This is a lie - I've come out the wrong entrance and I'm desperately trying to find Eversholt Street to meet Tim Anderson, winner of this year's MasterChef at Asakusa.
Finally I arrive, only to see Tim standing in front of the restaurant chatting on his mobile. Except it's not his mobile phone, but one belonging to a gentleman who is perched on his bike and looking at him half excitedly, half in abashment.
It dawns on me that said gentleman has asked Tim to talk to his significant other/mother Tom Cruise-style, and I try very, very hard not to wet myself laughing.
I smile at Tim and he smiles back, finishes speaking and hands the phone to the guy on the bike, who apologises for the intrusion. I contemplate offering to take a photo of him with Tim, and then decide it would just get too weird ...
Anyway. Such is the power of MasterChef these days that its winner can apparently be elevated to Hollywood superstar status.
To business then ...
meemalee's kitchen - The MasterChef Interview
26 year old American Tim Anderson has come a long way, literally. Brought up in Racine, Wisconsin, he moved to LA as a student and then to Japan for further studies and to teach English. It wasn't till he was immersed in Japanese food and culture that he realised he wanted to cook and actually had a talent for it. Meanwhile, he fell in love with Laura, a Brit born to Japanese and Italian parents, and a fellow teacher. As is often the way, he followed his love back to her home where they ended up getting married. So far, so good.
And then he went and won MasterChef. Up till recently, he was working as the bar manager at the Euston Tap pub, London. As I catch up with him, I'm assuming this is no longer the case.
On the upcoming BBC Good Food Shows:
I will be there the whole time, Tom and Sara [his fellow finalists] a few days. They want us to do things that people can cook at home, so for me that means no dry ice, no monkfish liver, no ingredients you can’t get outside of London easily, like yuzukosho and katsuobushi. Japan Centre’s mail order is very good, they deliver all over the country, but most people wouldn’t know where to start. It’s got to be simple, but I’m trying to incorporate good skills like filleting a fish.
I’ll also be doing the MasterChef Winner cook-offs, with Mat [Follas, 2009 winner] and Dhruv [Baker, 2010 winner]. If I have to lose to Dhruv, there’s no shame in that.
I’ve had a few people come up to me in the bar just to meet me and that’s nice. We had a really nice Japanese couple come in and I felt really vindicated to have them back me up. I don’t think I could cope with a mob though.
Tom says he has a big gay following. Everyone says he looks like Tom Hardy. Everyone says I look like Dana Carvey, specifically Garth [erm, sorry about that]. I just don't see it, but it's given us a great idea for a Halloween costume though - Laura wants to be Wayne.
[a fellow diner comes up to tell Tim that he thought he was fantastic on the show, so I ask if he’s signed any autographs yet]
I’ve signed all kinds of things that aren't really related. Some guy had just come from a football match and he gave me his programme to sign. I’ve signed a Delicious magazine that I wasn’t in. It’s funny how my Twitter following has exploded, it’s nuts [he has over 10,000 followers].
[I say to him, like some kind of crap Yoda, “Don’t let fame change you”. He replies, “Too late for that, ha”. He’s kidding. I think].
On immediate plans:
I’m going to go up to Scotland to do some lobster-catching, deer hunting and brewing with Brewdog and Black Isle Brewery (and maybe Harviestoun), and also a special beer-matching dinner at Brewdog’s Musa in Aberdeen.
I’m talking to someone about doing a Fourth of July dinner in London, focusing on ingredients and flavours from America that you wouldn’t normally think of. We’re talking about getting some great American cheese over, from Wisconsin, California, Pennsylvania, Vermont, a mind-blowing cheeseboard.
On opening a restaurant:
I’m gonna be doing some very exciting stages over the summer that I can’t talk about. There are skills I’d like to perfect like the French classics – sauces, souffles, pastry. Even though I want to open a Japanese style restaurant, I want experience in French/British restaurants to fill in the gaps. I think London is the only place for me to be - for me, there’s not quite the same energy in other cities that you have here, even though there are great restaurants.
I’m gonna have wafu spaghetti on my menu. If you go to an izakaya in Japan, the menus are wacky, just all over the place, and that’s what’s fun about them. You get traditional Japanese food, and you get pizza and fondue and pasta. They don’t care. If it’s good and it soaks up the alcohol, it’s fair game basically.
