Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Stories over Sunday Lunch

Three types of potato: charlotte, sweet and purple. The purple ones had an interesting earthy taste and thick skins. They reminded me of the original South American potatoes, some of which I used to buy, sold hot in brown paper bags by indigenous women in full skirts and bowler hats in Cuzco, Peru.
Delicious hot Vacherin Mont d'or with pickles
Poaching pears in red wine and spices
Cheese board

On Sunday we had one large table with mostly older guests. Each guest had a history, a life to recount. This meant as the afternoon wore on, the light dimmed, the candles were lit and the fire crackled in the background, it became battle of the anecdotes.  My dad told of his early career in newspapers and how he passed on interviewing the Beatles, his biggest journalistic regret.
  "They were playing and the paper asked me to cover it. I turned up and you couldn't hear a thing, there was so much screaming. It was awful. I just thought this is a waste of time, I'm hungry. I'll go off and get something to eat, call my contact at St. John's ambulance and find out how many girls fainted and boomp, story done! I was such a music snob, I was into jazz. I didn't take them seriously."
Another guest was a former BUPA executive who had retired to run a lap dancing club called 'Chompers', the best bit being that he got to audition the girls. He offered The Teen a job, saying she'd earn £700 a night "Pay off your student loan in no time". He was disappointed that 'vacherin' meant cheese not beef ("vache, that's cow isn't it?")
He told a hushed table about his impoverished childhood in the Elephant and Castle area of London. "My dad was so poor he had no shoes, he walked to school barefoot on the cold cobbles" he started."Living next door to my house was a little black boy. Now this was in the era where there were few black people in Britain, before Windrush. He was my best friend. He lived with his sister and mother. One day I was invited to a family party at his house and for the first time his dad was there. His dad played piano very well: I was sat on one knee and my friend was sat on the other. My friend played chopsticks at one end, I played something else at the other while his dad was composing a song in the middle section. At this party my friend, Anthony, found out that his mum was in fact his grandmother and his sister, Kitty, his mum. They hid this because she'd had a child out of wedlock but now they had to tell Anthony the truth because his grandma/mum was ill with cancer and she wouldn't be able to look after him any longer."
Now my guest paused. The table was gripped by this affecting tale, my heart ached for his little friend Anthony. 
"You'll never believe it" my guest continued dramatically "but Anthony's dad was in fact Duke Ellington, the famous jazz musician. He was actually composing his most famous song while I was sitting on his knee. Anyway the world turns, things move on..." he fluttered his hands in a shape that denoted the passing of time "business was good for me so I was going to New York with my wife. I thought I'd get in touch with Anthony, who had moved to America to be with his dad. He was Duke's only son you see, although Duke had children by several different ladies. Anthony was absolutely delighted to see me, remembered me very well and our days in the Elephant and Castle. He invited me to his dad's old jazz club in New York. Anthony played with a house band there and Woody Allen was on clarinet. It was marvellous. " 
We all nodded, pleased that things had worked out for Anthony and impressed by my guest's ability to rub shoulders with the stars. "Do you still see Anthony?" another guest asked. 
"Oh yes, he's still alive, though Duke passed away. But we are still in touch"
After my guests left I thought I'd google Duke Ellington. It turns out he did have only one son Mercer Ellington who is dead. I've found no trace of Anthony Downs Ellington. So what do you think? Is the story true? There was so much detail... or was it just a great story?
Pear from my garden poached in red wine, garnished with cream, meringues and creme de marrons, a kind of 'mont blanc' mess. 

Recipe for Poached pears in red wine

For four

4 pears, I used Conference, carefully peeled
1 star anise
1 stick of cinnamon
1 bottle of red wine
200g of sugar

Place all the ingredients in a pot and simmer for half an hour to one hour until pears are tender but not falling apart. Then take out the pears, set aside, and reduce the red wine/spice/sugar solution until it is of a syrupy consistency. On the Aga I can just leave the pan on the black enamel for a day and it becomes syrup but on a normal stove stop this would take approximately one and a half hours on a low heat.

