My friend was recently treated to a very swanky meal cooked by two Michelin starred chefs. The courses were all stunning, blowing her mind with amazing combinations of texture and flavour. Whoever thought that you could create such a thing as porkpie flavoured sauce? Or that salmon could make such a tasty ice cream? There they were on her plate bringing the instant flavour hits as soon as they touched her tongue. She felt as though she had entered Willy Wonker’s fabulous world of pure imagination. As course after course was expertly placed in front of her, her admiration for the two chefs, like her waist line, just grew and grew.
Even the coffee and petit fours outclassed anything she had been served before. Glancing up from her delicate silver spoon in a very stylish little cup she spied the two chefs coming out of the kitchen like heroes of the Colosseum. Not being accustomed to such fine dining this took my friend aback, but it did seem appropriate to have the chance to say thank you for such an experience. As the sated guests burst into spontaneous applause for these two swaggering, gas ring gladiators, however, my friend’s opinion of the night changed completely, instead of modestly accepting the adulation, to my friend’s horror the two chefs began to wave at their fans and then in a gesture of ultimate smugness they turned to one another and ‘high-fived’. ‘It was a good meal’, my friend told me later, ‘but it was only cooking. I bet Angela Hartnett behaves herself after service’. To be fair, I’ve no way of knowing what happens at Murano after she’s created a particularly splendid meal, but I’m guessing there are no ‘high-fives’. I think it is a male thing.
At the only restaurant I worked in in Paris the all male cooking staff used to laugh at the very idea that a woman could handle the high temperature, testosterone pumped atmosphere of the kitchen. ‘Zey would cry each time I shout at them’
Chef once told me. He also once asked me VERY loudly to take some starters to some guests in a very particular way, followed by a long stream of French profanities. I didn’t cry, but neither did I like to point that out at the time.
Give a man a fish and you’ll feed him for the day; give a man a net and he’ll eat for a life time; give a man a stylish Japanese filleting knife and he’ll spend the whole day planning and producing some fancy fish dish whilst your washing machine remains un-emptied, or so the saying goes. When did it happen that cooking became the new football, and that you prove your masculinity not by the strength of your beer but the tenderness of your fillet? All over Britain men are throwing off their barbeque aprons and striding into the kitchen, every one of them a budding Jamie, Gordon or Hugh. Nowadays men are just as likely to talk about the best way to cook pork tenderloin as they are to discuss how to survive in the Champions League and, believe me, this talk and preparation can go on for days. I’ve been on a holiday where my husband and his friend spent the whole week talking about a beef ‘daube’, then sourcing the butchers, then talking about the cut, and finally cooking it for days on end, thus rendering that oven completely out of action for anything else. In their favour the resultant dish was utterly divine and they both deny, to this day, that it was all just an excuse to buy an enormous cast-iron pot that fills an entire kitchen cupboard. Don’t get me wrong I’m all for male emancipation in this area. If I can put my feet up with a good book and a glass of wine on a Friday night whilst my husband prepares one of his delicious curries I’m all in favour. What I’m not so sure about is how all must step aside for such a meal. Yes, the meat for the curry is better marinated, but when I’m trying to cook the kids Thursday night supper it’s not the time to fill the kitchen with every spice known to humanity.
Last weekend we did our usual of all piling over to my mum’s for another of her mouth-watering Sunday lunches. Yet again, as she has done for that last forty years, she produced three delicious courses whilst still finding time to hang out a load of laundry and show me the new bed she was digging. Later, as we dozed away in a postprandial haze, I became aware of some kerfuffle in the kitchen. On further investigation I discovered my mother boiling a kettle as my father extravagantly laid a tinyVictoriasponge on a plate. ‘Look what your father has made!’ beamed my mother. It did come as quite some shock to see that the man who had survived 75 years on little more than knowing how to boil an egg was now venturing into Nigella country. Even he, the last bastion of a patriarchal society, has succumbed to the celebrity chef culture. I called in my sister, she called in our husbands. All six of us crowded into my mum’s tiny kitchen and marvelled at my father’s creation. It was then processed to the table where it was admired further. Finally, tea poured and plates at the ready we all sampled the light delicate texture and cooed over its dense strawberry filling. Then my daughter, face full of sponge, gave some precious words of encouragement to this budding baker, ‘Grandpa, you should get Granny to make them – you don’t need a table to eat hers.’ Go girl, tell it like it is.