a cooking show next?
China, Argentina, Chile – I want to taste the whole world.
What’s your best piece of travel advice?
Travel light and come back heavy.
Watch Jenny Morris Cooks the Rivera at 9pm, April 25, on Food Network.