Eric Chavot swears on Saturday Kitchen – I get traffic!

The Capital Hotel’s Eric Chavot played a blinder on last weekend’s Saturday Kitchen. He was amusing, watchable and enigmatic, and the dish he created looked fab. Shame he let slip the f-word towards the end of the show and thus gave the Daily Mail free rein to vilify him …

My terribly clever WordPress dashboard registered a healthy dollop of traffic around Eric’s name after the programme, which spurred me to explore the chefs and cookery writers delivering the best footfall for me on this blog. So, pop pickers, here is my top ten of Lewis blog foodies. Dah Dah, da-da Dah, der der der, der der der, Dah Dah, da-da Dah … etc.

But what does this tell me about the relative pulling power of food stars, and the nature of chefdom, apart from the fact that I should clearly cook a dish from Marcella’s classical Italian repertoire every night if I want to grow my audience?

First, isn’t it interesting that two of the darlings of the food scene, Fergus and Alain, are way off the pace? Both are great chefs, and Alain occupies a place in the stratosphere of chef legends; but clearly their entrails and extravagance haven’t struck a chord with my visitors. Could it be that few domestic fridges harbour foie gras or trotters?

Second, how revealing that the top three should be booktastic, all, Madhur and Marcella having forged long and glittering literary careers from producing standard texts, Jun having only weeks ago brought out a popular new tome, Simple to Sensattional?

The message is that producing books of recipes that are attainable, tasty and rooted in a specific regional cuisine ensures a loyal following. In years to come, Jun (a really nice fellow) might have built up such a canon or work. Meanwhile, I would expect his name to be searched on less and less in the coming weeks, as more of his peers bring out new books. Ah, but “Fame is a fickle food upon a shifting plate”.

[The post was brought to you by Emily Dickinson and WordPress]

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The enduring appeal of eating like a student

heinzZafferano, Alain Ducasse,  ras el hanout … Scanning some of my recent posts, I’m struck by just what  a faux gourmand I sound. My diet hasn’t always revolved around Michelin stars, champagne and black truffle – and still doesn’t. Back in the day, I liked nothing better than to mix and match a couple of tins and whack their combined contents on a mountain of rice.

Last night, I rolled back the years with a hefty bowl of tuna and baked-bean chilli on rice. As you would imagine, it doesn’t take the cheffing skills of an Escoffier to create this little beauty. You take one large tin of beans, one medium-sized tin of tuna (in spring oil) and stir in a massive shake of chilli powder (imagine you are talc-ing a fat man fresh out of the bath). Cook, then serve on a bed of boiled rice. Fantastic – you can have that one on me, Gordon.

Ducasse and Zafferano deal me a double Michelin whammy

scallop-roseSo much to report, while I wait for our Moroccan spiced lamb shanks with aubergine (with thanks to Nigel Slater’s Real Cooking) to cook through. I contrived to eat at two Michelin-starred restaurants on Friday, lunching at one Michelin-starred Zafferano with the MD of the London Fine Dining Group, Paul Singer, then dining with Susie at two Michelin-starred Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester. Belt-loosening stuff. Here are some highlights:

  1. Zafferano’s award-winning Peach Bellini: cloudy, perfumed and eminently quaffable.
  2. Little explosions of flavour from the crystallized salt in the aged crumblings of Parmesan served as antipasti at Zafferano.
  3. Zafferano’s homemade Papardelle with enough beefy morels to fill two cupped hands.
  4. Burrata ravioli at Zafferano: creamier than any soft cheese I’ve ever tasted.
  5. Bollinger rose champagne, served with choux pastry mini-buns that had bene dusted with black pepper and paprika, and which – pouf! –  evaporated in your mouth: a revelation. 
  6. The perfect beauty of the rose of marinated scallops, lamb’s lettuce and celeriac, and the earthy impact of its black truffle sauce.
  7. Ducasse’s roasted chicken and lobster, sweetbread, creamy juice: the flavour of the sweetbread seemed to coat and then fill your mouth.

[This post was brought to you by Zubrowka bisongrass vodka and Insomia by Faithless]

Madhur Jaffrey’s Kashmiri red lamb stew – and a trip back to school

michael-coaker-classSusie’s at work again. I’m therefore taking the opportunity to dig out Madhur jaffrey’s Indian Cookery and cook an Indian dinner again, while she battles through the crowds of grown men running around London dressed as rhinos, bananas and deep-sea divers to get home. Sometimes I don’t get her determination to drive to work in King’s Cross when she has a Sunday shift. She points out that the trains run up into Victoria less frequently than the rest of the week; but surely that’s just a matter of checking the timetable online? Hey ho, it’s her business; all I’m saying is, I wouldn’t fancy driving across London twice on the day of the London Marathon.

I’m doing Madhur Jaffrey’s Kashmiri red lamb stew. It’s got no onions in it, which will please Susie. Interestingly, there’s also no cumin, coriander or turmeric – this hinges around cloves, cinnamon, paprika, cayenne, dried ginger and ground fennel seeds, all of which is bound together with most of a pint of natural yoghurt. (Not to self: what is asafetida and where can I buy it? Wikipedia lists devil’s dung, stinking gum among its nicknames …)

While I was stirring the meat and reducing the yoghurt, I was thinking about a fantastic, life-affirming trip I took to a school in Northolt on Friday morning. I was invited along by Michael Coaker (formerly Executuve chef at the Intercontinental, Park Lane and now a senior lecturer at Thames Valley University) to watch him deliver a Chefs Adopt a School session to some teens with learning difficulties. The charitable project was set up by a cheffing organisation called the Academy of Culinary Arts to introduce kids to the pleasures of eating real, nutritious food. Chefs including the likes of Brian Turner and the Roux family teach kids basic lessons about the food we eat and the sensations they experience when they taste (bitter, sweet …) before teaching them a simple recipe to try themselves.

In Northolt, the kids were spellbound by Michael’s lesson from the second they arrived in the classroom. He had them smelling Coriander, basil and parsley, and forking the flesh from pomegranetes, before showing them how to make tomato, mozzarella and pesto puff pastry tarts and cheese straws (above). And then they were off: flour was sprinkled, pastry rolled, shapes cut and cheese and tomato sliced. I guess what the kids were doing was the same as what I’m doing with this blog: rolling their sleeves up, having some fun, becoming more comfortable around ingredients and learning along the way. If the challenge of twisting raw pastry into spirals had the kids in hysterics, the moment when their tarts came out of the oven and were plated up had them beaming like Cheshire cats. The whole session was fantastic. I wish I could add some photos I took of the class, but I haven’t got clearance from the teacher yet.

When I got home, I spent a few minutes leafing through a book of recipes by Alain Ducasse. I must admit, his endless lists of foie gras, truffle and caviar left me a little cold after having seen how much pleasure had been achieved with a few tomatoes, a ball of mozzarella and a wodge of puff pastry.

[I wrote this post listening to the Sensational Alex Harvey Band and watching the helipcopters over the London Marathon]