For the 'Mont Blanc' mess

1 pot 300ml of double cream
2 small meringues, crushed
4 tablespoons of creme de marron

Whip the cream until it is thick, add the crushed meringues and stir. Mix in the creme de marrons so that the cream is streaked with the sweet fudgy brown paste.

Just before serving: warm the pears if you wish, put in a tall glass or cup, drizzle some of the syrup over the pear, add a quenelle of the 'Mont Blanc' mess then drizzle some more of the syrup over the top. Or you could put the syrup in a jug and serve it on the side for your guests to add as they wish. 

A perfect Autumn dessert.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Alice Planel's Dinner Exchange and my attempt to be a war photographer

Alice Planel's Dinner Exchange

Alice Planel/ Dinner Exchange

Dinner Exchange is an ethical food project started by Alice Planel, a French woman brought up in England. This supper club uses food donated by New Covent Garden Market vegetable stalls, mostly organic, and asks guests to give a donation in return for their dinner. This falls in with a tradition amongst food activists of 'skipping' food chucked away by supermarkets. When I was squatting in the London Fields Lido a few years ago, almost all the food was obtained from bins.  It might sound disgusting, but the food was still intact, often packaged, sometimes we found unopened champagne and chocolates. The best source was Lidl: unlike the top supermarkets, they didn't deliberately ruin the food in their bins with washing up liquid.
Friday night, the Dinner Exchange was held at Alice's house near Willesden Junction.
Around 25 guests were seated along a long table, around half the table were journalists from East London. I sat next to a young architect, wearing a tailored coat and a neat traditionally wrapped turban. We exhausted my knowledge of Sikhs 'What do you think of those weird white Sikhs in America?' and of architecture. I photographed Nigel Coates and Zaha Hadid many years ago for a magazine. Nigel had the most seductive voice, you fell in love with him instantly but of course he's gay.  Zaha Hadid is the  highest profile female architect in the world.
This young man, Germeet, likes minimalism and modernism in architecture. I told him I had visited Le Corbusier buildings in Chandigarh which led onto... why I went there in the first place. 
I was planning a trip to India and interested in photographing something a bit edgy, I had fantasies about being the female Don McCullin, a war photographer. A reporter gave me some contacts in Southall. I spent a few days strolling around Southall with Sikh guys, learning about their religion, going to the temple and having some very delicious curries at various restaurants (food was always a focus even before I became a food writer). The plan was for me to go to Amritsar, a town shut off to foreigners at the time, meet up with some of their people and photograph a training camp for Sikh revolutionaries over the border, in the Pakistani desert.
"Won't I stand out?" I asked.
"No problem" said this Sikh man, doing a confusing circular movement with his head "the girls in Punjab are as white as you, many of them have blue eyes. You put on salwar Kameez and you go. No problem. Everything is possible."
"Ok" I said. 
"Maybe you should die your hair?" he suggested "Put on a plait? Like a wig?"
At this time I had a blond bob. 
"Ok" I said.
"Then there will be no problem, you will look exactly like a Punjabi girl". He reassured me, shrugging.

