If Heineken made a year….it wouldn’t be this one

 

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The cold but radiantly sunny morning found me filled with a sense of purpose as I motored along peaceful winding lanes towards an isolated house in the countryside on a mission of mercy. Once inside that house, through some simple manipulations, I was to bring warmth and internet access to where there was currently neither, which the zeitgeist declares to be as far beyond the pale as one can be beyond whatever a pale may be, in order that a group of New Year revelers, who were simultaneously wending their way to that very house in which they were to celebrate the dawn of a brand new year. would enjoy these celebrations in the warmth and be able to share endless amusing pictures of their warm and inebriated selves with an assumedly expectant worldwide audience which popular dullness is now assumed to be enshrined within the Declaration of the Rights of Man. On arrival at the house, entry dictated the collection of a key which was held by an acquaintance of the owners, let us call her Marie, and it was my fleeting encounter with the said Marie and her menagerie that for a moment made me feel as if I had escaped the tensions of wretched 2016 and entered the delightful realm of a latter day Madame Doolittle, the complete antithesis to this nearly exhausted year. My approach to the land of Dolittle was greeted with a less than threatening alarum of geese and dogs led by a delightful, honey coloured retriever. However charming geese and country dogs may appear from the other side of a gate I thought it wise to wait for the mistress of these sentinels to appear before attempting to enter this land which was apparently ruled by the animals. Even on this cold sunny day the windows of the south facing side of the house were all thrown open allowing the building to inhale the fresh bright air and to surprisingly exhale, from a ground floor window, the top section of a round lady with a round, ruddy, smiling face on top of which was a pink knitted hat like a tea cosy. “Brioche” she cried, making me believe for a moment that she had mistaken me for a peripatetic baker only to be instantly disabused of my mistake by a qualified attempt at obedience by the dog whose name I now knew. On my first appraisal of the grounds and animal stock I had missed the prettiest brown and cream goat that was obediently standing next to the window through which half of Marie protruded. I say standing, but this goat was posing. It would be true to say that the prettiness of Marie is not outwardly evident but if jollity and kindness are elements of prettiness then she is a beauty. This is not a farm or a small holding; this is a home. A home where milk and cheese come from the goats, meat and eggs from the geese and chickens, the ground, although not perfectly ordered and trimmed, yields vegetables whilst the trees bear fruit. Not an Eden but a place that affords a kinder view of mankind than that which has festered in my mind this year. It may well be that this view of mine is that of an ageing man turning his back on a world that daily becomes more unreasonable and unreasoning ….and I’m happy with that.

 

 

Posted in 2016, Digital photography, Dogs, Eggs, Excellence, Expectation, France, French countryside, harmony, Humour, lifestyle, New Year, Poultry, Uncategorized, Vendee, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 25 Comments

hold the anchovies….

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I never fail to be surprised at how many people appear have an aversion to anchovies whereas I cannot imagine being without them, in the same way that I cannot imagine being without olive oil, tomatoes, onions and garlic. If ever there was a North South divide of culinary tastes, astride it would stand the Colossus of  anchovy. Although Margaret Visser, in her seminal book “Much depends upon Dinner”, leaves out reference to the anchovy when she declares that “butter divides the people of northern Europe as radically from the oil loving southerners as does beer and cider distinguish them from wine drinkers” there is little question in my mind that olive oil and wine must be joined by anchovies to form the trinity that is the heart of southern European cooking. It is worth remembering that anchovies bring both saltiness and savour to a dish, a notion that escaped me on one forgettable occasion long ago when I cooked Jansson’s Temptation to partner a gigot for a dinner for friends. For those not familiar with Jannson’s Temptation, it is a traditional Swedish gratin dish made with potatoes, onions, sprats, breadcrumbs and cream. I now know that the original recipe in Swedish includes the word “ansjovis”. meaning sprats, which, in the book from which I was cooking, was mistranslated as anchovies and that lapsus linguae, combined with my unfathomable decision to add salt to that which was already very salty, created a dish that would not have tempted a dog let alone the sprat loving Jansson: the gigot that I served with this punishing dish was studded with anchovies and interestingly served raw…warm, but raw. A fragile excuse existed for this perversity in that I had taken a recipe from Edouard de Pomiane’s “Cooking in 10 minutes”, which on reflection was not an auspicious title in which to find a recipe for cooking a leg of lamb, which involved cooking the gigot over an open fire with a curved metal reflector to radiate the heat. In addition to this imprecision, the cooking time suggested was equivalent to that of a conversation between M.Pomiane and his neighbour about the benefits of such a cooking method, the exact length of which conversation was unfortunately undefined. I put the dénouement down to the panic that overcame me when I tasted my potato version of the Dead Sea…at that point, what was left of my judgement having fled the scene, I plucked the golden skinned gigot from its sunbed and laid the feast before those who would not later be counted as close friends…sick transit gloria and her chums. The exact reaction of our guests to this extraordinarily violent attack on their palates is vague as I had so little time to assess it before the legs of two of our decrepit and fragile dining chairs collapsed beneath two of our guests, throwing them to the floor as they gamely chewed on a mouthful of raw meat and salty potatoes. The sole blessing lay in the fact that their profanities and curses on our household were muted as cursing led to choking. After they had left the house in that loftiest of vehicles, high dudgeon, and Jenny, in preference to chatting recipes with me, silently swept up the Chippendale, it occurred to me that it had been worthwhile to finally confirm that the anchovy could not live happily in north European food which has allowed me to count that evening among my most successful dinner parties.

