The late Keith Floyd, whose apparent disregard for precise measures when it came to ingredients and something that I applaud, often refered to us who cook for pleasure as ‘gastronomes’ ... or is it gastro-gnomes? My wife Ruth, who is a nurse, tells me that if it is the latter, then I am a gnome with a stomach ... Hmmm?
Jacques Chirac was once caught on camera telling Vladimir Putin that the British had the worst food in the world, apart from the Fins. Well, I can’t vouch for Finnish cuisine ... and I wouldn’t go as far as to say that British food was bad, except to say that at times it is less than exciting. But maybe that is simply a result of regional produce. Historically the typical British dinner was prepared from local produce which would likely consist of lamb, beef or chicken with maybe onions, carrots, potatoes, turnip or suede to give an example. All this would go into the one pot, hence the variety of British stews. It all boils down (pardon the pun) to availability. It is really only since the 1950's that non-British cuisine has gained popularity in the UK, largely as a result of the increasing availability of non-UK produced ingredients, although some UK producers are now growing non indigenous crops. We can now go out in search of cuisine from all corners of the globe and not be disappointed. However, that which is sold in Chinese and Indian restaurants are not necessarily authentic. Chop Suey, for instance, originates from New York! There are several Chinese dishes that I frequently order, that I know are not authentically Chinese, but that doesn’t mean that they are bad ... it’s what we have become accustomed to, and it is actually comforting in some respects. This is something that the restaurant owners recognise and that is why they are always on the menu.
Indian cuisine is another example where regional cooking from the sub-continent has been adapted ... perhaps to make it easier for us westerners to choose. We take it for granted that a Korma is mild and creamy and a Vindaloo is hot, with others like Bhuna and Madras in between. Well this is absolute rubbish! The word Korma actually refers to the way it is cooked, until almost dry, and an authentic Korma can actually be quite hot. Traditionally made with Pork, Vindaloo (actually pronounced vin-daah-loo) is actually of Portugese origin and gets its name from the Portugese words for wine and garlic. However it is purely coincidental that the two instantly identifiable ingredients in what we recognise as vindaloo are vinegar and potato where Aloo is the Urdu word for potato. A true vindaloo is not necessarily hot. It depends on how much dried red chili is added. It is possible to make something that is instantly recognisable as Vindaloo but which doesn’t blow the back of your head off! An Asian friend of mine, who has worked in ‘Indian’ restaurants, once told me that what I cook is better and more authentic than what is often served up in some establishments. Certainly, there have been some Indian restaurants that I have visited where although the food wasn’t terrible, it was on the other hand obviously prepared for a clientele who knew nothing or very little about what they had ordered. I often rate an Indian restaurant on its ability to produce an authentic Rogan Josh. Also, if you order Kulfi (Indian Ice Cream), which should be hard, yet creamy in texture, and you are presented with a scoop of pistachio flavoured ice cream, then you have been done!
I’m passionate about food. I love to cook. To me, food is all about different textures, flavours and colours and bringing all these together in a single experience. To be honest, my first choice for a celebratory meal would be to prepare it myself. That is not to say that I don’t like to eat out. To me, cooking is fun and I love to experiment, or try something new. I also get real pleasure seeing people enjoying what I have prepared. Although within my circle of friends I am renowned for my Indian cooking, I am just as happy doing French, Italian or Chinese ... or simply making it up as I go along ... a case of looking in the ‘fridge and cupboards and seeing what is there!
Some people don’t know what they are missing when it comes to food. I once had a work colleague to whom food was little more than a necessity. I have a friend who won’t touch anything that isn’t dry! I once overheard a conversation between two women in a shopping centre. It was about lunch time and one said to the other “I can’t make my mind up between chips and cheese or chips and curry sauce.” I just about laughed aloud.
Finally, if you really want to insult the chef, ask for salt.