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.

My maiden Tarte Tatin

braeburn-applesThe tarte is in the oven. After all¬†the talk of Alain Roux and Jamie Oliver in my last post, in the end I returned to¬†Delia Smith. Unlike Alain, who advocates 15 minutes of cooking on the hob before the tarte goes into the oven, Saint Delia recommends popping it straight into a 180 degree oven for 40 minutes. I bought Braeburn apples on the advice of Alain, mind you – and I spread about 50g of butter over the greaseproof paper I put in the base of the dish, another Alain touch that Delia foregoes. Delia says you should let the tarte go cold before turning it out; Alain says it’s best to turn it onto a plate as soon as it comes out of the oven. I’ll leave my decision¬†until it’s ready to come out …

The puff pastry looked light and, well, puffy, when I took the tarte out. I decided to turn it straight out onto a plate; in retrospect, I think I should have left it to go cold first. It flipped onto the plate neatly enough, but some of the lovely treacle-y goo under the apples ran off into the dip of the plate, leaving the apples on top lacking the glossy glaze they always have in magazines. Still, it tasted really good, and the salted Jersey butter I used provided great balance to the sweetness of the sugar and apple juice.

Delia recommended eating it with creme fraiche. As usual, she was spot on.


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 …