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]


Jun Tanaka’s Simple to Sensational reviewed

Chef, Jun TanakaI don’t much like the word, sensational. It sits better on the covers of the kind of lifestyle magazines you only read in dentists’ waiting rooms. “Ten sensational living room makeovers”; “five sensational new fashion looks for summer”; “seven sensational winter suppers”.


Once I conquered my linguistic prejudices, I found Simple to Sensational an enjoyable and well-shot cookery book. It works to a rather clever premise: present a clutch of straightforward recipes that are easily assembled by the novice domestic chef, then sprinkle a little stardust over them and transform them into something rather more, well, sensational. Author, Tanaka clearly knows his cabbages from his cauliflowers, having put in the hard yards in the kitchens of Nico Ladenis, Marco Pierre White and Albert Roux. Since 2004, he’s been head chef of London’s Pearl Restaurant, which delivers classic French cuisine with modern, light touches, to a high standard. There’s nothing here that would stretch the professional chef, but the growing demographic of home cooks that Sky-plus Come Dine With Me, rustle up tasty suppers in the week and like to throw the occasional dinner party at the weekend will find much to enjoy. Smoked haddock chowder becomes smoked haddock soup, poached quail eggs and watercress dressing. Creamy garlic potatoes become celeriac potato and truffle gratin. Linguini with mussels morphs into lasagne or mussels and clams with crispy squid. It’s the concept of dish transformation that’s the book’s most thought-provoking aspect. I’m interested in the idea that a dish can quickly and easily be transfomed from the workaday to the impressive with just a modicum of extra effort and expense.

Taking risotto advice from Jun Tanaka and Marcella Hazan …

porcini mushroomsI’m making mushroom risotto tonight. Susie reckons I make a pretty nifty risotto, but I’m not sure I’ve mastered the art. I’ve tried all sorts of recipes: it’s that “glue-y yet liquid” balance I struggle with. Tonight I’m going to follow a Marcella Hazan porcini mushroom risotto recipe. I’m also going to check out a few other recipes, including one in the new Jun Tanaka book, Simple to Sensational, for wild mushroom risotto. Thing is, Susie has a punnet of mushrooms that need using up, and I want to incorporate them into the dish. Should I fry the mushrooms first? Or simply stir them into the rice as it is cooking? Lordie, I don’t know.

The recipe books currently by the side of my bed …

… are, in no particular order:

  • Simple to Sensational by Jun Tanaka from Pearl
  • The Rough Guide to Food
  • A New Book of Middle Eastern Food by Claudia Roden.