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Category Archives: Critics

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 »

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blood on the dance floor

With Masterchef Australia (season 6) galloping towards its conclusion, the two hour New Zealand (season 4) final was screened last week on Watch. NZ may not have the vastness nor the glamour of its AUS counterpart but it gets the job done.

They live in a large, modern house as, one by one, they are eliminated and by the season finale we are left with two cooks: Aaron Brunet and Paula Saengthian-Ngam.  Aaron seemed to be a winner from day one.  His food was sophisticated and tasty throughout, pretty much.  On the rare occasion he made a mistake it was noticed and commented on by his competitors.  He was even nicknamed the ‘Aaronator’. Ultimately though, he made it to the final without too much drama.

Aaron

Aaron

Paula’s route wasn’t as easy but she got there by making some tip top classic dishes and using her knowledge of Thai flavours to her advantage.  Clearly the Masterchef experience filled her with confidence and a new direction in life.  One that didn’t include her husband, it seems.  “The show gave me the strength to end it. It made me realise that I didn’t really miss him. He didn’t understand why I wanted to do MasterChef.”  Okaaaay!

In standard overseas practice, the final was split into four challenges with marks out of 20 given by the judges.

First up is the taste test.  A giant vat of Ray’s bolognese was brought out and our cooks had to guess all 20 ingredients (beef mince, pork mince, cream and white wine among them, YUM).  Aaron leads 14 – 12.

Tony Astle, who’s been cooking for 40 years at Antoine’s, pops up to inspire them for the entree challenge.  Paula nails it with a duck salad to take it 32 – 25.  This is particularly impressive as events were temporarily halted due to the ‘incident’.  Now, there are quite often little mishaps in the Masterchef kitchen, now matter where in the world you are.  Many cooks exclaim, “I’ve chopped the end of my finger off but I can’t give up now”.  Yeah, right.  If you’re gonna chop your finger off, do it properly.  Poor Paula uttered the fateful words, “I usually nick myself with the mandolin but I’ve been alright today.  So far!”  Cue blood dripping down her hand and a scary amount on the floor.  Thankfully all was good in the end.  She pulled off a great dish.   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 »

 

the brain works very weird at this hour

Yessssss, I managed to find an obscure lyric from a song called Alaska.  Get me.

OK. let’s not beat around the bush.  Poor, lovely, beardy Iain was sabotaged by the most evil pensioner in Britain, Diana.  Well, that’s what you would think by watching the furore unfold Wednesday evening and throughout Thursday.

After an exceedingly pleasant evening beginning with Expendables 3 (everyone needs more Dolph in their life, right?) and finishing with some yummy Chinese, we returned home and switched on Newsnight to find Kirsty donning a pinnie and introducing the ejected Iain Watters.  WHAT?  This would never have happened on Paxman’s watch.   Read the rest of this entry »

 

Diners, Donkeys and Diatribes

Restaurant openings by TV foodie types are often accompanied by the sharpening of knives over at The Papers but an imaginative review with all the right ingredients can sometimes be let down by the execution. The recent hammering given to Gregg’s newest venture by the Telegraph was probably deserved but the flavour was ruined by some noticeably laboured jokes.

Doing the rounds lately has been the New York Times’ furious kerb-stomping of the latest opening by the Food Network’s Guy Fieri. It’s a joy to read – a lengthy tasting menu of sustained disappointment, rage and disgust served up in bitchy bite-sized paragraphs

Diners, Drive-ins and Dives are Fieri’s domain and in his broadcasting job he tirelessly documents and demonstrates an American cuisine that’s grilled, smoked, deep fried and topped with melted cheese. His culinary empire includes the Tex Wasabi chain built especially for those who like the idea of sushi but wish it contained more brisket. This is a chef so Off. The. Hook. that he was Smash Mouth’s first choice when they needed a bro to cook some eggs.

All this makes him a fairly easy target for the refined critical palates of the NYT and there’s more than a hint of snobbery on display. The points are well-made though and, much as I love diners, burgers and BBQ, a 500-seater mega restaurant in Times Square strikes me more as a machine for raking in tourist dollars rather than an ideal place to experience the best in all-American cooking. If your restaurant can’t even get nachos right, what are you playing at?

 

adj., n. pur-fikt

So, home alone for the night, I decided to start watching my eight hours of cookery nonsense that’s stacking up.  First up is two episodes of ‘Perfect…’

‘Food For Friends’ and ‘Curry Night’ were on my telly menu.  The deal is thus:

  • two chef types duke it out to see who ‘wins’
  • each cook a simple starter, followed by a ‘classic’ and ‘ultimate’ meal
  • a panel of three food writers/presenters blind taste each dish and vote

FFF pitted Paul Merrett against Allegra McEvedy and the starter dishes were so-so (ham and pea croquetas and crab on toast with serano ham/fig ciabatta).  The classic round is where both chefs make the same dish.  It’s quite interesting to see how each chilli con carne, in this case, differs and little vox pops of other chefs tell you their favourite way of cooking it.  I love that chefs have no qualms on things like baked beans being an essential ingredient of chilli!  Now, the ultimate dish was quite interesting too.  Allegra’s rabbit lasagne sounded pretty awesome with Paul’s bouillabaisse also looking exciting if a bit too much fanny dangle. Read the rest of this entry »

 

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