Posted in 2016, anchovies, Baking, Cookery Writers, Cooking, Cuisine bourgeoise, Digital photography, Emotion, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, friendship, gigot, gratin, Humour, Margaret Visser, Meat, Memory, Olive oil, Photography, photography course, Photography holiday, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 25 Comments

the pudding club….a lethal weapon in the wrong hands

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That this is called a pudding is a mystery but that it should be called Yorkshire pudding is a mystery inside an enigma wrapped in batter. It’s sole relationship to that county seems to lie in its topography which is reminiscent of what I imagine to be the appearance of a Dale, many of which are to be found in that county. There is a look of the relief map to this pudding which makes me think that travelers in bygone times, on reaching the borders of the Dales, were offered a freshly made relief pudding of Yorkshire which had the added benefit of sustaining the hungry pilgrim on his journey. The vendor of the pudding map would be careful not to mention that none of his maps of Yorkshire were the same…each was a work of art in its own right which meant that at the vexing moment when our traveler, having concluded that not only was he was hopelessly lost but had also been royally shafted by a malicious Tyke, would be overcome by a burning desire to batter the balls of the mendacious map merchant but would, a moment later, realise that the very fabric of this fraudulent fabrication was now residing in his intestinal tract and that he was , in the vernacular, completely fucked. It will come as no surprise for you to hear that it was not long before gravy, rather than trust, was put into Yorkshire pudding and so it has remained.

For the Yorkshire puddings:
240gms of plain flour, salt
4 eggs
600mlmilk
4-5 tablespoons of duck or goose fat….or dripping of some kind

Start the Yorkshire batter the night before. (It gives the starch cells time to thicken which will give you a lighter, smoother batter.)

Pour the beaten eggs, milk and salt into a medium-sized bowl, then add plain flour by the spoonful, whisking constantly so you create a smooth batter or mix all the ingredients in a food processor. Once all the ingredients are mixed, cover the bowl with clingfilm and refrigerate overnight. Muffin tins are often used to create individual puddings but I prefer to use a large metal roasting tin which accounts for the quantities in my ingredient list. Set the oven to 220C..once up to temperature put the roasting tin with the fat in the oven to get very hot as the fat must be nearly smoking hot for a good Yorkshire pudding.  Pour in the batter and get the tin back in the oven as quickly and as carefully as possible and leave to cook for about 10 minutes and then turn the heat down to 200C for a further 35-40 minutes.
Traditionally this is eaten with roast beef but I often cook this to be eaten with sausages and onion gravy or, more often, as part of a vegetarian dinner with roast vegetables.

Posted in 2016, Baking, Cooking, Digital photography, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, Uncategorized, Writing, yorkshire pudding | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 36 Comments

what I really, really want….

