Tag Archives: food

In the blink of an eye…

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On June 12th a little incident happened in my home that has impacted my daily routine in a big way.

At about 10:30am I stood up from my desk and walked to answer the front door intercom and in the process managed to slip on a slightly damp tiled floor. What resulted was a left leg at a funny angle an emergency ambulance being called and rushed to A&E

It aspired my already dodgy left leg with a false knee cap ligament and then a previously broken left ankle has a new ailment – namely a displaced fracture of my femur that then required surgery and resulted in a stay in hospital for ten days.

My previous hospital incarnation 25 years ago with the knee ligament was a period I had tried to erase from my memory as the lasting memory was the food was so dire and inedible.

Well I can report even after the intervention of the likes of celebrity chefs James Martin and Llyod Grossman and a host of foodies and a plethora of consultants the food is still shit. In fact I will go further and say totally inedible with no attempt to make it in any way tasty or exciting.

Three days prior to me finally going down for an operation I was ‘Nil by Mouth’ from breakfast till dinner so hunger was setting in and even a simple sandwich or a so called ‘Cornish Pasty’ were abominations of culinary skills. Dry stale sandwiches shipped in from Bradford and a pasty with under-cooked pastry and filling with more resemblance of dog food.

On the fourth day I had to resort to a local chef friend popping in from his place of work with a plate of something edible as the thought of the NHS offer was so depressing. His Roasted Cod Fillet with Brown Shrimps and some seasonal vegetables was a real treat that was eagerly consumed.

I can honestly say over the ten day period there was only one palatable meal that I could say was edible – namely a chicken curry with rice and peas.

Breakfast was repetitive – toast of bread or a bowl of cereal – never eggs – toast always cold and cardboard like.

So where is this leading – I have nothing but praise for all the front-line staff who cared for me or were responsible for my surgery etc. The catering however was not in anyway worthy of a good word. I appreciate they have to cater for large numbers in a challenging environment and with assorted dietary needs – as one Vegan/Vegetarian pointed out to me no chance and if you were Coeliac. I reckon prisoners get better food than was dished up to me.

I feel the whole food issue within hospitals needs a total new approach and  thought process – It requires radical change and an innovative approach. In fact as an organisation the NHS expertise lies in well being, medical etc and simply not providing nourishment. So why even try ?

Our Government demands the NHS becomes more efficient with the resources it gets I wonder what impact it would have if catering was removed totally from their remit and given to external providers? A discussion worth having perhaps – what says you?

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Do we really love food?

A recent BBC News headline caught my eye as I laid in bed supping my morning cuppa “Chef Angela Hartnett says Britons are not really foodies”

It is quite a bold statement and  I have to say an opinion I would totally concur with as there are many Britons that like to think they are but we really do lack the same food culture as our European neighbours Spain, France or Italy. (they are not without their faults as well)

The Germans are more like us whilst Asian cultures have far more developed understanding of food than we do. I have to say we have become better in the last 40 years but one of the points Angela Hartnett raises is the fact that our food culture is money driven from the “haves and have nots”

We are also so wasteful with food and totally unimaginative in using up those items past their best. The lack of skills in a kitchen both at home and now often in professional environment also means there is a need to develop the skills lost over time on how to manage our resources better. A good business practice as well.

Those BBC programmes “Back in Time” that looked at how families cooked and ate far more left overs and had a connection with food was a fascinating insight into how times have changed over the decades.

Having lived in cultures that appreciate their food, the seasons and their history it seems a real shame we do not teach from a very young age here in this country some basic principals. I fondly remember a few years ago seeing a class of primary school children (All under 5) in France being led into a Michelin starred restaurant where I was dining to come and sample some classic French ingredients like foie gras, snails and chocolate to have their palates educated.

I have for the past six years annually coached a group of young girls at a local school how to gut a fish and bone a chicken and it never ceases to amaze me how squeamish the majority are about the whole process and how unconnected they are from the food they enjoy.

I myself was a fussy child not eating many foods and it was not until I left home and started my studies and travelled more widely that I woke up to food and what it has to offer. It provides conversation, enjoyment and nourishment and is also useful in so many other ways.

If there is one thing we should teach in schools it is how to appreciate the food we eat and how we can cook it properly. I will keep doing my bit but unless we change and become a nation of foodies then alas nothing will change!

I also recently managed to watch a film on Netflix called “The Last Magnificent” about one of the first celebrity chefs in America Jeremiah Tower. It was an eyeopening and thought provoking look at how what we now take for granted is a relatively modern phenomenon. What struck me most was how as a child his parents left him to his own devices (he had a very privileged upbringing and it was this experience that helped develop his passion for food)

So my challenge for 2018 is to keep plugging away at trying to develop young palates and create a different culture towards food. I would challenge anyone who wants to join me on this mission will be most welcome to do so.

TWYard Sale…

Well this initiative by the  “Popes of TW” is a really simple and great idea. Nick & Ingrid saw something similar whilst on holiday in the US and thought it would translate well to the their local community in Tunbridge Wells.

