May 14 2013

Food Glorious Food

Share your favourite recipe. Talk about the best cocktail you’ve ever tasted. Or maybe share you fave restaurant experience. Lets talking about food!

This is going to be a tricky one simply because there is so much to say. I suspect I might actually struggle to get this down in a clear and coherent fashion because I simply have so many thoughts and they all race to get to the front.

So where do I start? From the beginning. I have no particularly strong memories of food from my childhood. I’m certainly not one of those people who can claim to have been passed a great legacy of family cooking. That’s not to say my family are not good cooks – far from it, but it was never an aspect of life that really impacted on me as a child. There are a few excepetions however – little gems of memory that stick out for me and come to the surface every now and then.

  • Gravy
    I have the impression that this was instigated by my dad, but I have no real evidence for that, it’s just a feeling. We always had ‘proper’ gravy with a roast, not made from cubes etc. The reason I know this to be the case it that I always got the job of standing at the stove stirring the gravy until it thickened. I have very strong memories of the cream roasting tin we had, with a ridged bottom that made getting all the sticky bit s off a bit tricky and you had to stir very carefully to stop the gravy sticking.
  • Coconut Macaroons
    About the only thing I really remember making, either with the rest of the family, or sometimes on my own – probably with supervision. Always shaped using an egg cup.
  • Dripping
    This is, I think, largely a northern thing. I always looked forward to visiting my paternal grandmother in Yorkshire. For many reasons, but one of the key ones was that she always had a supply of dripping, and a teacake with dripping and salt was a treat that would drive me giddy with pleasure. I recently went to a funeral in Yorkshire and the buffet included bread with dripping. It was like being 10 all over again.
  • Andy’s House
    When I was growing up I spent an inordinate amount of time at my best mate’s house. Days, even weeks on end. They really were like a second family for me, and in fact for a short period while we were ‘between houses’ I lived in a caravan in their garden. Andy’s mum was (and is) a very good cook, with a great talent for those big family meals where you have a dozen people sat around a table, 8 different dishes and second and third helpings for everyone. I loved that house, that family, and their food. We never really had a big garden, but they had a huge garden and would grow their own fruit and veg which was a real treat. I suspect I rather took advantage of their hospitality, but I certainly never got that impression from them. They were incredibly welcoming and kind to me.

While I never had a strong sense of cooking, I was perfectly able to feed myself, and when I went to university I didn’t really struggle. Although let’s be honest, like most students I largely lived on a diet of toast, baked potatoes and takeaways.

The real revelation for me came as a result of a chance change at work. I was working in a pub, doing a minor management role, largely the back office admin – stock taking, ordering, that sort of thing. Our chef left for another job, and the manager asked around for anyone who would take on the role temporarily while they sorted out a permanent replacement. Somehow I ended up volunteering, and had the job for about a year. I absolutely loved it. In culinary terms it was nothing fancy, fairly standard pub grub – pies, burgers, steaks and so on. There was a slight Mexican slant to the menu, so we did burritos and chimichangas and so on. The key thing is that is was all ‘home cooked’, we didn’t buy in any pre-prepared dishes and made everything from scratch. While we didn’t make anything very complicated, it really did give me the confidence to cook and really inspired me in my love for cooking, and everything connected with it.

I only did that job for a year, but the passion I felt there has never left me. I am always trying new ideas, new recipes and new ingredients. I love getting recipe books and going through them to get ideas, even if only for a single ingredient or treatment. I’m not really the most adventurous cook, but I do try to push my boundaries and try new things. Particularly if I’m eating out. I will always try and have something that I wouldn’t or can’t cook myself. Offal is a particular favourite. We don’t eat out that often, but we always try and find somewhere particularly nice when we do. Most recently this was a trip to ‘The Scran and Scallie’, the new gastropub opened by Tom Kitchin, who has been responsible for the two best meals I have ever had. The previous one was at his first restaurant, The Kitchin. A well executed dish can amaze me, and the simple liver dish I had on my visit to The Kitchin took my breath away, it was simply perfect.

I am well aware that I can’t cook at the level that professional chefs can, but that doesn’t stop me from being fascinated by what they do, why they do it, and how they do it. I love reading biographies of chefs and stories based in the trade. Even more general writing about the catering industry has me hooked – I also worked part time as a waiter for several years which may explain that interest.

I have also done a short cookery course at night school for Italian cooking, and am hatching a plan for a week long course in Glasgow for my fortieth birthday.

I could never work as a full time chef. It is incredibly hard, stressful and often monotonous work. I do understand why some people love it, and are constantly inspired by their work, but that’s not for me. I like to relax with my cooking. I spend hours dotting around the kitchen doing various things and will quite happily while away a few hours making a bolognese sauce. It doesn’t feel like a chore to me, it’s how I relax and spend my time.

If anyone has any recommendations for good food writing I would love to hear them. I have, of course, read most of the big names, but that doesn’t mean I will have read them all so I’m always eager to find new writers with passion. Anthony Bourdain, Jay Rayner, Michael Ruhlman, that sort of thing. I just love anything about cooking.

I almost forgot to link to my own food page, where I have documented various recipes that I have tried. I have kind of got out of the habit, so I need to get back to it, but you might find it interesting.


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