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Minefields and Christmas gift buying may not be an ideal comparison but the latter is without doubt an area through which one must step with extreme care, if only hypothetically. Back in the mists of time I went through a period of buying jewellery for Jenny, as Christmas gifts, from Butler & Wilson, which at the time seemed like a fail safe option; yet over those years I became accustomed to her face…a face displaying incredulity at her husband’s inability to select a suitable bauble from an Aladdin’s cave of jeweled treasure. I have no doubt that, as I left the shop bearing my Christmas purchase, the vendeuse was already selecting something that Jenny would really like, as she knew that she’d be popping in for her usual post Yuletide visit to exchange the inanity that I had carefully selected.  When it comes to gifts let me be clear, I absolutely do not want a zigazig but, on reflection, I can see the thought process involved in choosing myrrh as a gift. Leaving the shopping to the last minute and thinking to oneself ” Myrrh?…no one’s going to think of myrrh..big lump of myrrh, that’s me”. It’s like buying a durian for someone who was expecting a football… disappointing and smelling like shit. Now is the moment for me to say something encouraging to myrrh:” I don’t know if you smell like a sewer but, if not, I have a feeling you’ll be an acquired taste”. I once read about a drug, palfium by name, which was described as very painful to inhale, bringing on extreme nausea and vomiting which was similarly described, by an acquaintance with an amateur interest in narcotics, as an acquired taste. This suggests to me that the acquisition of that taste would entail being mad or not having a nose. Happily myrrh and palfium are not contiguous in the Pharmacopeia so our wise man of yore was not tempted to traffic drugs into the quiet hamlet of Nazareth and instead settled for the least favourite Christmas present of all time. The comfort in this parable comes with the knowledge that Balthazar, the least capable Christmas shopper in history, has not gone down as a complete fuckwit but, wait for it, as a Wise Man. With this heritage and template for wisdom there is no surprise that Donald is President elect or that Britain has decided to be an American aircraft carrier. On waking, this December morning, the temperature in our house gave me a close approximation of how it would feel to be away in a manger and I can tell you now that I will be extremely fucked off if somebody knocks on the door offering me myrrh…unless they have stutter.

Posted in 2016, Art photography, Christmas, Digital photography, Expectation, Gold, Humour, Myrrh, Photography, Presents, Shopping, Three Wise Men, Uncategorized, Writing, Xmas Presents | Tagged , , , , , , | 28 Comments

thank your lucky stars…and stripes..

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Cinderella’s garage…pumpkins make excellent coaches .

This is hardly the right time for right minded  Americans (I use the phrase advisedly) to be saying a hearty “thank you” but that’s exactly what a large swathe of them will be doing today although I’m not sure that a boatload of unauthorised immigrants, landing illegally at Cape Cod and immediately setting up a colony whilst swearing allegiance to the British Crown, would be the subject of many thanks from the new administration. On reflection, it’s clear that Thanksgiving refers to ordinary folk having had the courage and determination to survive through perilous times. For many, the next four years will undoubtedly serve as a test of that resolve.

This is the first year that I have been aware of the fact that Thanksgiving occurs on the 23 November and that is only because of a chance meeting with this trolley load of iconic pumpkins which happened to be parked in one of our next door neighbour’s dépendances as I wandered aimlessly, hunting pictures, on yesterday’s grey November afternoon. My pleasure in the pumpkin is purely visual and I have long wondered why people choose to waste good  sugar and pastry to make it palatable but, in the face of the 320 million Americans who delight in the kandy coloured tangerine flake pie each year, I’m not going to mention that out aloud. If it’s any consolation I feel the same about Christmas dinner. In part, it’s the predictability, which for many is the very attraction, but above all it is the rigid format of the menu that makes it so mind numbingly dull particularly as the task of cooking it falls to me each year. Over the years I have photographed hundreds of Christmas dinners for magazines and each time there was the suggestion that it would not be the same old Christmas fare but it would be exciting and new; Christmas with a twist. These experiences have led me to conclude that there is no twist to Christmas ( read Thanksgiving) dinner save for Oliver’s – “Can I have some more of the same, please”.  Research into the origin of the traditional Thanksgiving dinner makes it clear that the presence of turkey was unlikely, and that there was no sugar for cranberry sauce nor butter for pastry …let alone an oven in which to cook a pie. It seems likely that tough, dry barbecued venison and stewed pumpkin were on the slate for Thanksgiving dinner on day 1 which made it clear to all those around that harsh table that there was definitely room for a twist if not a shout and, in the same breath, it’s clear that Christmas dinner doesn’t have the Middle Eastern flavours that its heritage would suggest. Somewhere along the passage of centuries a change has been brought about and that change seems to have come from two nations which are not celebrated for their ingenuity in the kitchen: the Dutch and the Germans. The Dutch have produced wonderful painters and the Germans, wonderful cars. Neither have produced wonderful dinner. My case rests.