I am a beer geek and I think it’s a damn shame that, especially in this country, wine has dominated the food scene. A lot of beer in restaurants isn’t up to scratch with the food because they don’t care about it, but especially with British food and Asian food, beer is generally more compatible.
On Burma [Tim visited in 2008]:
I liked Mandalay Beer. You know I had some crazy shit when I was in Burma. We had a palm sugar drink – they call it sky beer [Burmese name is htan-yay – aka palm wine or toddy] – it went very well with the food. I had the best fried chicken of my life there, slathered in raw garlic and chillies and green onions. For some reason our tour guide brought us to this guy who was making rice whisky, moonshine. I bought half a litre; it cost me the equivalent of 50p. It was horrible. It tasted like something that would make you go blind. Not to say that there’s no good rice whisky in Burma, but not that guy’s.
On living in Japan:
If you want to travel anywhere on your own, you need to be able to communicate [Tim is able to order for us off the wall menus written in kanji - this is dead impressive].
Otherwise you just go to the same places everyone does, which is fine, there’s fun to be had, but there’s so much interesting stuff off the beaten path. I’m dying to return, but I don’t have the money.
On his menu in the MasterChef final:
It took me a while to get my dashi just right, but in the end it was down to the water. I use bottled water for my dashi now, because London water is just too damn hard. It really affects the flavour badly.
People should make their own dashi - powdered dashi just isn’t the same, but those packets are good for sprinkling on rice like furikake.
On cooking generally:
I’ve just quit at the Euston Tap. I’m taking a week off for recipe testing. I haven’t had a chance to really cook lately. When I do, it’s not necessarily something creative – I just like to be cooking. I make beans on toast and pasta and stir-fries. Laura is a good cook too.
On writing a cookbook:
I’m not sure what form yet – too many ideas. I’d really like to do a book about regional foods in Japan, part cookbook, part travel guide, part cultural study and part photo book. But that’s a tough sell maybe [I'd love a book like that].
And those other questions:
What was the final push that made you enter MasterChef?
I did it very idly. I thought, “I should do this” and the wife said, “You should do this”. I liked cooking and I’d been pretty good at it. I knew I wasn’t satisfied, but I didn’t think anything would come of it. So when I got the phonecall a month after I applied, I was surprised … it’s really been a year of my life from when I applied to when it finally aired.
Has there ever been a kitchen mishap that's driven you to tears?
When I was practising for the MasterChef final, I did the starter one day, the main the next, the pudding the third and on the fourth day I was planning to do every single dish all at once in my kitchen in three hours.
I had everything set up, all my mise en place, my pots and pans ready to go, I had my playlist ready. I was in my pyjamas as I'd just got up and I was going straight into cooking. I realised I didn’t have any butter, so I popped some change in my pocket, and hopped out the door. As soon as the door shut I realised I didn’t have my keys. Dead of winter, no keys, no phone, three pounds, wife’s out of town for the weekend, so I had to be very strategic.
I used my first pound to go to an internet café to look up the number for my estate agent. I used the second pound to make a phone call to him, and I used the third pound to get a bus to go to him to get the key.
I finally get home and the key the estate agent has given me doesn’t work. So I go to the dental surgery below my flat to use their phone and they let me call the estate agent. So half an hour later he shows up with a key that does work.
So I’d spent about two hours overall in the freezing cold in my pyjamas. There was snow on the ground and the whole ordeal made me not want to cook, but I knew I had to, so when I got in, I went crazy and I did it. Made everything from scratch in three hours. But I almost cried that day.
You're hosting your dream dinner party and you can invite 1 living person, 1 dead, and 1 fictional (no friends or family) - who would they be?
It’ll have to be people who really enjoy their food and drink, who are fairly extrovert and good conversationalists, and who’d want to have dinner and then go out for karaoke. So I would say Simon Amstell – he’s funny and he’d be good for a night out, Oscar Wilde, because I’d like to see the spark between him and Simon Amstell and I think he’d be good for banter, and Homer Simpson.
Which came first, the chicken or the egg?
That really depends on which chicken and which egg, doesn’t it? I would say the egg as a concept came before the chicken.
Describe yourself in three words
Nostalgic American neophile. I’m pretty nostalgic and sentimental when it comes down to it. I miss things like burgers in Wisconsin, and tacos in LA, and ramen in Japan. I’m a neophile because I’m always looking for something new and I get bored quite easily. And I’m culturally very American – that’s what they tell me anyway!
What’s the worst thing you have ever cooked?
