In the Frame: Anaïs van Manen
Anaïs van Manen is the Head of Research and Development at cult Taiwanese restaurant BAO, as well as consulting and collaborating on everything from supperclubs to street food carts. In issue four of The Spectacle, we discuss her craft and how she brings her well-travelled perspective to London’s culinary scene.
With a CV that includes North London’s favourite Italian restaurant, Trullo, a Vietnamese street food truck, and a cafe with a penchant for pickles, your style is certainly hard to pin down. Are you one of those people who excel at everything (or are you just very, very indecisive)?
AvM: I want to say I’m one of those people who are curious, with a touch of indecisiveness… I think coming from an art background to a kitchen life, and having lived in five different countries, I always questioned what can be done and what has yet to be done. I would love to say I excel at everything but it’s more like I’m doing all of these to learn more everyday. I think being a chef in our generation is a much more fluid job than it was fifty years ago. The importance of food and its presence in media, events, and art allows us to really be more creative in the way we cook.
You’re enviably well-travelled and have worked across half the world. How does that impact your approach to your craft (be it cooking, pottery throwing, or your sideline in singing)?
AvM: Everything is the result of research, thoughts, and influences. I think when you allow new cultures into your own perspective you gain a lot of knowledge, and you also realise everything is interconnected. Similarities start to show between two countries in different parts of the globe. I think having a French-Vietnamese background, I question a lot about the food that I eat and, for example, having a pot au feu at La Poule au Pot in Paris reminds me a hot bowl of pho in Vietnam, partly because I know it was a big source of inspiration for it. From there, I will try to link more invisible threads between cultures and mix it into my interpretation. When it comes to singing, I listen to a lot of different vocals to understand what can be done with a voice, and then I copy it (sometimes really badly). Allowing yourself to travel and see the world gives colour to what you create because you’re inspired.
How do you approach your multifarious projects?
AvM: New projects are always fun. I often look at Japanese patience in cooking and I envy the chefs, artisans that dedicate themselves to doing one single thing for their whole lives. It’s a challenge to keep things different, fresh, and exciting, especially in this day and age with so much more information at our fingertips. With social media everywhere you can often question yourself. Each project is different in its own way, which is what I love.
British food has been (sometimes, but not always, unfairly) branded as the worst in Europe, but that is starting to change. Are you seeing a shift in the kitchens of our fair city, or do you think our neighbours are just warming to the idea of jellied eels?
AvM: I definitely believe that London has one of the most exciting food scenes in Europe. I think because it had such a bad reputation before, the chefs who are here now really want to prove themselves. I can feel a lot of pride in their work. More than that, the new generation of farmers, butchers, and suppliers in the UK are amazing too.
After a long day of slaving over a hot stove, where are your favourite food spots to while away an evening (or a morning-after for that matter)?
AvM: I love to have a glass of wine and some food at P. Franco. I used to live in Clapton and it’s the best spot there to just unwind. They have an incredible line up of resident chefs and the food never ceases to impress me. Right now Sebastian Myers is cooking and it’s spot on, you can really taste all the different influences in his cooking. In the morning I try to make my morning coffee stop either at Snackbar in Dalston or The Gentlemen Baristas in Borough.
A bad workman always blames his tools, but a good workman should give them a shout out. What’s your favourite thing to use in the kitchen, and why?
AvM: My Peking duck cleaver. It was a birthday present from a friend in Hong Kong and it has replaced my big knife roll with all the different types of knives, tweezers etc. Now that I have one cleaver I try to use it for everything. And my glasses, of course, because without them I won’t see shit.
You can follow Anaïs on Instagram @anais.vanmanen. She wears Wollstonecraft in Quartz (above) as well as being the proud owner of Boswell in Red. Main photo by Sam A Harris.