Last week, I was watching a programme on the state of agriculture in Oz and heard that 25% of all potatoes harvested are discarded because they are the wrong shape. The wrong shape? Are we absolutely stark raving mad?
I was reminded of an article - https://straight cucumbers - from Atlas Obscura sent to me from the indomitable BM. For afternoon tea (never "High Tea", please) cucumber sandwiches needed straight cucumbers and this is how they did it.
They might have been absolutely barking mad but do we need uniformly shaped potatoes? It must break a farmer's heart.
This has to be the best mash in the world.
Joël Robuchon died 6th August this year from pancreatic cancer. His name is not as well known around the world as say, Bocuse, Ducasse, Blumenthal or Gordon Ramsay (who was a protagé) despite being idolised by his peers. The food magazine, Gault & Millau, named him chef of the century in 1989. In 1995 he retired from the pressured world of Michelin stars and fine dining having at that stage opened and operated over a dozen restaurants around the world. Articles refer to his "relentless perfectionism".
He simply turned his back on three star cuisine to live better and to have a family life. Later he did re-invent himself - simpler food, simpler presentation and simpler settings, with dishes using just three to four basic elements. By this time, nonetheless, he had accumulated 32 Michelin stars, the most of any other chef in the world.
Left: Joël Robuchon - the chef's chef
Right: a "three star cuisine" presentation of eye-watering precision - caviar on lobster aspic, topped with gold leaf and enhanced by tiny cushions of crème fraîche mounted by individual petit pois.
But I do make his mashed potato...
Purée de Pommes de Terre (World’s Best Mashed Potato)
Follow this to the letter the first time. You can loosen up on the effort once you’ve got the hang of it and know what you’re aiming for.
1K potatoes (starchy rather than waxy)
(Choose potatoes of similar size for even cooking.)
up to 250 ml (1 cup) real milk (i.e. not low-fat)
200 – 250 gm unsalted butter, cubed and chilled.
The original Jöel recipe from his book Simply French (written by Patricia Wells) suggests “For exceptionally rich potatoes, the quantity of butter may be doubled”. Now, that’s my kind of recipe!
His mash became "iconic" with grand restaurants and hipster bistros following his lead.
Left: Mash, exquisitely served at the Grand Véfour, Paris, individually portioned, sitting in a jus, fragrant with truffle. (More on that later.)
Right: Mash served at Le Comptoir du Relais, Paris, to support a crisply bread-crumbed, boned pig's trotter - simple bistro that belies a menu of heavenly dishes. (More on that later.)
Tell me how you get on...
Above- Mary Berry's QUEEN'S PUDDING from "The Great British Bake-Off".
We’re still thinking of Tony Bourdain. I’m lounging around while my partner reads out the funny bits (Medium Raw). Funny and acerbic, these are ideas all cooks and chefs relate to. He’s writing about real food, hospitality, conviviality, culture, all with a reminder that pleasure and sumptuousness are as important as restraint and simplicity. He loved excess and hated waste.
In contrast, flipping through the TV channels recently, I caught a few moments of Master Chef, a show that purports to be about good food. Instead of warmth and friendship, the show promotes humiliation, suspense, aggression, fear and panic. It’s “Game of Thrones” in a kitchen. Worse can be said of My Kitchen Rules, which adds downright rudeness, plastic surgery disasters and bad table manners. I won’t elaborate on their bad suits.
If asked, I’d probably accept a stint as guest judge on MC. The money could add an extension to the house, repaint the sitting room, add a few Iranian rugs to the collection. It could for heaven’s sake even get me a Rothko or pay Willy Nelson to sing at my birthday. But honestly, what was Prince Charles doing on the show? Was that a new low? Who pulled that off? Why did he do it? Did the stables need re-roofing? Did the organic garden at Highgrove need to be expanded?
The charismatic Lee Lin Chin is leaving (retiring?) the news desk at SBS. Beautifully spoken, her dress sense is exquisite with just enough eccentricity to balance style and good taste. Would she have time at least to help the image of the gentlemen from Master Chef and MKR – five of the worst-dressed men on TV?
-The Great British Bake-Off
I came to it late, I admit, but The Great British Bake-Off has entertained and inspired me. I even “binged” on six episodes in a row, one Sunday.
Mary Berry – cookery writer, Paul Hollywood – master baker, Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc (comedians) host the show. Contestants work in a delightful marquee set in some bucolic corner of Britain. Their equipment is tastefully colour co-ordinated in pastel shades. They are put through a series of “challenges” – sponges, tarts, breads, scones, biscuits – but it’s all so civilized and calm, warm, friendly and encouraging. They all like each other. As an accomplished cook, I still learnt lots; about avoiding soggy bottoms, checking for yeast development, etc. (I had to get me one of them there automatic temperature checkers, by golly, and some better piping nozzles.)
“Tear’n share” breads were a first for me as was the new “all in one method” of cake mixing. Works well on a Victoria sponge (which leads, of course, to the differences between a Victoria, a Génoise, a Madeira).
