Harry Cummins grew up in London, moving to Bath in the south-west of England when he was 13 years old. His mother was a single parent, raising her three children by herself. They rarely went out to restaurants, and ate a diet of spaghetti hoops and sausage and mash with frozen peas. But Harry’s Italian grandfather introduced him to a different food culture, Harry was to reacquire this early taste for good food when at 15 he took a job in a restaurant, Harry returned to London for a spell at Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen, where he met Gregory Marchand. In 2011, Harry joined Gregory in Paris for the opening of Frenchie’s Wine Bar. From 2013 to 2018, Harry and his partner, sommelier Laura Vidal, travelled the world with their Paris Popup before finally settling in Marseille and opening their own restaurant, La Mercerie. Their food is technically sophisticated, but bistro-inspired and affordable, with cheese as a pivotal ingredient.
I remember meals with my grandparents, and also at a friend’s house; his parents had this wonderful place in Camden, not far from our little flat, where they would host dinners. They’d serve roast chicken, and there was always a slice of cucumber and a sprig of mint in the water jug. And that’s where I discovered cabbage braised with orange. It was good, fresh and simple, and that’s what I’ve been aiming for ever since.
Cheddar! I grew up in Bath, which is only about 40km from the village of Cheddar and the limestone caves where the cheese is matured.
I loved the atmosphere in the restaurant where I first worked for a bit of pocket money. I had never been particularly confident, I’d always felt a bit inferior, actually. But in the kitchen, we were equals. I realised that what it took to get ahead was hard work and talent, and that made me grow up. I got tips, and I ate well. My boss ran the local football club. I’d keep my football boots in his car, and he used to pick me up every Sunday. It was like having a second family.
In London, restaurants open seven days a week. When I came to Paris, I couldn’t understand why they had to close for two days, so we asked some of our chef friends if we could cook on their premises when they were closed, maybe once a month. It went down so well! Then when my grandmother died in early 2013, I decided I wanted to travel the world, the way she had done when she was in the Army. So, we took our Popup idea to Montreal, New York, San Francisco, Kyoto and Fez. It was magic. We were made to feel so welcome, it really restores your faith in human nature.
English cheese is experiencing a revival, thanks in no small part to the efforts of Neal’s Yard Dairy. And here in France, I’ve seen some amazing cheese shop window displays! In the restaurant, I tend to eat cheese every day. We keep it by the passage way, next to the bread. I love Comté, both the winter and summer variations, both ripe and less ripe. I also adore blue cheese. For Sweet Cheese, I’ve paired Roquefort with chocolate – they’re both fermented products with good acidity and underlying flavours of coffee and black cherries. I was aiming for a multi-textured dessert, with the salty, tannic flavours of Roquefort to give it a kick. Combine it with chocolate mousse and it takes on a creamy texture and a much lighter feel; the beetroot sorbet gives a fresh edge, quince goes well with blue cheese and the tuile adds a bit of crunch.
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