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Category Archives: British

dressed to depress

What did you want to be when you grew up?  A friend dressed as a ballerina to a recent party themed on that very question (it was a strong look with a definite 80’s vibe) and it got me thinking.  I have never wanted something so bad that I would dedicate my whole life to it.  An ice skater … no, a vet … actually, directing music videos is what I want to do.

Now that I work from home (in none of those fields, sadly) I have the time to plan meals and do a bit of cooking but realised I could never have a career in food when creating a birthday meal for him indoors.  He’s all about the beer and food matching and all that jazz so I made a effort … and a monumental mess.  The smoke filled air turned blue then I dropped the C-bomb as beer hollandaise flew over the floor and myself.  The moment of truth had arrived: I can never apply to be on a cookery show.  I think it was Mat Follas who once said if you want the cameras to leave you alone just swear – they’ll edit it out.  If that’s the case I would only appear entering the Masterchef kitchen and later in the silent line-up before my name is called and I’m told to leave, “and take your potty mouth with you.”

Which brings me, vaguely, to this season’s Great British Menu.  I’m not a regular watcher by any means: I find it confusing.  Jennie Bond presented, then there was a public vote, then you got a mentor chef, then … It’s hard to keep track. I probably wouldn’t have watched this year to be honest but I noticed a familiar face in the trailer for the ‘South East’ heat: ‘Rising star’ Lee Westcott.  The Typing Room has been highly recommended by friends and I was greatly impressed as he took in the Masterchef cooks for a lunch service recently.  He was patient, seemed like a decent bloke and you cannot guess the number of things he can do with a cauliflower.  I’m a sucker for open kitchen arrangements (see my love for Pizarro and Konstam (RIP)), it’s near my favourite cocktail bar and judging by his performance thus far ‘Rising star’ Lee Westcott likes a swear or two.  “Who turned the [beeping] timer off?”  “No [beeping] way did you guys deserve a 5!”  No, they fucking didn’t, ‘Rising star’ Lee Westcott!

GBMenu

Matt, Lee, Daniel & Mark with the thousand yard stare

Read the rest of this entry »

 

aussie rules

I could use my recent accident as an excuse, but I won’t.  Lounging around, nursing a fractured metatarsal, I set to work, doing really important things like catching up with lots and lots and lots of Masterchef.

Masterchefs Australia and New Zealand aired on Watch only for its British counterpart to crash the BBC party a few weeks later. Back were the familiar Aussie faces of Matt Preston, Gary Mehigan and George Calombaris.  George is nearly half the man he used to be and looking very well on it too.  In the New Zealand kitchen we have Simon Gault, Josh Emmett and the fabulously named Ray McVinnie.  Josh has been in place since season two when Ross Burden bowed out due to ill health.

Josh, Simon & Ray

Josh, Simon & Ray

After a brief flirtation with Canada, it’s clear that my heart still lies in Australia.  Canada was good, don’t get me wrong, but the competitive element was ramped up pretty high with mystery box winners having the opportunity to remove a cook from an elimination round, catty comments and deathly stares.

One thing in Canada’s favour?

Bacon.

Lots of bacon.

And not a croquembouche in sight.  Read the rest of this entry »

 

disaster class?

On a wintry Saturday lunchtime, after wolfing down scrambled eggs, bacon and toast (with brown sauce) I happened to spot a triple bill on BBC2.  Country Show Cook Off.  Never heard of it.  Loved it.  The title sequence tells you all you need to know; a pair of top quality, celebrity chefs travel the country in a gorgeous Citroen van (H type, apparently) trying their luck at winning a rosette at a country show.  And it’s as difficult as it sounds.  As suspected, this show runs weekdays with a new set of chefs each week.  These catch up episodes featured Galton Backiston and Jun Tanaka with the smirky voice over talents of Ainsley Harriott.

Jun & Galton & that lovely van

Jun & Galton & that lovely van

I was immediately struck by the beauty of the vehicle (I’m almost tempted to learn how to drive just so I can have one) and, hold on, the curtain material!  I have that very same fabric for my kitchen cushions.  My kitchen that is an almost exact replica of Dot Cotton’s, I kid you not.  Not intentional either.   Read the rest of this entry »

 

STICKING OUR FACES IN IT

Here up on the eighth floor at BdGTTt Towers we don’t just snark and drool at the telly box – no, just occasionally we get out and about into the ‘real’ world. So this Sunday past me, Fanny and guest Brenda Cheesecake went on a blog outing (blouting?) to the heaving Good Food Show at London. Although, given how tied in with the telly box it turned out to be, this was an entirely appropriate day trip.