I made some kale once that was so salty that my wife couldn’t even eat it. Too much soy sauce. I also served chicken at a barbecue when I was very young that was basically raw inside. I always like to think of my failures as learning experiences!
What's your guilty food pleasure?
If it’s really a true pleasure, you shouldn’t feel guilty … there are things that I eat because I’m hungry and there’s nothing open at night. So I’ll have a Pot Noodle, and I’m not proud of that, and I don’t even think they taste very good, but it’s to fill a hole.
Who would win in a fight between a baboon and a badger?
[Without hesitation] A baboon – they’re smarter. No contest. Bigger and smarter – a baboon would just grab the badger and throw it off a cliff.
Do you think cooking *does* get tougher than MasterChef?
I think the biggest challenge for me will be running a restaurant. Difficult endeavour all round and a lot of hard work. I’ve had experience managing the bar and though it’s less complicated, it’s good practice eg ordering, staffing.
What would be your last meal on Earth?
Two that come to mind. Something like a Ploughman’s – a few good pieces of cheese and a good pint of ale and some fruit and some nuts. That’d be it – I don’t need chutney or bread. Or tonkatsu ramen – Japanese Kyushu-style pork broth and extra noodles. And a big bottle of beer, a big Kirin. There’s so much flavour and they make me feel so at home, those dishes.
If you were a superhero, what would you be called and what special powers would you have?
Can I be a genie instead? What I really want to do is have a wallet that fills up all the time. It’s not really a super-power though – it’s just greed. That’d be my name - Magical Wallet.
Who do you most admire?
Friends and family who’ve made a good life for themselves by working hard and being kind. It’s the American dream [laughs].
Actually, one of my best friends had a website reviewing video games about six years ago and now he runs and co-owns a web app company worth about £800k. He works hard and is smart and nice, and I think that’s really cool and admire that.
What keeps you awake at night?
Snoring? No, I sleep pretty soundly!
What's your favourite cuisine when eating out and what cuisine would you like to try that you haven't before?
I do like eating Japanese, but my favourite restaurants in London are curry houses, especially Mirch Masala. They’re a little chain, about six of them, the one on Commercial Road is ten minutes from my flat.
There’s so many I haven’t tried. Next on the list is Eastern European food – Russian, Czech, Polish.
What's the stupidest/naughtiest thing you did as a child?
I ate a block of butter once, but I was a good kid. I didn’t start getting in trouble till I was an adult.
Do you have a nickname (childhood or current)?
In Japan, they called me Timo. A couple of my friends call me Tim Tam after the Australian biscuit. I don’t let people call me Timbo though!
What's your favourite TV programme (other than MasterChef) and favourite band?
QI, old Simpsons, Japanese Iron Chef, Futurama [I mention I got obsessed with Bistro SMAP when I was in Japan and Tim suggests that Take That should start their own version. I am All. For. This.].
My favourite music is ska, and my favourite band is Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra. They’re the best ska band in the world, maybe all of history.
What's been your proudest moment so far, not including winning MasterChef?
Don’t know about proudest, but my happiest was getting married to my wife Laura.
Who would you least like to be trapped in a lift with?
I dunno if I should answer that! Um, Tom and Sara from MasterChef – I hate those guys [he's joking].
Where would you like to live?
Probably Hawaii. I love Hawaii; I love the Pacific in general. Though it’s a bit isolated – I might say Los Angeles.
Tell us three more interesting things about yourself: two true, one a lie
- I’m Jewish.
- I have a scar from when a friend burnt me with a cigarette on my arm.
- I once swallowed a quarter on a dare.
Crab or lobster bisque comes to mind. Miso works well in creamy soups, like a creamy potato soup or a chowder. I quite like it in a steak au poivre, which is really where I got my idea for the mocha steak.
Would you rather wear huge clown shoes for a month or introduce yourself as Timbo the Superstar at 5 meetings?
The second one – at least I could laugh it off!
When am I going to get to eat your food?
That Fourth of July dinner for a start, but there will be pop-ups and parties and a catering business to come ...
MasterChef Winner 2011
Read my recap of this year's MasterChef Final here
First and Last Photos: Paul Winch-Furness / www.paulwf.co.uk
Special thanks to @foodurchin, @suzler, @lukemackaycooks, @electroweb, @rankamateur, @disklabs and Popb*tch for additional questions.
Ooh look - the Observer Food Monthly Awards are looking for nominations for Best Food Blog ... :)