Q&A with Ruth Rogers, chef and author of River Cafe 30 cookbook

5th October 2017

Ruth Rogers set up the River Cafe restaurant (opposite the offices of her husband, the architect Richard Rogers) in 1987 with the late Rose Gray.  With a focus on using sustainable local ingredients and fresh, simple Italian cooking, the restaurant garnered a Michelin star and many famous chefs have trained there including Samuel and Samantha Clark of Moro, Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.  Rogers and Gray published the seminal book The River Cafe Cookbook in 1996 and now 30 years after the restaurant opened, Rogers has just published RiverCafe 30 alongside fellow head chefs Sian Wyn Owen and Joseph Trivelli.  Here, Rogers sits down for a Q&A with us about the book and shares some of her top tips for cooking.

What is the biggest change in your cooking over the last 30 years?  The biggest change is the availability of cooking ingredients.  When we opened the restaurant in 1987, it was very hard  to find the cheeses and the vegetables and now it’s much easier, whether through the internet or small Italian delicatessens. Knowing you can get the ingredients gives you the possibility of cooking much broader dishes.

If we need to cook a family supper tonight, which dishes or recipes do you suggest we cook from the River Cafe 30 book? 

My family loves pasta so I’d suggest a pasta dish: the taglierini with trevise (red radiccio from any supermarket). You cook it down with olive oil, garlic and chilli and then add a splash of white wine and cook it longer.  Finally, you toss it into the pasta with more olive oil.  It’s great for children as you are giving them a hidden vegetable and you’re also expanding their taste buds.  It’s actually a really sophisticated dish for kids.  I’d follow it by either one of our ice creams or cake.

If we are cooking a dinner party for 8 tonight, which dishes /recipes do you suggest we cook from the River Cafe 30 book? 

Something that you can do ahead of time such as the slow cooked veal shin with barolo and sage.

Has the chocolate nemesis recipe changed!? Is it still the best chocolate cake in the world?  

Yes, it is! Many many people have said it to me!  We did change the recipe slightly though, as we extended the cooking time.

What is the trickiest recipe to master in the book?  

Sometimes it’s the simplest recipes that are the most difficult.  Such as the blood orange sorbet which only has blood orange juice, sugar and lemon.  Or making fresh pasta – actually, it isn’t tricky but it takes time.

What are the five store cupboard ingredients you couldn’t live without?

Olive oil, salted anchovies, parmesan cheese, pasta and lemon.  Especially lemon, you can’t really do anything without a splash of lemon.

The menu art is wonderful. How did that happen? Did you ask all the artists to draw something on a menu, or did they happen because one of the artists was eating at The River Cafe and started ‘doodling’ on a menu?

I’ve always had 2 menus – one from 1991 and then another one in 2002.  The first was by Ellsworth Kelly, he did a still life on the menu and then went into the mens’ bathroom and did a self portrait in the mirror and the other was by Cy Twombly who wrote ‘I love lunch with Ruthie’.   Then I thought we should add some other art so I asked Damien Hirst as he paints in one of the studios above the restaurant.  I asked him to draw on a menu and he said ‘Yes, give me 6 !’   Then we asked Peter Doig because he eats here all the time and Brice Marden who came in for lunch one day.  Ed Ruscha did one which was amazing and also Michael Craig Martin who eats here every Sunday.

Who taught you to cook?

Richard’s mother, who is an Italian cook from Florence.

What would be your last supper?

I’ve always said that it would be a tomato pasta and I haven’t changed my mind.  A delicious slow cooked sauce with tomato and basil and not much else.

River Cafe 30 Cookbook is published 5 October 2017