The immense Victorian shed that is the Olympia Exhibition Centre was packed to the gunwhales with stalls, people, and tasty samples. Real wonderland stuff, the full flowering of the home-and-garden wing of the British Food Revolution. Everywhere we looked, the ‘artisanal’, the ‘bespoke’, and the ‘all-natural’ beckoned.  Whitley Neill gin, orangey and exotic. Vestal elderberry liqeur. Mr Todiwalas pickles (Christ, these were good). Clonakilty black pudding. 9bar honeyish, yummy energy bars. Diablo’s curious toastie waffle irons (bakelite!). Sipsmith’s gin and vodkas. RealAle.com. The Artisan Smokehouse and their smoked oils which I can’t wait to try with some roast potatoes. The Garlic Farm plaits, The Cornish Cheese Company and whoever was doing the funny little beetroot candies that tasted a bit like the post-dessert thing they give you at The Square   …all got a lot of interest or a sale out of me. Upstairs was ‘The Wine Show’, where I was particularly taken with an Argentinian Torrentes from Cupari Wines. SALE. There was a ‘VIP section’ with some more serious dinners which didn’t look very VIP, like every temporary ‘VIP’ section ever installed, anywhere. Pleasingly, pretty much everything bar a couple of the sponsors were mostly small, independent stalls – you were usually talking to to the people who made whatever you were gulleting. Big Food mostly kept its nose out.

But that was only the half of it. There was a (ta da!) MasterChef ‘pod’ where all our favourites banged a few pans and smiled for the audience. We caught a glimpse of Ash Mair (MC Professionals winner 2011) doing his stuff (isn’t he busy with his new restaurant?), and watched Shelina (MC winner 2012, lest you need reminding) bang together a red snapper dish with crab courgette flowers with the usual Mauritian seasonings and a couple of great tips about not letting fish curl. The ‘pod’ was MC’d by James Nathan (MC winner 2008), who asked Shelina how her post-MC career was going with just a hint… just the tiniest hint, of…. what’s that?…. hmmm… anyway, Shelina explained what she was doing with her hotly-awaited new cookbook and her cookery school as James explained that he’d been cutting fish for Rick Stein for the past couple of years. Such is the way of things.

Anyway, all that was just a warm up for the special event in the kitchen-equipped ‘Supertheatre’ out back. We take our assigned seats (this was an extra fiver) and even get a warm-up man. We missed Hollywood & Berry on Friday, but on Sunday we get Wallace & Torode’s Laughter Show. They dance on their entrance! They hug! They banter! They tell us they actually met fifteen years ago, but have been working together for only eight! John cooks fillet steaks with plenty of excellent tips (beef being, of course, his chosen specialised subject) while Greg bangs out some Turkish-ish biscuits with enough ‘sweethearts’, ‘darlin’s’ and ‘angels’ to pad an entire Eastenders story cycle. The visibly lighter Mr. Wallace informs us that he’s lost two stone, but doesn’t tell us why. Both of them seem to be actually enjoying themselves. First class family entertainment, anyway.

We wander out, and Fanny squeals at the sight of Michel Roux Jr. just walking about, like a normal person! Anyway, there’s more things to nibble on, and plenty more to see (we don’t even get round everything in several hours). A cynical person could survey this temple and see a lot of middle-class people gorging themselves on free Yakults and pickles like Daily Mail Roman emperors, being sold to, indifferent to the wider problems of British food. Theatre. Entertainment. Bread and circuses. There’s some truth to that. But there was also a sense of possibility and connection and inspiration that I hadn’t seen at similar things previously. A sense of joy, actually. Food in Britain. Everything you need.

Afterwards, we repaired to the nearby Cumberland Arms which managed to serve me the best pub roast I have ever eaten, and I’ve eaten a lot. Well done.

 

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HOLLYWOOD NIGHTS

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WE’RE down to the semis in TGBBO, and we all know who the winner is already. That’s right: Paul ‘Inside’ Hollywood. Mel & Sue are fun and sparky and dry. Mary Berry is dotty and posh and particular. John is flustered, Danny is pragmatic, James is coquettish, and Brendan is… well, Laurence Olivier playing Christian Szell in Marathon Man. But it’s The Big Bear that takes it, every week. Alright, I didn’t know he was apparently a gay icon until the Guardian mentioned it today.  He’s the only judge they all fear – you know Mary Berry isn’t going to tear your head off with a look, and she’s going to find something good to say, however pisspoor your St. Honoré. But PH never gives the impression he’s going to say anything other than the absolute, unvarnished truth.