A few weeks later, I'm in a hotel room in Chandigarh dying my hair brown. I'd bought a long brown plait and salwar kameez. I sprayed my face and hands with instant tan. I looked in the mirror "Not bad" I thought approvingly.
I rose early in the grey dawn and took a rickshaw to the bus station where I bought a bus ticket to Amritsar. The ticket seller looked at me oddly but relented and sold me one.
On the bus I was dismayed when an Indian army officer sat next to me. I decided to pretend to be asleep. Every time I stirred, he leant close to me and tried to talk. I carried on dozing. The bus trip took five or six hours. Then we were on the outskirts of Amritsar, I had no choice but to 'wake up'. 
The Indian army officer started to pester me with questions. My disguise didn't seem to be working. It dawned on me that I couldn't speak Punjabi, possibly a giveaway. I also had no idea where I was going to stay. I'd swapped a book in a hostel somewhere on the trip for a ragged out of date copy of 'India on a shoestring'*
I leafed through it, looking up hostels in Amritsar. 
"Where are you staying?" asked the Indian soldier. 
"Er, here!" I pointed to a hostel.
He waggled his head. 
The bus stopped and I walked quickly, trying to shake off the Indian officer, to the first hostel address in my book.
Once there, I had to pass through a barrier, it was surrounded by soldiers in fatigues. 
I went up to the reception desk and asked if I could have a room.
The 'receptionist' stared at me and said "This is an army barracks, you cannot stay here".
I left quickly and, a little embarrassed but still optimistic, went to several other hostels and hotels. 
"Do you have permission to be here?" asked one. 
"Um, er, where can I stay do you think?" I avoided answering.
By this time I'd amassed quite a crowd, all interested to see who and why this English girl was a)wearing an unconvincing hairpiece and fake tan b) dressed up as a Punjabi girl c) what the hell was she doing in Amritsar which was off limits to tourists ever since a bunch of Sikhs had assassinated Indira Gandhi there.
In India there is often a hotel at the train station, I thought I'd try my luck there.
Once I entered the station an army officer in desert fatigues and a tall domed orange turban stood in my pathway and boomed "GET OUT OF THIS PLACE. YOU DO NOT HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE HERE. GET OUT, GET OUT, GET OUT!"
By now a huge crowd had built up. I was hemmed in. They looked angry. 
Orange Turban Guy grabbed hold of my arm and marched me to a room. 
"Is there a hotel here?" I stammered, a little bit frightened now.
I waited in the room for a few hours. I was given food, actually a very nice tray of tasty vegetable curries, dahl and rice with a few curried pickles on the side. Finally Orange Turban Guy returned and pushed me out to the platform. A train chuffed into the station. It was bulging with people.
I found myself being physically pushed onto the train. There was literally no room, I didn't know where the train was going. It didn't look possible to have even one more person, but I somehow found a tiny space. The train doors were shut and we were off. 
My war photography career was over. Many hours later I ended up in Varanasi where, overcome by the ashes of the dead, the harassment by strange men and the whole weird vibe there, I had a mini breakdown which I successfully combated with banana lassis and toasties. But that's another story. As is when I got arrested and offloaded from my plane at Delhi airport on my return journey because the Indian and British secret service had been following me since Southall.

Alice's menu from her haul at Langridge Organics that morning:

Starters: a roasted carrot and chickpea hummus with a salad.
Mains: prune polenta and a kale veg stir fry.
Dessert: a flourless chocolate courgette cake with pistachios.

All proceeds went to Foodcycle
Alice Planel Dinner Exchange

Alice Planel Dinner Exchange supper club

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Munchkin Pumpkin Soufflé ect

munchkin pumpkins

munchkin pumpkins

munchkin pumpkin souffle
Aren't they cute, these baby pumpkins? Last night I cooked a birthday dinner for Ryan Jarman of The Cribs and his girlfriend Kate Nash. Ryan's favourite dish is Macaroni Cheese, so that was on the menu. Staying seasonal I also made them soufflés in hollowed out pumpkins (although really I should have made Pumpkin soup, the title of one of Kate's songs). Here is the recipe:

For four:

4 Munchkin pumpkins or you could use any small squash (patissons)
Oil (or use spray oil)
1 small butternut squash, peeled, cubed
20g of butter
20g plain flour
150ml of full fat milk
1 tsp mustard
2 eggs separated
50g parmesan cheese, grated
Handful of walnuts, shelled and chopped finely
1 tablespoon of oil such as walnut, truffle or porcini infused oil