I wasn’t happy with serrated knives cutting across cake racks nor with jumper sleeves pulled down to thumbs while cooking. I can’t believe that twice, salt was mistaken for sugar with disastrous results. The judges would criticize my love of dark pastry crusts - they prefer pale - and was it the British love of the double-entendre that gave so much attention to “nice buns”, “cream horns” and “soggy bottoms”?
The BBC couldn’t believe its luck when the show went viral with most of the population glued to the finals. The Great British Bake Off – catch it somehow – catch it on youtube – and for a laugh, watch David Walliams and Joanna Lumley do their thing!
https://www.youtube David Walliams Joanna Lumley
(based on Mary Berry’s recipe)
This is spectacular and easy.
*To prepare ahead of time, finish the custard and fruit part. Have the meringue whipped just before friends arrive. It will hold and can be “revived” with a light whisk before putting into the piping bag.
** If you have the privilege of eating this dessert, pour the cream AROUND your serve, not on top of it. (See Blog Post – “Respect” – 12/12/2017.) The chef has spent time cooking and presenting a lovely piece, with the meringue just right. Don’t dishonor it and cover it with cream. (The rugged individualists among us, of course, will do what they want.)
I first made this for a friend who is seriously gluten intolerant. For the base, I used part blanched almond meal, part gluten-free breadcrumbs. It worked so now I suggest the almond meal every time.
The recipe can be successfully adapted to the dish available. The pilluyvit dish in the photograph needed the recipe x 1.5.
For the base
600 ml real milk (i.e. not low fat)
25 gm butter (plus some for buttering the dish)
zest of one lemon (optional)
50 gm caster sugar
3 egg yolks
75 gm bread crumbs
(or better still, 50 gm blanched almond meal & 25 gm breadcrumbs)
Meringue: 175 gm caster sugar & the 3 egg whites
Fruit: 500 gm frozen raspberries & 200 gm caster sugar
Serve: pouring cream
Preheat the oven to 170C / 325F
Butter a 1.5 ltr (approx.) shallow oven-proof dish (one that will fit into a roasting tin as a bain-marie).
Base: Warm the milk, butter and sugar.
Whisk the egg yolks in a bowl and pour over the milk mixture.
Add the lemon zest.
Spread the breadcrumb mixture over the bottom of your dish. Pour over the milk mixture.
Place this dish of “custard” in a roasting tin, half filled with warm water.
Bake 20 – 25 minutes until set. Remove from bain-marie.
Fruit: Meanwhile, place the raspberries and sugar in a saucepan and heat gently for about 4 minutes or until you have a loose jam-like consistency.
Pour / spread over the custard.
Meringue*: Whisk the egg whites until fairly stiff. Gradually add the sugar and continue whisking until mixture is stiff and shiny.* (See above.)
Spread the meringue over the fruit, creatively forming peaks or better still, put meringue into a piping bag and pipe attractively.
Bake: Return to the oven (150˚C) for 20-25 minutes until the top is lightly brown and crisp.
Serve**: immediately with pouring cream.**
Comments below ...
Left - Mad, bad, and dangerous to know.
Right - Sane & compassionate commentator on food and culture.
I've been off the air for a few weeks (in more ways than one). I've been taken up with hospitality training and evaluation. I also had a break in Tasmania, but more of that later. But no sooner am I back at the keyboard than I have to deal with the sad loss of another hero. Vale Anthony Bourdain. He died while filming in France, 8th June, 2018. So sad for us that he needed so drastically to be free of his demons.
He had graduated in 1978 from the American Culinary Institute. He was executive chef at the Brasseries Les Halles in New York when he came to prominence in 2000, with the publication of his best-seller, Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, a deep-down and dirty story about the parts of a restaurant no-one wants to see and a homage to those who make the place happen, the chefs and line cooks.
It was not a pretty picture. It was also probably the most foul-mouthed book you will ever read. I religiously recommended it to every cook, chef or dishwasher who came through our restaurant kitchen. It was compassionate, unflinching and full of realistic advice for anyone thinking of going into hospitality - and a far cry from the glory and pretty stories of magazine food pages.
And as a “Little Goody Two Shoes”, while I didn’t (and don’t) relate to the casual and frantic sex in the cool-room or on the stuffed bags of soiled linen in the passage, or the smack or lines of cocaine to get through the day, I grabbed at the plain, sane, essential advice for the kitchen - show up on time, keep your station clean and in order; the kitchen is a dangerous place. Furthermore, I related to his thinking about food and the significance of sharing. Perhaps it’s best to simply offer some random quotes.
“Your body is not a temple, it's an amusement park. Enjoy the ride.”
“Skills can be taught. Character you either have or you don't have.”
“Don't lie about it. You made a mistake. Admit it and move on. Just don't do it again. Ever”
“Don't touch my dick, don't touch my knife.” (Sorry about that one, but you get his drift.)