Confident MC contestants can face down the Torode / Wallace blockade, because they know that it’s hokum and that they might well be right or lucky. But no-one dares to gets as much as a langue du chat past Hollywood. In interviews, he appears completely normal, and unaffected or just plain embarrassed by the fame and Twitter nonsense or whatever. In fact, he appears to be that rarest of TV creatures: a completely bullshit-free zone. This is a victory. A victory for rounded personality and unfiltered expertise that’s not been pushed through the dumbed-deeper-and-down TV drool-sieve. And people like that. Five million viewers (apparently) can’t be wrong. Apparently he’s just wrapped a new series for the BBC called – with presumed Liverpudlian irony – ‘Bread’. Which is good, because one thing that is missing from TGBBO is him masterclassing his own hot oven skills.

Anyway, Brendan. (Yeah, I was a bit harsh above. Anything to get a laugh). OK, he’s self-obsessed, aloof, eerie, curiously kitsch, and machine-like – or at least, that is the role the producers and editors have created for him. Yes, he insists on dominating and stamping his individuality on everything, rather than sitting back and letting his talent speak for itself. And yes he takes criticism appallingly, usually accompanied with an ‘I could have you killed’  dagger stare. But strangely, I’m starting to get the impression that he’s actually an extremely warm and genuine man who has just been waiting years to show the world that his pernickity, precise approach to cookery is best. Unselfconscious, nerdy talent FTW. I’m hoping he takes it all the way.

 

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NIGELI$$IMA

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After reading John Crace’s glorious kickabout this morning, I was keen to watch another episode of this hugely successful, slightly bizarre ‘Italianate’ show. But not much had changed. This isn’t cooking. This is advertorial.

‘Her’ kitchen (at least they aren’t pretending) is grand beyond the imaginings of emperors, but even that’s nothing special these days, so the producers have decided to shoot almost the entire show at the magic hour; with sunlight (actually mega-lights, probs) streaming in and making a series shot in Bristol look a bit more Tuscan-porny.

After that, things get a bit confusing. The music shunts between daytime TV jazz, Meters funk, 40s Dixie and folky tinkling. The banter shifts between the phone-sex innuendo satirised years ago by Ronni Ancona and slightly forced gags and filler-guff about markets. “Sooooo easy, it makes itself…” well yeah, apart from the bit where you have to individually shell each broad bean by hand. The pitch of the cooking veers between oh-really-you-must-it’s-so-authentic and sod-it-do-whatever-you-like…like-me! She breezes things like: “Polenta, which we’re all familiar with…” – but many other bog-standard Italian ingredients are gushingly explained to the proles. Even the cameraman can’t choose between the lens smeared with Vaseline and the one that isn’t, so he just mixes and matches as he sees fit. At least she’s not claiming it’s ‘real’ Italian. The food? Oh, whatever. It’s all good easy fun.

So many things they can’t seem to decide on, but one thing that stays rock-like is Nigella-as-brand. She’s flogging herself and her heaving bits and her effortlessness and her bussed-in, gruesomely smug ‘lifestyle’ friends as well as ever, and Christmas is coming, and there’s a bit of the gleam for sale. It’s just entertainment, I know, but she doesn’t seem quite as joyful or silly or self-aware as previous series. There’s a slightly workaday feel to the golden glow. Back to business.

 

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DOUGH!

The Great British Bake-Off is brave in parts. It veers consciously away from at least some competition-genre staples – the candidates, for some bizarre reason, appear to have been chosen for personability, reliability and a general lack of character flaws and abrasiveness. No tears. The commentary is breezy but informative, the reaction shots and back stories brief, and the Mel & Sue hosting fun and a bit silly. The usual middle-class tropes abound; pastel shades, Union Jack bunting, Smeg fridges, dense Instagram colours. Well cosy.

This week: bread. People cook bready stuff, stuff gets judged, someone gets thrown out. The food appearing looks thoughtful and yummy. OK, it’s not the trickiest stuff: poor Cathryn thinks that trying to juggle one flatbread in the oven and one flatbread on the griddle is tricky. MC material she ain’t. The Terence Stamp-like Brendan, with his river-washed hot-rock oven techniques and his 106 grams of flour per portion fills the ‘bonkers’ quota on his own. The rest are a mix of amateur and ambition. You know the drill. Mostly pretty intense. Some haircuts. Pushovers, though. A well-known pair of other judges, shall we say, would have them for breakfast. Mmm, breakfast.

