LONDON - Canadian-born chef Jane Tran landed in London from the United States three years ago, launching a Canadian food pop-up at the London Olympics and running supper clubs across the capital to develop her cosmopolitan approach to home-cooking.
This year she moved to Eat First, a tech-start up and delivery service that aims to deliver high quality food to City offices within 15 minutes. The service has also launched in Berlin with long-term plans to roll out worldwide.
The 34-year-old spoke to Reuters about the London food scene, working with Michelin-starred chefs and her plans to change the face of fast food.
Q: Why did you move to London?
A: I really wanted just to move to another country and learn a different culture, a different kitchen, and a different mentality. I had heard so many great things about the London food scene and how it was evolving. And I've always wanted to work in Europe and experience more exposure of that.
Q: What do you think of the food scene so far?
A: I love that people are trying to eat healthier. I love that people in London are extremely well travelled and really adventurous. They want to taste that great Thai curry they remember in Bangkok. They want to have that Vietnamese pork they had in Hanoi. They've been to Peru and they miss ceviche. I think that part really resonated with me, that it's so multicultural. You can go to Brixton and buy groceries that are Jamaican, and then you can buy groceries from Trinidad - and then you go around the corner and there's a Portuguese market. I love that.
Q: You trained at the French Culinary Institute in New York and worked with a number of Michelin-starred chefs in your career. What have you learned from them?
A: From Daniel Boulud, I absolutely learned the discipline. I think the French kitchen is where to learn something is to do it 100 times to do it perfectly. From Michael Anthony, I learned sometimes food is the food and you want to keep it simple. Because if you're buying the best and you're partnering with farms and you have such great product, then just highlight that. Let's not bury it in cream; let's not bury it in cheese, let's let it be. Anita Lo was the first female chef I ever worked with and it was inspiring to see a woman at the top. She is a good chef and it was a pleasure to see her approach to kitchen management and how she really adds finesse to Asian food.
Q: You're now the executive chef of the recently launched EatFirst delivery service that aims to deliver creative and quality food quickly. How is that possible?
A: It's a matter of planning out a meal that can be done and working on logistics. If you go to a fine dining restaurant, the reason why it takes a long time is because there are a lot of components. We're not having 20 individual pieces. We're trying to create some great, healthy options with a few key players. The perception is: 'if I can have it in 5 minutes, it's probably not healthy'. But if I go to a restaurant and people are taking a longer time to assemble it, it might be better quality. We're trying to flip that and show that just like when you're at home and your mom whips together a meal in 10 to 15 minutes.
Q: What's the quickest meal you could turn around?
A: You'd be surprised. When you're a trained chef and you have so many options but limited time you think on your feet. I once made a meal at home in less than four minutes. We had some left over chicken that I had roasted. I quickly shredded it and I threw in a little goat cheese, some spinach and roasted tomatoes in a wrap. And we're done!
Q: What are your long-term aspirations as a chef?
A: At the end of the day every chef aspires to feed people but really to make a difference with people in how they look at food. I would love for people to know that they can eat well, eat different food and eat healthy - and it doesn't have to be boring. I really want to take people's idea of what food can be and just shake it.
Almond Lentil Curry
"The aroma of this Indian inspired dish never fails to draw people into our kitchen. With puy lentils and almonds this is a protein-packed vegetarian meal accompanied by peppers, green and beans, slowly simmered with ginger, garlic and a blend of Indian spices. Served with whole grain naan bread, it's sure to hit the spot!"
200 grams puy lentils (dried)
1 bay leaf
1 red pepper, diced
1 yellow peppers, diced
1 yellow onion, diced
1 tbsp turmeric
1 tbsp curry powder
1 tbsp cumin
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 cup vegetable stock
70 grams green beans
1/2 cup ground almonds
bunch fresh coriander
1 tbsp vegetable oil
Cover lentils with water and a bay leaf. Simmer for 40 minutes until cooked. In a large frying pan, add 1 tbsp of vegetable oil and saute onions until fully cooked. Add diced red and yellow peppers and saute for 2-3 minutes. Add in tomato paste, turmeric, curry powder and cumin and cook for another 3-5 minutes. Set aside curry base until lentils are ready
Strain lentils and remove bay leaf. Add lentils and vegetable stock to the curry base and simmer for 30 minutes. Trim off the ends of the green beans and cut in half. Add this to the curry and cook for another 10 minutes.
Right before serving, remove the curry from the heat and whisk in ground almonds. Serve immediately with some toasted naan bread or rice.