Restaurateur-Parent Interview: James Ramsden
By Laura Nickoll
Good things to eat are at the heart of James Ramsden and Sam Herlihy’s knockout, playful modern British restaurants, Pidgin and Magpie. James took time to fill us in on the challenges and rewards of being a successful restaurateur, family life in Hackney with partner Rosie and children Thom and Nora, Rosie’s ‘Mumsoup’ and where they all eat on days off.
Did you get involved in cooking as a child, and is getting your children interested in cooking and where our food comes from important to you?
I did – I was always keen to help out, initially with baking and whatnot (a standard rainy-day activity) and then later with cooking dinner for the family. I hope my kids will be as into it all as I was.
What inspired you to make the move from food writing and hosting supper clubs to becoming a restaurateur?
I’m not entirely sure. I’d always said it was something I’d never do but one day it occurred to me I could open a restaurant without having to be the chef, which tweaked something for me.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a restaurateur?
It’s hard to say what the biggest one is – there are various big challenges that come and go and then some arguably smaller but ongoing challenges. Being objective and analytical without overthinking and micromanaging and not giving things time to bed in is always a difficult balance.
What advice would you give someone venturing into the restaurant business?
If you don’t thrive on problem solving then maybe have a rethink!
Has becoming a restaurateur and a parent meant spending less time in the kitchen? And, if so, how do you feel about this?
I actually spend an OK amount of time in the kitchen these days. I don’t work many nights so most evenings am able to cook dinner. The harder balancing act is giving both the restaurants and the family enough time. It’s hard, if not impossible, to do both.
Has becoming a parent changed your cooking style at all?
Good question, I don’t think so really, though obviously if I’m cooking for the kids it tends to be pretty simple.
Nibble+squeak is all about the joy of taking your kids out to dine at restaurants, including Pidgin where we hosted a fantastic event. Do you welcome children to eat at Pidgin and Magpie? What dishes would you recommend for children on Magpie’s menu?
Magpie is easier than Pidgin, children-wise. Sadly Pidgin being so small we don’t accommodate kids in the evening, though Magpie is probably more child-friendly in terms of the food anyway – they can fill up on burrata, fried chicken, a great beef dish, and the truffled cheese toastie.
Do your children try your Pidgin and Magpie dishes?
I haven’t taken them for a while, I’m ashamed to say, but my eldest eats pretty much anything, and tends to be brutally honest about it if he doesn’t like it. ‘That soup is misgusting!’ sticks in the memory.
Do you have tips about making kids a little less picky at mealtimes?
We’re pretty relaxed about them not wanting to eat stuff, though they eat most things – I can’t say if the two are connected.
Who does most of the cooking at home? And which dishes do you find you cook most regularly?
My wife and I share pretty evenly. We eat far too much pasta. If there is such a thing.
Does your son like helping you cook at home? If so, what dishes does he like making most?
He’s still a little young for anything beyond kneading dough. I’m looking forward to him upping his game.
What are your childrens’ favourite foods?
Thom would eat ice cream for every meal if permitted. Nora is still in baby mode so probably too soon to tell.
What is the first food you introduced your son and daughter to? Are you approaching weaning in the same way with your youngest as you did with your eldest?
I wish I could remember! Probably a croissant or something I suspect. We’re a bit more relaxed with our youngest in terms of weaning – we just put food in front of her and let her decorate herself with it.
Where do you like to eat out with your children on your days off?
How often do you all eat out together as a family? (or do you find that you want to eat at home on your days off rather than go out?)
Probably once a week I’d say. We eat at home more because tends to be easier to control the toddler but it’s fun taking them out. Usually for pizza or pasta.
Do you have a favourite activity to do with the kids on your days off?
At this time of year it’s hard to beat the fountains in Granary Square.
Do you and Rosie have any culinary traditions from past generations that you’ve adopted?
Rosie makes something called Mumsoup which I think was adopted from her grandmother and involves lentils. I find myself increasingly likely to adopt my dad’s approach to the fridge and freezer which privileges eating things just because they ‘need eating’ over actually making what will be most delicious. This is no bad thing, but it does occasionally mean eating stuff which probably should have gone to compost.