Chef dinosaurs and all the young punks

Rod StewartLondon food blogger extraordinaire, MsMarmitelover, has written a brilliant post, in which she compares our contemporary food giants to the Rock Gods of the Seventies. Back in 1976, she reminisces, Rod Stewart had ducked off to Hollywood to hang out with Britt Ekland and Mick Jagger was partying with Princess Margaret on Mustique. Queue punk.

MsMarmitelover likens today’s food stars to these unattainable icons:

The same thing has happened in cooking. The culinary world is ruled by people like Gordon Ramsay: rarely behind a stove; Heston Blumenthal: a mere 400 quid  to eat at his place; Ferran Adria: the waiting list for El Bulli is, well, book me in for the year 2020; Jamie Oliver: the tory Essex boy with populist roots done good,  settled down in domestic bliss. 
So what’s the culinary equivalent of the Damned and the Pistols, in 2009? The underground restaurant scene, in which MsMarmitelover seems to be a prime mover.
People want to eat at places where they can meet the chef, even have a drink with them afterwards, where they can mingle socially, where they can momentarily dispense with the hierarchy and isolation of a traditional restaurant.
I’ve not been to an underground restaurant. As I understand it, the idea is that someone welcomes strangers into their house and cooks for them, for enough of a fee to cover costs. What a magnificent idea. I’m tempted to try myself – but perhaps I’d better go to one of these events first, and learn more about what goes on.

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.

The legend of the Tarte Tatin

tarte-tatin-brotherhoodAin’t the Internet a marvel? One moment, I’m doing a quick search for a tarte tatin recipe so I can replicate the fantastic banana tarte tatin I had at the Capital Hotel this week; the next, I’m reading about an arcane French brotherhood created to safeguard the original recipe for tarte tatin, as made by the Tatin sisters in Lamotte-Beuvron in the late nineteenth century. The website of the Lichonneux Brotherhood tells how the dish was born when Stephanie Tatin, owner of l’Hotel Tatin with her sister Caroline, placed an caramelised apple tart into the oven upside down, by mistake. Each year, Les Lichonneux don traditional blue smocks and red scarves and meet to celebrate their famous locl dish. Below is the recipe they list on their site:

  1. Take a high-sided pie dish (24cm diameter).
  2. Butter it, using 150g of fine butter. Sprinkle 125g of icing sugar onto the butter.
  3. Peel 1kg of apples’ Cut them roughly into quarters and place them side by side with the curved side down then fill in the gaps with large slices.
  4. Start cooking on a low flame for 10-15 minutes, and monitor the beginning of caramelising to your taste. Then place in an oven at 180-200 for approximately 15 minutes.
  5. Take out and arrange on a base of flaky or short pastry, slightly larger than the diameter of the mould, then put back in the oven for approximately 15 minutes.
  6. Once cooking is over, take out of the oven and allow to stand for a few minutes. Place a serving dish over your mould and turn it out quickly.

I’ve found another recipe, this time from Alain Roux of the Waterside Inn. Rosie from Fifty Four Food Miles kindly sent me this, from Jamie Oliver. And here’s a Gordon Ramsay tarte tatin of pears recipe. There are bound to be others on our cook book shelf …