The arrival of fine weather is accompanied by a lemming-like urge to cook in a truly unfamiliar way. Cooking raw ingredients over hot coals in the open air is familiar to many races but we are not amongst them. The majority of us have the same chance of success as we would have ice hole fishing – not impossible but definitely not ideal. Barbecues and military interventions have that same hubris in their planning and execution, and it is through that unreal sense of optimism that the fault line runs.
1/The situation is rapidly assessed by the leader, which means that someone in the household thinks that it will be a sunny weekend.
2/The purpose is not clear, but there is a presumption that with the predicted fine conditions it is our duty to give it a go.
3/On the face of it we seem to be very well equipped for the job in hand, which in many ways is still unclear.
4/There are strong differences of opinion throughout the chain of command as to the objective – meat, fish, vegetarian – and there is uncertainty as to who is in command.
5/An unjustified sense of optimism and a misplaced belief in specialist abilities is evident.
As in warfare, luck is so often the key element. Gambling on English weather is way outside the realm of luck which means that ideal conditions are as likely as David Cameron really being the Stig or Hugh Grant giving the next Reith lecture. Once committed to flame and fire, the operative soon realises that firing up was the easy bit and that controlling fire without a temperature knob is less predictable. The heat that produces delicious supper from the hi-tech range indoors does not seem related to delinquent tongues of flame and smoke that are currently taking your ingredients into the “blackened” area of cuisine that seemed so desirable on the last visit to Nobu but tastes like incinerated skin and bones in the current version. Charred flesh and reddened faces predominate amongst both food and diners. Pleasure has to be taken in strong drink which results in further disasters which would be funny to watch but not to experience. Uncontrolled ambition has brought the expedition to its knees, whereas salmonella is up and running. C’est magnifique mais ce n’est pas le barbecue.
On the other hand, sardines, which don’t even need to be gutted, make a truly simple and nearly impossible barbecue to mess up. Follow me, men.