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House Guest: Cat Sarsfield

We caught up with Cat Sarsfield – a food writer, strategist and good friend of Monoware – on her newsletter, setting the table and the ordinary objects she covets the most.
House Guest: Cat Sarsfield
House Guest: Cat Sarsfield

There is always something on the go in writer Cat Sarsfield's kitchen. A Le Creuset full of stock; a cast iron pan bubbling with crispy rice and a roast chicken; a pot of brothy beans for a week's worth of meals. Or at the very least, a large pot of coffee. In 2019, Cat started a newsletter called "Since No One Asked" – a weekly dispatch full of unsolicited advice, recipes-not-recipes and food nostalgia. While she calls herself a "haphazard and unmeasured cook", her kitchen is the opposite: a trove of keepsakes, one-offs and handmade objects that act like chapters of her peripatetic life so far. We caught up with Cat on food, setting the table and the ordinary objects she covets the most. 

When did food and cooking become such a significant part of your life?
Growing up, food was such a big part of our family culture. It’s what our holidays were hinged upon and it’s how we connected with one another. We ate every meal together, at the table, no matter what. I don’t think I was allowed to eat in another room or on the sofa. Meals were never a formal affair, but there was a ritual to them. I think having a South Korean mother meant that food had that extra layer of significance; it represented more than just a meal, but our shared history. Even now when I return home to my parents’ house, we sit around the table, sharing stories and opinions over every type of cuisine. And, of course, plenty of wine. 

What made you want to document your food stories in a newsletter?
I think it’s impossible to disentangle my memories with the food that I’ve eaten, especially when visiting or living in other countries. When I think of my time in India, I think of the sweetness of a chai after a sunrise surf or wolfing down masala dosa in our favourite little spot in the middle of town. When I think of living in California, I’m reminded of picking Brussel sprouts off of hardy stalks in 0º weather and frying them in olive oil in my first cast iron pan (and of the many bottles of wine I ‘sampled’ from my time at the winery). I wanted to tell these stories and find a more soulful way of talking about food that people could relate to; and remind them of their own gastronomic moments. 

Where do you find your cooking inspiration from? 
I used to spend a lot of time reading through restaurant menus and trying to recreate them myself; or I’d look at pictures of a meal and instead of looking at the recipe, I’d just take a guess and start to deconstruct it myself. Now, it’s more about the produce that’s available to me. I’m lucky to live in a part of London that’s full to the brim of grocery stores, delis and butchers. I’m drawn to colour, so I usually let that guide me when I’m walking around. Sometimes I’ll have an idea of something I’d like to eat – likely one element, like chicken or rice or pasta – then I’ll pick things to build around it. Although, I’ve become more and more obsessed with returning to signature dishes. I’m a creature of habit. 

You’ve lived in a few different countries and made a home for yourself in new spaces; how do you make a space your own? 
I always bring little totems of home with me wherever I travel. When I went to live in India, I brought these two wooden plates that were made-by-hand by a friend of mine called Heather Scott in Cornwall. I ate on them in every country I lived in, and it was a reminder of not only where I’d come from emotionally, but how important the craft of an object is.

On that note, can you tell us about an ordinary object with a special significance in your kitchen? Four years ago I lived in a wooden shed in Cornwall. The kitchen, as you might imagine, was tiny. Barely a kitchen at all. Just a little oven and a wood burner in one corner, which I used as a makeshift second hob – seeing as only one of mine worked. Just before moving there I bought a white cast iron pot – it was no Le Creuset but it more than did the job. In many ways it was a summer of sadness. And so I poured a lot of myself into that pot. With just one hob and limited space, the glut of summer produce – from the adjoining greenhouse and allotments I shared with a few others who lived nearby – was all cooked in that one pot. I stirred wild herbs into weekly garden risottos. Cooked plump chicken legs in stock, with fresh tomatoes and courgettes. Spooned rich puttanesca sauce onto silky strands of pasta. I use it less frequently now, but when I do, the little scratches and worn out marks remind me of that white-walled, sun-soaked, bittersweet summer.

What does setting the table look like for you? 

When I lived in my little shed, I didn’t have enough room for a big table, so guests would need to feel comfortable being very casual with me. For the most part we ate on the floor, so I used a round, jute rug as my table, then would place mismatched bowls and plates for everyone to dig into. I’m not a very one-pot kind of cook – I love a small plate. Now that I’m slightly more grown up, we sit at the table, but I refuse to serve anything in the kitchen. Plating up is my worst nightmare, which is why I could never be a restaurant chef. I love to see hands reaching for things and people digging into whatever’s in the middle. When I get the chance, I love bringing the outside in – foraging from branches or even using vegetables as a centrepiece. When I worked for a woodfired chef in Cornwall, we created this beautiful winding long table at the Lost Gardens Of Heligan and we placed broad beans in their pods all down the centre of the table. I prefer that to flowers in vases. 

What’s your favourite piece in the Monoware collection? 
The grain bowls – when I first saw them, I knew they were the perfect size for big tangles of pasta.

What is your favourite meal/recipe to cook? 
Rice is something I love to make a meal out of; but the ritual of roasting a chicken on a lazy Sunday afternoon will never tire. Bonus points if it’s roasted on top of rice. 

Do you have a favourite cuisine? 
As expected, I love (and crave) Korean food – but only when my mum cooks it for me. Otherwise, I love the simplicity of rustic southern Italian cooking. 

Favourite song for dinner party?
Probably A Night To Remember by Shalamar – it’s perfect for a kitchen groove. 

Portrait of Cat by Tor Harrison


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