The have tirelessly put together a simple website where an “X” marks the sellers pitches and allowed now some 100 plus to easily sign up and take part. They have both leaflet dropped the town and distributed some 10,000 of them to spread the word and now with just a few days to go there is much excitement and anticipation.

I felt I somehow had to take part in this and am pleased to say I will be joining up with a couple of pals on their pitch at TN1 1JP where I will rock up with my paella kit and cook a fresh big pan of the stuff and serve up to anyone who fancies a refuel whilst they browse the assorted sellers stalls.

The pan holds circa 40 portions so it will be very much a first come first served situation and all profits from the sales will be donated to local charities. I will even take payment with a credit card if you have used up all your cash on other sellers stalls so no excuses on not selling out.

Lets hope the weather stays fine and warm and this will become very much an annual community event for the town. Well done to Ingrid & Nick for such sterling work… now just form an orderly queue for your paellas!

Recipes – To share on not to share…

Following on from my last post about the Covert Cook School I felt I should continue the theme with a post about recipes.

I often get asked at our dinners “so how did you make this or that”… well I normally just ask them if I do not already have it for their email address and then I email them a link to my recipe store with a link for the recipe in question.

ppI have set up an account with an online app called “Pepperplate”. It is a very simple to use as it allows me to create a recipe upload a photo of the finished dish and then share either by email or social media.

It’s also compatible with my iPhone and iPad so no excuses. I currently have some 100 plus recipes stored at the moment and add one nearly every day! I can thoroughly recommend the app so do give it a go.

I have also recently joined a closed group on Facebook called Foodie Favourites that has been set up by a lady called Robbine Collie who I have known for a number of years. She heads up a company called Food at Work that does team building workshops with cookery at the centre plus she also runs cookery classes in North London via her brand Ufoodie. The idea however behind the Foodie Favouritesff facebook page has been as Robbine  states

“I started this group because people often ask me foodie advice and while I always have some kind of answer (useful or not), many of you have even better or different ideas and experiences and I thought it would be TOTALLY AMAZING if we can benefit from our COLLECTIVE recommendations on all things foodie – delicious ingredients, nifty kitchen gadgets, utensils and equipment, best foodie shops, great food related services such as cooking classes, caterers, food delivery services, ready meals services etc – basically a place to ask advice and share your favourite foodie information.”

In a very short space of time the group now boasts some 1000 plus members and it never ceases to amaze me how foodie questions are answered so quickly. I have discovered new foods and ideas on  a regular basis and have also seen some of my friends and followers actively taking part in the group with passion and delight to share their experiences. It just goes to prove how much of a leveller food can become. Long may this continue.

food-swapIt must be about time for another Tunbridge Wells “Food Swap” to be organised by Laura Goode ? Something else I have enjoyed in the past when a freshly made loaf of bread could be exchanged for a jar of homemade chutney or some other yummy food item…

In fact it is now so easy to get inspiration or ideas with the click of a mouse.  You can watch a 30 second video of how to make something or you can simply “google” a query about a product. I was so pleased recently when I spotted a post on someone looking to source a local Kent cheese made to ethical standards that I was able to share my knowledge about Winterdale Shaw following my own personal experiences.

It also amazed me when a totally random email landed in my inbox enquiring how to purchase Dorrbohnen (Dried Green Beans) in the UK. It gave me great pleasure to be able to assist this person keen to source them to be able to sell some of my limited stocks so they could cook them for their festive meal and then discover I could replenish my stocks direct via the Swiss Supermarkets German web site and get them couriered to the UK at considerably less cost than a return flight to Switzerland!

I just love it when I can share a new ingredient or something a bit more quirky. For example a new Vegetable recently to be found on kalettesthe supermarket shelf are Kalettes ( a cross between a Brussels
Sprout top and Kale)  Ikan Bilis is another such ingredient and thanks to my connection to Singapore. Six large bags of these salted and dried anchovies will now have to feature somewhere on my future menus…

So to answer my question to share or not what do you think? Your thoughts are welcomed!

Waste… and just lazy behaviour?

waste1The recent BBC programme “Hugh’s War on Waste” with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall that aired recently highlighting the problems of food waste was a fascinating look into how we have become.

I recognised so many traits of people I know that will buy excessive food and then have to throw it out or they will only buy perfectly formed produce because they have become so conditioned. Do not get me started on Organic and the such like!

I always remember once going through my mothers store cupboard and finding jars of jam, tins of food etc that were years out of date. She was of the “war rationing” generation that horded food and just hated waste. We have cultural differences as well – we see people in our French village going out each day buying the produce and food they need for that day.

I have had a chef training and I feel I am pretty good at ensuring I use every bit of produce I buy and I like to also think I am pretty canny with my purchasing and try to buy what is in season. Local is good but can for me also be limiting… e.g. I love a Barbary Duck Breast so will purchase when I am in France and import or source an Asian ingredient I require when a local cannot be substituted.