Have a very happy Thanksgiving and enjoy that pie. By the way, if you have any pumpkin left over here’s a wonderful recipe for Pumpkin and Potato Frittata from the pen of Rachel Roddy.

Potato and pumpkin frittata

Serves 4
1 white onion
1 large potato (about 400g)
500g pumpkin or butternut squash
Olive oil
1 tbsp sage, finely chopped
Salt and black pepper
8 eggs
Butter

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1 Peel and slice the onion, potato and pumpkin. In a medium-size frying pan with a lid, fry the onion in 4 tbsp of the olive oil.

2 After 2 minutes add the potato and pumpkin. Stir until each slice is glistening, then cover the pan, lower the heat and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. If it looks as if it’s sticking, add a little water. By the end of cooking time the vegetables should be really soft and collapsing.

3 Add the sage, salt and pepper and cook for a minute longer, uncovered.

4 Beat the eggs in a large bowl with salt and pepper. Either pour this over the vegetables or – if you are afraid of the egg sticking or you are using an iron pan – scrape the vegetables into the egg bowl, wipe the pan clean, smear with butter, then pour it all back in the pan, stirring until the eggs begin to cook.

5 Let the frittata cook over a low heat. As the edges start to set, use a spatula to ease them away from the pan sides. Once the frittata is golden underneath – mostly set but with a wobbly top, which takes about 10 minutes – you can either serve as is, or, if you want it crisper, either finish the frittata in the oven, or invert twice on to a plate and put it back briefly in the pan to cook the other side.

Rachel Roddy is a food writer based in Rome, the author of Five Quarters: Recipes and Notes from a Kitchen in Rome (Saltyard) and winner of the André Simon food book award

Posted in 2016, Baking, BBQ, Chicken, Christmas, Cooking, desserts, Digital photography, Expectation, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, Humour, Photography, Poultry, Pumpkin Frittata, Rachel Roddy, Recipes, Thanksgiving, turkey, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 36 Comments

a question of taste….

 

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Bright cake

Ronald Searle’s “Molesworth” books, of which I was a devotee when at prep school, often featured, among their wildly stylised illustrations, an image of  what appeared to be a solid speckled cake like wedge, known as “seed cake”, and which was being normally being offered to Nigel (our hero) by a very fucked up looking Auntie…I think this image damaged me…if only there had been more pornography available to young minds in that era I would have avoided images of  Molesworth’s Auntie’s seed cake and gained a more balanced view of both cake and procreation. But this was not to be. It would have been a miracle for a young palate, assaulted daily by unpleasant and mostly brown dishes, not to conclude that flavour and taste were linked to colour. I quickly assumed that brown food, according to all the available evidence, would probably be unpleasant. Plain, brown, unadorned, cake can, and did appear to me, as very dull fare indeed.  I only ate it on the occasions when it was offered and only then if it would have been rude to refuse, although such an occasion evades me as I have tried not to shy away from rudeness when it has been called for and the offer of dull, dry brown cake would have definitely constituted such a moment. The plain quality of food at this time was inextricably linked to post war rationing so, with the slow relaxing of that sugarless grip, I entered into a period of infatuation with icing; the term icing did not, to my mind, include the thick and insidious layer of marzipan, a confection that I’m sure was created by a young de Sade, which was used in the way that carpet layers use an under felt. It lay unseen in ambush, threatening the sugar craving palate as does the deadly freezing water that lies beneath the ice threaten the carefree skater. Young white teeth cut into the pristine fondant crust, delighting in this new total sugarness, only to break through and, like a cart wheel on a muddy track, be embedded in brown almond ooze. The very worst case scenario was when marzipan appeared topless, as in Battenberg (which I respected as I believed it to be the name of the Royal family) which cake did not have the decency to cover up its marzipan even with the thinnest, flimsiest layer of sugar.