Luckily the judges here are dotty old Mary Berry and the ludicrously-named Paul Hollywood; a roly-poly Scouse fusion of Simon Callow and that well-trimmed bloke who started Paul Mitchell. I’ll give it to him, he looks like a professional baker, and he has a cheery but precise manner. It’s not nasty. The tough-test bagels bit at the end comes with a cheery, informative insert where they go to a proper old Jewish bakery. No one gets their bagels made even remotely right, apart from the Rick Moranis-alike James who supplies an I’m-over-the-moon reaction straight out of the reality book. These people clearly watch too much telly. Then the kicked out Peter gets a hug from the judges and the hosts. That wouldn’t happen on you-know-what.

Yes, I like a bit of pan-banging and cock-in-the-piping-nozzle macho bullshit as much as the next foodie-reality-genre fan, but there’s something great about the Cath Kidston alternative too.

 

YOU CAN’T ALWAYS GET WHAT YOU WAN(T)

Gok Cooks Chinese. Brilliant. Ronseal, mate. Can’t possibly imagine what’s going to happen now. Oh, I can. And I have. And now I’ve watched it, unnecessarily. This programme is so utterly, utterly pedestrian in its format and execution it could almost be on prime-time midweek Channel 4. Oh.

You probably know Gok. I have a near pathological aversion to the sleb-rag X-Factor daytime TV entertainment that smothers mainstream UK media – like drowning in a mix of fake tan and regurgitated WKD – and even I know who fucking Gok Wan is. I know what to expect. Specs. Camp. Asides. Well, thankfully, no one is keen on disappointing me. He actually comes across as entirely charming and personable, and he obviously loves his food. Shame that whoever produced this almost supernatually ordinary ‘vehicle’ had about as much imagination as a free prawn cracker starter. There was a budget, yes, and they spent it on speed-ramped rostrum pans, a lifestyle-porn kitchen big enough to take a moody lighting rig, pointless Jolliver animated inserts, will-this-do? voiceover, yeah yeah. There’s an insert of Gok standing and throwing things about which unfortunately reminds me of the opening titles of the Ali G show. The familiar grammar of a hundred precedents. Let’s make this cuddly. Let’s make this easy. Let’s make this boring.

So Gok gets to work on fried rice in ‘his’ whoah-no-really posh kitchen. “Egg in the wok, a little bit like an omelette”, he opines as he, um, scrambles the eggs in the bottom. Bish bash frozen-pea bosh and he serves his rice on a board, with chilli sauce overflowing on the edge, like someone completely fucking insane. Things pick up when he starts cooking with his dad Papa Wan, who is dry as a bone and great value. He used to work in various Chinese restaurants (as very clearly did Gok, judging by his seriously fast cleaverwork and casual pan flipping). The usual family photos and bonding follow. It’s all about the sleb journey, right? Gok’s strangely unappetising-looking stir-fried beans with shrimp are trumped by his dad’s nommy pork char-sui. They also, surprisingly, make a version of the joke once delivered in public by Prince Philip: “If it has got four legs and it is not a chair, if it has got two wings and flies but is not an aeroplane and if it swims and it is not a submarine, the Cantonese will eat it.”

Still, at least parental chipping makes for drama of sorts. Back at Wan Towers, the vehicle drives on solo. Thoroughly unconvinced, Gok reads the VO script anyway: “So simple, so quick.” (with a vast stock cupboard of dry goods.) “…that you can get really easily from the Chinese supermarket” (well, yes…) “You can be the Bruce Lee of your kitchen.” (FFS). Even the one blatant innuendo is forced out through gritted teeth. The producer used it anyway. Do I have to? Yes, Gok, you do.  

As mentioned, his food unfortunately doesn’t actually look all that special to the eye, but the presentation has been porned-up to the max. So this lovely simple you-can-do-it home cooked food goes to the tracking shot ‘pass’ on huge slabs of Michelin-y greenstone and slate. He clearly knows his shit though; there is a lovely illustrated tip about cutting meat at an angle to hold its shape, and a delightful cheffy moment where he seasons cooking food by dipping one side of his stock-wet ladle into a bowl of pepper and the other side into salt before returning it to the wok. He’s got it.