Hugh’s programme highlighted the public’s so called desire for perfect fruit and veg with tonnes of parsnips being rejected by supermarkets as they were marked with small blemishes or were the wrong sizes! Madness and irresponsible for all parties involved. Intermarche the French supermarket chain actually have a cheaper section of Fruit and Veg that are seconds or misshapen. It requires the public to demand their produce is not sanitized to the extent it currently is.

What is worse is this “Best Before Date” people now think if it is gone beyond this it is dangerous and should be thrown. I was also equally annoyed by the way people stored their opened produce in the fridge in the same packets and unwrapped – open to cross contamination and spoiling.

I get through copious quantities of large commercial rolls of cling lidl sealerfilm quite quickly as I am constantly wrapping and storing using this or my £25 Lidl purchase of a small vacuum machine with rolls of
plastic bags as an invaluable piece of kit for me as I freeze or wrap gluts in bags till they get used.

For me it is all in the planning, rotation and knowing what is in your fridge, freezers and storage cupboards so that it gets used. It is simple kitchen management and what annoys me most is when someone takes something from the fridge and then puts it back unwrapped (if already wrapped and not in the same place it was taken from) It might sound like a case of OCD but for me it is about sound management. Ask any good professional chef and he would agree.

The public needs to up its game on many fronts and our supermarkets need to change its policies with regards to what it sees as acceptable standards.

Rant over… any comments are welcome.

Honey & Co…a review…

It has been a while since I had seen a long-standing client @ufoodie but we had spoken on numerous occasions and this meet up was a sort of catch up and payback time. Well it was to be a very enjoyable payback and good to catch up and hear all the latest gossips from her’s and my businesses.

We are also plotting to bring a unique mass cooking experience to a venue near you where we perhaps do the ultimate “pop up” dinner where you will hopefully also cook your own! Will keep you all posted as to how plans for this progress but in the meantime @ufoodie had chosen the venue (well as she was paying) and a great venue choice it was too.

Located at what one could describe as the wrong end of Warren Street just off Tottenham Court Road this little, and I mean little establishment is causing a bit of a stir in foodie circles.

A shoe box of a room with cramped tables was pretty empty when we arrived but it was soon very packed, very noisy with a group congregated outside waiting for a vacant table and regular new arrivals being turned away. Such is the popularity of this place booking a slot is advisable, in fact very necessary.

So what’s all the fuss about – well the food is very much the star, as is the friendly and informal service so overall a great mix.

As we perused the menu the limited choice was so enticing it was making choices so difficult so we plumped for the Mezze platter and as an extra “Roasted Octopus” with chilli, coriander and meshwiya sauce as our starters.

Both dishes were stunning – a generous platter of little dishes that included Labaneh (strained Yoghurt) topped with Zaatar (a middle eastern herb mix). Carrots coated in harissa and fennel seeds, gorgeous creamy hummus and a light delicate heritage radish and paprika salt salad. “Boikos” were little feta cheese like scones and then some plump Kalamata olives completed the platter. The octopus on recommendation of the cheerful waitress was equally stunning. Beautifully tender octopus was coated in a sauce made of tomatoes and peppers and then little slivers of grilled lemon and chilli and coriander gave it an interesting kick with a good balance of flavours. Outstanding and accomplished cooking  was very evident here.

Our main course choices  were a “Chicken Pastia” fundamentally a middle eastern inspired pasty! Slow cooked melt in the mouth chicken cooked with dates, almonds and some subtle spicing – just a hint of cinnamon that was then encased by crispy filo pastry. This was a beautifully simple piece of cooking and again a very well executed dish that pleased on all fronts.

A light green leaf salad with slices of orange worked perfectly against the richness of the meat. Our other main course choice was “Lamb Shawarma,” yoghurt marinated lamb served on a charred pitta bread, a mango chutney (amba) and some fresh salad (shredded cabbage and pomegranate seeds) Again a lovely fresh and vibrant dish.

To round our lunch off we then had a couple of desserts. Claudia Roden’s inspired whole orange flourless cake with a dark hot chocolate sauce. The star dish though was a cold cheese cake, a mix of creamy cheese (we were told it was feta!!!) was nestling atop a bed of crispy Kadaif pastry (crispy vermicelli) and then some nuts and drizzle of Greek pine and fir honey completed what was a stunningly simple but effective dessert.

The service we experienced was informative, friendly and attentive, overall it was a jolly good lunch… the only downside was the room was cramped and noisy once it filled up with guests – so making a quiet lunch harder. The likes of “Tripadvisor” and other review sites sing the praises of the cooking but do criticise cramped room as well as the prices as being a shade high… what price though for quality?

We both enjoyed it but I’m sure it is very easy to rack up a higher bill as everything was just so tempting. On reflection I have to say it was well worth that extra walk to the wrong end of Warren Street!