Michael, founder of The Gate, shares his earliest memories about how his passion for food started.
Well, I guess it all started at my grandmother’s house where the smells would waft and linger from the kitchen (the oh-so-mysterious kitchen) into the room where the table we ate on was, as I remember it.
I remember going there once and being allowed to help clean rice, which was a great elevation in status for me. To be able to DO something for the woman who was always so serious and so stern with us most of the time and of course revered by all.
However even after we (the 'we' was always me & Adrian) took all the stones out there was that look (show me what you’ve done) to see if we had actually made the slightest contribution.
But it was always about this smell or that aroma. It was like the house had a perma-cloud aroma of spices and you’d get hungry just walking through the door even if you had eaten very recently.
It was as if some chemical neurological switch in my brain was activated just by walking through that door and all I would think about was what would be on the menu that day as my nose started twitching.
Sometimes we would go there and I would think to myself - what if she hasn’t cooked anything at all and if that was really the case then why have we come all this way to see the Scary One? No food would have been a disaster; luckily I think it only happened once.
Then there was all the weird stuff - which my father would crack jokes about endlessly. Sheep’s brains curry became monkey’s brains and even though I knew it wasn’t actually monkey’s brains, I was still looking at this dish moving my fork around the bowl realising it was something’s brain….
And so the years passed and smells dominated my life: from pungent Turkish coffee ‘with bits’ as I called it (they turned out to be cardamom), to aga-raga scented with rose water (an Arabic diamond-shaped firm jelly), everything always tasted and smelled amazing.
For me, the greatest of all in those days in the mid-seventies was when Hamin (a chicken and rice hot pot stew) was prepared for my bar mitzvah day lunch. This involved the dish being cooked over night for about 12 hours to absolute perfection.
I still smell the memories to this day.
So why is someone who owns an award-winning vegetarian restaurant telling these stories of chicken and brains?Food writers and reviews often say that the Gate is an Indo-Iraqi /Jewish vegetarian restaurant and this confuses me because yes, those are my origins, but The Gate is a different proposition. Yes all, or a great part of, our food desires came from our childhood food influences and experiences but the Gate evolved out of an interest in all cuisines and our ambition to recreate theses dishes by taking out the non-veg parts.
What’s relevant is that the culture I grew up in, the food was always ‘just so’ - with one creator and one outcome. Maybe that’s where our drive for authenticity came from.
What is indisputable though, is that I for one have never been able to accept mediocrity in the food we serve at The Gate.