Slice off the top, making a lid, from your munchkin pumpkin. Carefully scoop out the inside, discarding the seeds. Rub or spray the inside and out, plus the baking tray, with oil then rub a little salt inside the cavity of the pumpkin.
Place the pumpkins and the lids, cut side down, onto a baking tray and roast at 200C for ten minutes(or Aga roasting oven). You don't want to overdo these, you don't want them to collapse.
On another baking tray, or the same, if you have room, place the chunks of butternut squash, drizzle some oil over them, season and roast for the same amount of time or until soft.
Remove the pumpkins and the butternut squash and leave to cool.
Purée the butternut squash in a processor.
Separate the eggs.
Then, in a small saucepan, on a low heat, melt the butter, adding the flour and the milk to make a thick white sauce, stirring all the while, adding the mustard and seasonings such as salt and pepper.
Remove the pan from the heat and add the egg yolks, the cheese, the walnuts and the puréed butternut squash, mixing thoroughly or pulsing in the food processor.
Just before baking, whisk the egg whites until they are stiff peaks and fold into the soufflé mixture.
Fill the empty Munchkin Pumpkins with the soufflé mixture and bake in a normal oven at 200C(Aga roasting oven, bottom rung with cool shelf, or 3 oven Aga , 4th rung down in the baking oven) for about 25 minutes until the soufflé is risen.
I tip a little of the flavoured oil onto the soufflé, lean the little 'lid' against it and serve quickly.
Kate Nash at the Shepherd's Bush Empire
Kate Nash at the Shepherd's Bush Empire, last Monday.
The teen and I are fans of both Kate Nash and The Cribs. We went to see Kate at a small gig at Rough Trade, three years ago. My teen saw The Cribs at Brixton last year where she was thrilled to catch Ross Jarman's drum stick. (She also has pictures of Ryan, shirtless and crowd surfing, up on her bedroom wall).
I missed the first part of Kate's gig because I was at the London Restaurant Festival awards where I was nominated for the 'One person's passion' award which was won by Jeremy Lee of the Blueprint Café. I was very pleased to be nominated however. At the event, I met John Torode, Charles Campion and Fay Maschler, the latter two one only knows usually from a tiny photograph next to their byline. I think this year's London Restaurant Festival went very well and, in the run up to the Olympics especially, is a great idea for highlighting the amazing range of eating out options in London, of which supper clubs are an added extra!
Apart from restaurants doing special menus for the festival, I enjoyed their other events: for instance a hard core foodie quiz at Le café Anglais, a restaurant I've wanted to try for ages. They served delicious food which hinted at clues to the quiz, Piedmontaise peppers for instance (Question: which food writer gave a recipe for these? Answer: Elizabeth David). Anne Robinson was a tough but fair quiz mistress.
The day after there was a brilliant debate: 'This house believes that French cuisine is a spent force' with Rosie Boycott and Janet Street Porter arguing for the motion and A.A.Gill and Jonathan Meades (who actually lives in France) arguing against.
We were asked to give our votes at the beginning of the debate and then again at the end. I started out being against the idea. French food may be a bit stuck but has a depth and knowledge that the British are only just beginning to approach. Having lived in France for seven years, I did think Rosie's assertion that you can't get fresh vegetables in French markets very odd and wondered where she holidayed. It's true that in the South of France, where I often visit, many of the restaurants are pizzerias, the hours at which you can eat are very restricted and young French women are no longer cooking as their mother's did, preferring to use the equivalent of French 'Iceland', Picard (but which is miles ahead in terms of food quality). I consider myself a feminist, but one could argue that feminism, women going out to work, has not been good for food, for the family diet.
A.A.Gill was crisp, clear and funny, Janet Street Porter and Jonathan Meades resorted to a ping pong slanging match of French versus British food but Rosie Boycott finally won my vote by a reasoned speech which asserted that French cuisine used to dominate the world, there was a French restaurant in every city and town but it doesn't any longer. People are more likely to go for an Indian, a Chinese, sushi, Mexican ect.
The 'girls' lost the debate by five points but they won the swing.
I also attended an event hosted by Grey Goose vodka which was original and theatrical, very much in the style of events hosted by Bompas and Parr. In an elegant town house near the Post Office Tower, walls painted French grey and the girls wearing old fashioned grey dresses, looking like something off the set of Turn of the Screw; we were treated to music, tea, Grey Goose cocktails and intriguing interactive experiences. Punch Drunk, a theatrical company, designed installations in each room; one I was taken into blindfolded, given small shot glasses to drink and stroked by cool strange hands; another there was a woman standing in a wheat field planted in a drawing room.
One of the exciting things about the current British food scene is that the food world is drawing many of it's influences from the art world and several chefs (Blanch and Shock, the aforementioned Bompas and Parr,  the themed meals that I host, plus events such as The Experimental Food Society) trained not at catering college but at art school. This leads to a more thematic and conceptual approach: food is more than something you eat, but a provocation, an interactive sculpture that you may consume. The British music scene is famous for musicians that started out at art school (Brian Ferry, David Bowie, John Lennon) and I wonder if we are seeing a similar development in British food.
Roger Fry lived in this building

