Tuesday, 20 April 2010
Food, glorious food.
This will be a moan. I’m blessed with a wife who’s a wonderful cook. She knows about flavours, combinations, health stuff and is far more creative than most of the restaurants in Aberdeen (and elsewhere for that matter). The highest compliment I can pay a restaurateur is to say that his/her food is just like we eat at home.
I don’t know if it’s the same elsewhere but in the UK, the TV is crammed with cookery programmes. AND FOR THE MOST PART I HATE THE PREMISS THEY’RE ALL BASED ON. Sorry, I must calm down and explain. Let’s start back in the late 80s. I made a series of programmes in France about various aspects of French culture and one of them, naturally enough, focused on food and leisure. At the time, we’d all at last moved out of that vile ‘nouvelle cuisine’ phase – you know the one, where a chef would cut a pea into maybe 7 or 8 slices, arrange them in a crescent in the middle of a plate the size of a basketball court, put 3 millimetres of something red near them and charge you £17.99 for it. BUT …
…when I interviewed a lecturer in the cookery school of an excellent college of commerce in Agen, where we’d just eaten a delicious lunch cooked by the students, he insisted that ‘presentation’ was a very important part of the discipline they had to learn. And presentation has come to prevail. So what do we get nowadays?
I could sort of understand it when they turned radishes into miniature roses or created crenellated carrots or turned beetroots into red spaghetti, but they’ve gone mad now. First it was towers of things – the same basketball plate but now with a tube of layered stuff in the middle with a sprig of flat parsley stuck in the top, or maybe a biscuit made out of a thin slice of pig. But soon that wasn’t enough. They had first to drizzle stuff, then drizzling was passé so they took ages making a flavour-filled sauce then put a small dollop of it somewhere on the plate and scraped it with a spoon to form a smear. This smear was neighbour to a minute portion of salmon or rabbit or venison or lamb or Gloucester Old Spot which was sliced into a small fan with some fragments of coloured things (one assumed vegetables) arranged on and around it. Nearby, if you were lucky, might be a fraction of a potato carved and teased into a curly or flat shape. And it could even be dusted with something that might be an exotic spice but looked like dandruff.
And then, pièce de résistance and horror of horrors, worse than Bram Stoker’s vilest imaginings, like something out of a bedside spittoon in a hospital, some ingredients whipped up into FOAM. Why, oh why does it never occur to these Michelin-starred chefs that their delicious, slaved-over foam looks exactly like throat-clearings? Who on earth wants to eat, however delicious it’s supposed to be, mucus?
But still the critics and the top chefs crave good presentation. Bafflingly, people who’ve sweated their apprenticeships out over years in hot kitchens spend hours arranging things on plates which (please let me remind you, ladies and gentlemen) are going to be scooped up with a fork, chewed and swallowed. OK, I don’t want to be served a plate with a grey lump on it, but I’m equally against risking being called a vandal because my fork desecrates a work of art. Food can look good without being made to resemble a Matisse.
I’m not a food philistine. I love eating, and no, I don’t just want huge platefuls of any old thing. But I want the chefs who prepare the stuff I eat (and for which I pay lumps of cash) to concentrate on getting the flavours and combinations right rather than on turning my plate into a Turner prize entry.