Spring is in the air. The mosquitoes have arrived with the rain in my little French town. And here too, the food revolution has been thrown into overdrive with the explosion of the horsemeat scandal. It’s fantastic. Suddenly everyone seems to want fast answers to the right questions. There’s a UK Panorama-esque investigative TV programme every evening (last night all about the very scary return of farines animales) I was in my local Picard frozen food store today and the sales assistant had obviously been beautifully briefed by PR. “Vous pouvez nous faire confiance, Madame.” She said, staring at me like a hypnotist’s apprentice.
In Ireland and the UK, unhelpful snobbery around who’s eating all the Crunchie bars and the curried chips and why, is slowly dissipating and, from where I’m sitting, albeit quite far away from Ballyclare, Co Antrim, there seems to be a palpable camaraderie around improving Irish food. A realisation that we are all in the same, supermarket-controlled boat and it’s probably time to find another.
I think it might be Ireland’s Real Food Spring. I certainly hope it is. But more than ever, I don’t want it to be hijacked by those of us for whom it’s easy to “care” about good food just because we have access to it. And sorry if this sounds a little soppy, but nowhere else in the world more than Ireland do the words “grass roots revolution” hold such potential.
Now The Way Forward, it seems, post processed everything, is cooking from scratch everything. But where, exactly, is our “scratch” How much actual cooking do we need to do to live healthily & happily? And as long as it’s not junk, why can’t just eating, not cooking every day, be okay at home? What’s wrong with eating from scratch?
There are such big bucks involved in the current foodie bonanza because, even if they cannot cook like a pro (yet) the people watching food TV, buying books and magazines in UK and Ireland already know how to cook, they just want to cook more. Food’s supposed to look a wee bit complicated even when it’s presented as “simple,” otherwise what would all the fuss be about? Chefs and supermarkets love each other because cooking more means buying MORE STUFF. A chef’s professional set-up (shop, restaurants, cooking school) allows mutual business and media partnerships to be staged and thrive, as people are tempted by the food they cook and their spin-off products from aprons to condiments to ready meals. That’s all great fun & good for the economy & give the people what they want and all that, but it’s a bit of a stretch maintaining that the cooking on TV, glossy mag recipes and eating orgy festival demos is the “cooking from scratch” everyone’s (and again, that’s everyone, not just the mythical low income feckless burger guzzlers) meant to do now to avoid wobbling like a Weeble. Only brilliant Nigella has the guts to post her warts n all suppers but then, every other single inch of her and her life is so gorgeous who cares what the silly food looks like? AND we know if it’s hers it will taste good.
And, as more and more of the food media appears dependent on supermarket financing, do we really want the people making money from a system which puts horse in our burgers and worse in Ikea’s cakes using our favourite chefs as mouthpieces to pretend how we should be cooking in our own kitchens? Isn’t it time someone had a closer look at the food media’s relationship with said supermarkets and what exactly it is we’re all being sold? In Supervalu, Ireland, that would be LOT , including much mayonnaise, and meat twice a day, in the name of “eating Irish”.
Or, just as they were too hooked on the cheap food to taste the horse and ask the questions, are consumers still too hooked on the lovely food porn, presented as education & entertainment for all, to stop themselves cooking too much cool food?
I don’t know about you, but there is definitely more temptation to have second helpings if you’ve spent 40 minutes cooking a snazzy dish from Persia or an hour getting your brand new barbecue to go. There’s also more stress for the cook (hell there are a hundred TV shows showing him or her how to cry when someone doesn’t like their dish!) and therefore more frustration which can very easily have us heading straight to the chip shop.
You do not get ANY of that, I promise you, when you eat from scratch. For a start, don’t make dishes every day. Make one when you have time and serve the leftovers the next day. No one will audition you for Top Chef but no one will die. Put a baguette, a green salad, some homemade chutney and cooked ham on the table. Slice some Gubbeen cheese thinly on toasted bread and have it with a cup of tea. Or some Milleens with a tomato and a sprinkle of salt. (Thank you Seamus Sheridan) Make some rice with butter, frozen peas and parsley. Or some pasta with squished olives or lemon and basil. None of these might ever be called a dish, but they are good, and, with, say, a yoghurt or a pear, each of them is a meal. And that, about 5 nights out of 7, is all I’m bothered about.
I am a firm believer in the if you’re going to do something do it properly or not at all rule but I consider my cooking skills a means, not an end. Most of the time I love cooking and sometimes it turns out well. But the pleasure of putting a meal on the table every day for my family lies not in the excellence or complete knowledge of the process (all very important and laudable etc. etc.) , it is in what happens to the people who eat it, i.e. they like it, their brains and muscles work, their hair is reasonably shiny and they grow without getting too fat or skinny while not eating the same boring thing every day. We all sit down around a table to do basic human interaction without too much arguing and have a few laughs, and we’ll do that most days for about 18 years (or up to 30 if your children are French) Then the plan is that my children will do the same for their children and we all do it without ruining the planet for everyone else. So really, if there were someone whose advice I’d want to listen to about this, it would be a really patient, dedicated guy who runs a low security prison canteen, not James Martin.
People often asked me ask me if I give cooking lessons. Well perhaps I will. Come on over to my house. It’ll be free because I’d be too worried you might be disappointed. Take the day off and book a taxi (there’ll probably be drink taken at some stage) and I’ll teach you everything the 2 or 3 people who showed me how to cook taught me. All you need to do is observe, absorb and repeat at home. If you get into trouble, I’ll give you my mobile number.
Which bits to remove from about 20 sorts of vegetables and fruit.
Don’t crowd the pan.
Degrees of beating eggs.
& cream. (Possibly not vital)
How to marinade, roast, steam, deglaze and reduce, crumb pastry, melt chocolate, make custard, caramel and fruit compote.
The difference between brown and sweat, brine and pickle, boil and simmer, soft and hard butter for baking.
For me, everything else is showbiz.