The really, really annoying bit comes when he visits the kitchens of Hakkasan, the multi-award winning, game-changingly excellent Chinese restaurant. We get to watch the head chef make beef with black beans at high speed, as his brigade watch nervously. Gok gets out his PE teacher stopwatch and times it at 1 minute 41 seconds. This is sped up, as a montage. We don’t get to see a top chef make a dish in less than two minutes. That, apparently would be boring to the audience, rather than fascinating, especially with an detailed voiceover. Nope. One minute forty one of high-speed sexy cheffing? Nah, people would be switching over to Auction Hunters, mate. What utter contempt for the viewer. What a waste of time. What a waste of Gok.

 

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KHOO 2

Rachel, Rachel, Rachel, with your glossy lippy and your saturated Hipstamatic kitchen and your cheery everywoman accent and your multiple costume changes (where is that woman’s storage?) and your Global knives and your crowd-pleasing K-Tel cookery classics and and and. Who wouldn’t fall for your carefully stage managed Nigella’s-hot-baby-sisterish charms?

The second episode gives us more of the same: Parisporn, that hoary standby “cheery banter with market traders”, more nice-and-easy looking recipes (I must do fish in paper more often), flylady Fifties action, piping bags (she doesn’t ‘choux till it pops’ though), vintage enamel, and a whole raft of c’est touts and et voilas (does she actually speak any more French than I do?). And why does she have her salt in an annoying, finger-inaccessible jamjar though? That would drive me insane. Her beef bourguignion was waaay too liquid for me, but the salted caramel puds were genius though, an fairly easy hit as long as you know your oven pretty well.

The boulangeries of Paris are as fucking amazing as they are pictured, by the way. I once got up on three hours sleep to go to Gosselin in Les Halles purely because Jeffrey Steingarten recommended it in passing as selling one of the best baguettes in Paris, but that’s because I’m a tragic food-addled knob. I spent a fortune and ran for the Eurostar looking like some kind of mobile bakery. Good times.

 

FOODIE (noun. vulg.)

Off TV for a while: a couple of things I’ve read this week have touched upon the charmlessness of foodies and blogging. Firstly the Guardian has a blog piece about taking photographs of food, and the social meedja lifestyle bragging-rights upload that invariably follows. I am not immune to this phenomenon, and I sometimes Facebook pics of things I’ve made, but I draw the line at doing it in restaurants, for two reasons.

Firstly, I think it’s at least slightly rude. If Michelin-level cooking is ‘theatre’, well, they don’t let you take photos in the theatre, do they? The couple next to us at Hibiscus last year were photographing fucking EVERYTHING including the flatware with a big DSLR – and scribbling in notebooks between courses. It distracted me a little, but the fantastically withering look they got from the sommelier at one point was almost worth it all. Apparently Heston now bans cameras at the Fat Duck, but who can blame him? I can understand the impulse though, particularly if you’ve saved up a couple of hundred quid for something both excellent and ephemeral, and you want to savour the memory or show your mother. And I agree that the appeal of some food blogs, e.g. The Critical Couple, is the detailed photographs of courses in fuck-off restaurants round the world, which has got me drooling and saving more than once.

But the more egregious reason for not taking photographs in restaurants, for me, is the cognitive switching between experiencing and recording. This is worst at gigs with people taking hundreds of really bad digital photographs instead of actually experiencing music, the only art form that you have to appreciate in real-time. The instant that the most important thing about the evening becomes recording it, whether out of boredom, for braggingtons, or blog hits, you’ve gone down the rabbit hole of life-at-a-remove, the curse of the digital 21st century.

So I’d barely finished this Guardian piece when one of my great pop mates tips me to an article about ‘The Young Foodie Culture‘ in New York. From the punchable opening: “Chang arrives at the tiny Thai place with her friends Jasmine, a stylist, and Marcos, a graphic designer.”, it’s a meditation in smug box-ticking foodie wankery that needs the hashtag #firstworldproblems attached to every other bloody sentence. As several commenters note, it’s ludicrous to extrapolate detailed trends based on one person (although that didn’t stop a Guardian blogger having a go based on about five records played by a single DJ at a single Dalston club on a single night). I’m struggling to decide whether the journalist or his subject is more irritating, but he does touch on some real foodie issues, such as the gluttonous lack of interest in locavorism or sustainability. And then he records the actual delivery of a line like ““Don’t you always feel so humbled eating an artichoke?“. Yurgh.

Anyway, after typing all the above, I was hungry, so I went and got an expensive coffee eclair from Paul.

But when I took a photo of it it looked a bit like a poo in a box.

A lesson for us all, there.

 
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Posted by on March 27, 2012 in British, Commodification, Critics, Dislike