5 Minutes With: James Vasey
Northumberland-based writer James Vasey transports us to Italy with his new book, Recipe For a Nation. We find out more
Tell me a bit about yourself.
I am a former magazine editor, and latterly, lecturer, now retired. I divide my time between homes in Alnmouth and Italy; villages almost identical in size and both overlooking the sea – but with quite different food, climates and cultures.
When did your love of writing start?
For many years I wrote factual material for magazines and newspaper supplements, but my first foray into fiction came in 2018 with Cooking Up A Country.
Why did you choose Seborga as the location to set your story?
It was only after the purchase of a house in Seborga that I began to learn about its claims of being an independent state and the history connecting it to the Knights Templar which forms the basis for that assertion. I thought it was a unique story that people would be interested in hearing, and it seems I was correct.
What will foodies love most about this book?
Food is a key ingredient of the story with the detail of meals lending colour and context to many scenes. So unique are the dishes that the geographic location, season, and even time of day can be determined by what is being eaten. There is a line in one story that goes ‘if you can’t see it swimming, running, flying or growing from the kitchen window it will not be on the menu that day.’
Which other authors do you admire?
I have read everything written by the late AA Gill whose passing leaves gaps in my food and travel education and enjoyment. His former column at the Sunday Times was inherited by Marina O’Loughlin who, like Gill, shares a love of Italy, the latter having spent childhood holidays in Liguria.
Who inspires you?
Restaurateurs Eugene McCoy, Terry Laybourne and Daryl Chadwick have greatly encouraged my enjoyment of food and I am immensely proud that two of them (I don’t know Terry personally) have contributed to my books. Over four decades they have set the bar for innovation, quality, and consistency in hospitality that I measure all others by.
What is your favourite thing about the North East and how does that compare to Italy?
My first book, Cooking Up A Country, begins in Newcastle with the protagonist seeking out his favourite Geordie dish – a warm kipper in a stottie. The kipper is embedded in the social history on the North East, as the anchovy is to Liguria – the relatively undiscovered region where Seborga is based.
What’s the last meal you had?
The last memorable dish I had was carpaccio of wild sea bass with blood orange and fennel. It was cooked during a stay at Soho Farmhouse by former Darlington restaurateur, Colin Easby.
Hopes for the future?
The real-life Seborga was struggling to adapt its artisanal farming and food production ways to the pressures of globalisation. However, the changing values and priorities of consumers seem to be creating fresh markets for its products and driving a new type of diner to its restaurants. If a movie is made, it can only accelerate the village’s renaissance, and who knows, its independence might finally be acknowledged.
Cooking Up A Country, Unlikely Pairings and Recipe For A Nation, known as The Seborga Trilogy, are available in eBook and paperback from £2.99.