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

New cooking: Dominic South at Visitor boat

Grating truffles

'Visitor boat' is the sparsely named location, although it's glorious, wedged into a community of houseboats, Tower Bridge, the iconic London landmark looming overhead. Young Dominic South is cooking in his friend's boat, a converted coal barge. The gangway is so narrow his friends, set builders and 'makers' had to build the tables inside.
The pine and plywood tables and walls are plain and seaworthy but the service is sumptuous, begloved waiters and waitresses grating fresh truffles and serving exquisite sauces from tiny copper pans at your tableside. The floor tilts as the tide lowers; the food is light, pretty, almost feminine and resolutely modern.

Dominic has earnt his chops at Michelin star restaurants, Hibiscus, Nobu and Tom Aikens. Supper clubs have enabled talented young chefs to take a bow, present their own food, rather than inch their way up their hierarchy, crossing their fingers for angelic investors.
Greenbean and lemongrass soup with almond foam
Salad of pickled baby artichokes, confit melon, pink grapefruit, raw button mushroom and herbs from the garden.
The Garden being upstairs, on the deck of the boat. If you go, do have a look, it's lush and exotic. This boat community takes turns to maintain the 'common' spaces. The posh converted warehouse flats overlooking complain of an 'eyesore'. Just goes to show, you can know the price of everything but the value of nothing.
Stuffed sea bream, carrot and orange puree, young carrots and gingerbread sauce. Perfectly cooked fish. 
Slow cooked lamb, summer vegetables, lemon and garlic puree, cumin sauce. Real skill and pretty plating.
The Egg.
Now here's the showstopper. 'Chips' made from fried white bread and an egg made from a delicate cream and mango puree. Stunning. We needed a box each really.

 And finally, Marshmallows. I've made these, but they weren't as soft as Dominic's elderflower, hibiscus and lemon version. 

Visitor boat has other chefs taking a turn, one from Nobu soon while Dominic will return from Antigua where he is presently cooking, in December.

Garden on the deck

6 course tasting menu: £40 BYO no corkage.

Monday, 18 October 2010

The London Restaurant Festival Menu 'Pygmalion' in pictures

'Ave a butchers (hook=look). Can you adam and eve (believe) it?
We started out 'aving a Vera Lynn and tonic: London Gin by Sacred Spirits (hand distilled in Highgate, where Dick Whittington stopped and turned back to become the first Mayor of London) and a blindin'  tonic by Fever tree.
My mate Eva, serving chip butties and Marmite on toast to the punters. "I'm gonna make a Marmite chip buttie" I told 'er. "What cobblers! (cobblers awls =balls) " she cheeked back. Bleedin' Ada.

Watercress soufflé, that's sumfink French innit? But watercress is luvely jubbley stuff: I get it from dahn Covent Garden market  from Eliza James, the watercress queen. 

We put sum music on the gramophone, songs by that aufentic cockerney Dick Van Dyke.
London Particular Soup wiv London Cure Smoked salmon from Goldstein's
Fish pies
Nice nosh eh?
Cauliwort cheese

London Porter from The Kernal and Meantime to go wiv the John Cleese (cheese) course. Nice to have some Britneys (Britney Spears=beers) wiv cheese.
Provisioned by a Mister Bill Oglethorpe who makes all sortsa cheese dahn by Marshalsea, the debtors prison. 
This young lady, Signe Johansen, was workin' in the kitchen for some posh gaff called The Fat Duck aht in the countryside. She gives much counsel in cookery matters.
Rosie Lee n fags for pud: the first week I did sumfink called a chai pannacotta but this week I cooked up a luverly Earl Grey chocolate pud wiv chocolate by Trish. Dead nice it was too.
I made some Chelsea buns, using some Apricot Jam made by this bird. There's a nice recipe by Sig, which learns yer 'ow to make 'em.
Bleedin' glad I got some 'elp by my bin lid (kid) and Eva to clear up afterwards, it's always a pain in the Gregory Peck (neck) after you've been on your plates (of meat=feet) all night.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Paris supperclubs: Jim Haynes