“Few things are more beautiful to me than a bunch of thuggish, heavily tattooed line cooks moving around each other like ballerinas on a busy Saturday night. Seeing two guys who'd just as soon cut each other's throats in their off hours, moving in unison with grace and ease, can be as uplifting as any chemical stimulant or organized religion.”
“Garlic is divine. Few food items can taste so many distinct ways, handled correctly. Misuse of garlic is a crime. Please, treat your garlic with respect. Avoid at all costs that vile spew you see rotting in oil in screw-top jars. Too lazy to peel fresh? You don't deserve to eat garlic.”
“For a moment, or a second, the pinched expressions of the cynical, world-weary, throat-cutting, miserable bastards we've all become disappears, when we're confronted with something as simple as a plate of food.”
“So who the hell, exactly, are these guys, the boys and girls in the trenches? You might get the impression from the specifics of my less than stellar career that all line cooks are wacked-out moral degenerates, dope fiends, refugees, a thuggish assortment of drunks, sneak thieves, sluts and psychopaths. You wouldn't be too far off base. The business attracts 'fringe elements', people for whom something in their lives has gone terribly wrong. Maybe they didn't make it through high school, maybe they're running away from something, be it an ex-wife, a rotten family history, trouble with the law, a squalid Third World backwater with no opportunity for advancement. Or maybe, like me, they just like it here. ”
“The last thing a chef wants in a line cook is an innovator, somebody with ideas of his own who is going to mess around with the chef's recipes and presentations. Chefs require blind, near-fanatical loyalty, a strong back and an automaton-like consistency of execution under battlefield conditions.”
“Our movements through time and space seem somehow trivial compared to a heap of boiled meat in broth, the smell of saffron, garlic, fish-bones and Pernod.”
“If you look someone in the eye and call them a ‘fat, worthless, syphilitic puddle of badger crap’ it doesn’t mean you don’t like them. It can be – and often is – a term of endearment.”
“Having a sous-chef with excellent cooking skills and a criminal mind is one of God's great gifts.”
“Cooking is a craft, I like to think, and a good cook is a craftsman, not an artist. There's nothing wrong with that: the great cathedrals of Europe were built by craftsmen, though not designed by them. Practising your craft in expert fashion is noble, honorable and satisfying.”
“Food had power. It could inspire, astonish, shock, excite, delight and impress. It had the power to please me.”
“Luck is not a business plan.”
His writing and TV programs around the world were brave and revealing. He put so easily into words what I believe (with more expletives that I’ve ever used). His heroes are my heroes, his villains my villains.
“I am not a fan of people who abuse service staff. In fact, I find it intolerable. It’s an unpardonable sin as far as I’m concerned, taking out personal business or some other kind of dissatisfaction on a waiter or busboy.”
“We know, for instance, that there is a direct, inverse relationship between frequency of family meals and social problems. Bluntly stated, members of families who eat together regularly are statistically less likely to stick up liquor stores, blow up meth labs, give birth to crack babies, commit suicide, or make donkey porn. If Little Timmy had just had more meatloaf, he might not have grown up to fill chest freezers with Cub Scout parts.”
“Context and memory play powerful roles in all the truly great meals in one’s life.”
“As incisively pointed out in the documentary Food Inc.," an overwhelmingly large percentage of "new," healthy," and "organic" alternative food products are actually owned by the same parent companies that scared us into the organic aisle in the first place. "They got you comin' and goin' " has never been truer.”
“These are the end products of the Masterminds of Safety and Ethics, bulked up on cheese that contains no cheese, chips fried in oil that isn’t really oil, overcooked gray disks of what might once upon a time have been meat, a steady diet of Ho-Hos and muffins, butterless popcorn, sugarless soda, flavorless light beer. A docile, uncomprehending herd, led slowly to a dumb, lingering, and joyless slaughter.”
“I'm asked a lot what the best thing about cooking for a living is. And it's this: to be a part of a subculture. To be part of a historical continuum, a secret society with its own language and customs. To enjoy the instant gratification of making something good with one's hands--using all one's senses. It can be, at times, the purest and most unselfish way of giving pleasure (though oral sex has to be a close second).”
His life had imperfections and on re-reading “Medium Raw” one senses an unease and depression, even an omen, despite his addictions being safely locked away in the past.
“Only one in four has a chance at making it. And right there, I knew that if one of us was getting off dope, and staying off dope, it was going to be me. Iwas going to live. I was the guy.”
“I'll be right here. Until they drag me off the line. I'm not going anywhere. I hope. It's been an adventure. We took some casualties over the years. Things got broken. Things got lost. But I wouldn't have missed it for the world.”
I will decidedly not be regretting missed opportunities for a good time. My regrets will be more along the lines of a sad list of people hurt, people let down, assets wasted and advantages squandered.”
Of the still prevalent macho kitchen atmosphere and gender inequalities that lurk beneath the glamorous “celebrity” chef culture shown up by the #metoo movement, he said “I think about this daily with real remorse.”
I recommend Medium Raw and give a copy of Kitchen Confidential to that niece or nephew who watches too much Master Chef (with perhaps a warning about the oral sex).