jim haynes, paris

"I think everyone should know everyone" says Jim Haynes, the septuagenarian host of Paris' and possibly the world's oldest supper club. Every Sunday night, for 31 years, Jim has opened his 14th arrondissement atelier to anyone who rocks up and wants supper.
The food, while good, is not the point. Jim doesn't cook it, in fact on this occasion his helpers, a shrugging Irish ex-pat and some of Jim's battered old drinking buddies, admitted they bought it in from a Greek deli. Nor is the decor, the service, or the seating, the point. There is no service, you queue up at a red checked table for food; there is no seating, you stand around with sixty other people in a tiny space, holding your plate and glass.
Jim, wearing an apron with the words 'JIM' sewed patchwork style on to it, perches on a stool next to the table with a pile of recycled envelopes and a clipboard, ticking off names and accepting 'donations', a minimum of 25 euros each is suggested.
Every so often you hear Jim call out: "Who knows Linda? Come meet Linda from Iowa". Linda stands there, an uncertain smile on her face, waiting to see if anyone responds.
Outside, on a wall, is a stack of alcohol: boxes of red, white, rosé, bottles of beer and some soft drinks adjacent to a tower of plastic glasses. You serve yourself.
The guests are mostly Americans: "You were on public radio" one says to Jim, who has become a station of the cross on the European pilgrimage for the 'if it's Sunday it must be Paris' style tourist. They arrive in packs, off coaches, one has the impression. Dinner starts at eight, finishes by eleven, but most of these guys are gone by 9.30. That's the American way, eat fast and go, been there, done that, tick.
Jim, I'm sure, would have no truck with this kind of snobbery.
Tired for it was the end of my weekend in Paris, my spirits dampened by the rain, I stood alone much of the time, too weary to do anything but observe. Jim, ever the host, wanted to introduce me to people "Here's Karen! Who knows Karen? Come meet Karen" which would have been sweet if he'd remembered my name properly.
Eventually, I sidled up to Jim and hissed "Look I don't want to meet anybody. Ok?" Jolted out of his yankee bonhomie, he looked at me strangely.
 I suppose I dreamed of late into the night riffs about Free Love, International Times, Suck, the Arts Lab, Mai '68 with Jim. Of course it was a ridiculous notion, when he's working. On the wall, there was a notice "Jim's plan: stay at home and get paid".
jim haynes supper club, paris
Jim was also selling several of his books: 'Everything Is! Soft Manifestos for our Time' and 'Thanks for coming!'; the latter contains a fuzzy black and white photograph of our Jim, sexual liberator, receiving a blow job from a long haired dolly bird captioned 'Suck editorial meeting'.
It also contains letters: sweet notes from Norman Mailer and Samuel Beckett,  a very angry typewritten missive from Germaine Greer, complaining about a nude photo of her being used as the cover of Suck, a fawning love letter "How can I criticize someone who has no faults" from Jay Landesman (father in law of Julie Burchill), a questionnaire from Shere Hite, and a full 20 pages of dedications. He was part of the underground scene in the sixties with Allen Ginsberg, Caroline Coon, Heathcote Williams; he also knew Buckminster Fuller, Kenneth Tynan, John Lennon and Yoko Ono. In fact there is almost no one in the counter culture, from Mick Jagger to Charles Bukowski that Jim hasn't met. At one of his dinners, Robert Crumb drew on the paper table cloth.
He started Project Eats at his present address in 1973.  Later on this address became the 'consulate' for 'world passports', beautifully produced documents, bound in blue with a gold map, in seven languages; a project Jim did with Garry Davis. These passports actually worked for a while; one person managed to cross 13 borders from Asia to Europe with a 'world passport' until the French authorities threatened to deport Jim if he refused to desist. Although I note that the wikipedia link neglects to mention Jim.
Thirty years later, having perhaps found his true metier as the original social networker, James Haynes is recognised as the pioneer of Supper clubs. You've got to hand it to him, still perched on that stool every Sunday night!
Jim Haynes supper club, Paris
Pudding: icecream and fruit

Jim Haynes supper club, Paris
Gnomes on the balcony