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Brown ….but delicious….cake

O tempora, o mores…we now have tiled floors and sugar is treated with the same respect as gelignite. There is no under felt nor icing.,,,,but, as a direct consequence of childhood icing infatuation, quite a few less teeth. Cake making is now one of my pleasures and, in direct contrast to days gone by, brown cake, in all its varieties, is the cake of choice. Surrounded as we are by boulangeries and patisseries I cannot remember when I last bought a cake. The brown cake in the picture is from a Nigel Slater recipe for an Autumnal pear cake with a crumble topping. This apparently dull slice of browness is charged with flavour and texture ..the sponge cake surprises with the flavours of roasted hazelnuts, cinnamon, vanilla and muscovado sugar. Above is a layer of soft sweet spiced poached pears and, on the roof, a crisp buttery crumble. As a final touch, the poaching juice of the pears is reduced and dribbled over the cooked cake surface to set as chunks of amber in the rough sugary surface. I have made this cake a few times now, and each time it is slightly different…sometimes I forget an ingredient or cook it at a slightly different temperature or with apples as I have no pears or one of dozens of other possibilities . Each time it is slightly or greatly different and each time I love it. Which is why I don’t buy cakes as I know how they will taste and I had no part in their creation.

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Posted in 2016, apples, Baking, cake, Childhood, Childhood memories, Cookery Writers, Cooking, Digital photography, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, Hazelnuts, Humour, Nigel Slater, Pear & Hazelnut Cake, Pears, Photography, photography course, Recipes, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

something very good and exceedingly sticky….

Some days ago, whilst lighting the wood burner in the afternoon, I turned on the television to pass the time while waiting for the fire to catch. Seeing the face of Simon Hopkinson was a relief, as I’m as keen on daytime television as I am on anything called “tuna bake”. He was making sticky toffee pudding which in my pudding world lay in one of the outer rings of the inferno, quite close to “TB”. And it came to pass that the words of the blessed Simon brought about a Pauline conversion and in no time I was pitting dates and the fire had gone out. Fuck the fire, I thought, and I was right. This recipe does not produce the big dull layer of brown sponge with a bit of stickiness…this recipe produces a near erotic slice of oozing sexiness and I left out the second sauce that he recommends you pour over the first one. Too little is seen of this man and the same can be said for Alistair Little.

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There’s no question that Simon Hopkinson’s result looks darker than mine which is because I didn’t have molasses sugar and made it with a French sugar, sucre vergeoise, which is like a demerara…and also because he’s a wonderful chef who really knows what he’s doing which is different from a hungry photographer who likes cooking.

Posted in 2016, Cookery Writers, Cooking, desserts, Digital photography, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Humour, Photography, photography course, Photography holiday, Recipes, Simon Hopkinson, sticky toffee pudding, sticky toffee pudding, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

suffering from a heavy list…

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pristine designer shopping list that I use as regularly as my snow shoes.

Advancing years and oncoming forgetfulness rush headlong toward each other. Like a mediaeval knight I depend on the lists* to keep them far enough apart in the hope of merely receiving a glancing blow rather than suffering a head on collision. Staying with the metaphor, the armour of willful forgetfulness served me well throughout much of  my working life: ” Oh, I can’t tell you how sorry I am, I just completely forgot to ..fill in the applicable” The supposition would be that this “applicable” had, of its own accord, willfully hidden itself in some dark recess of the labyrinthine maze of alcohol fogged grey matter, that was my contemporary mind, without my knowledge or consent thus rendering me blameless for any consequential impact my apparent forgetfulness might have caused. In that “best of times”, when forgetting, smoking and swearing were socially acceptable and PC meant Pretty Cool, my omission would undoubtedly have been temporarily annoying but that very annoyance, at whatever I had feigned to forget, would have quickly faded into the mists of lunch and was as soon forgotten by the annoyed as it had been by me. It is therefore surprising to me that in this leisured time of my life, when I have less need to remember things than at any previous time, the more conscious I am of forgetting them. Forgetting a meeting with the bank, forgetting an important client’s name or just forgetting that I should be in the studio rather than in the pub were serious “forgets” that I forgot and are but an unseasoned and minuscule hors d’oeuvre from the catalogue of my willful forgetfulness, none of which concerned me at the time and most certainly did not inspire me to write a list to prevent their recurrence. But now, when both profession and professionalism are in the past,  I do.

I write a lot of them, too many;  some of them are absurdly detailed yet remain the subject of continual editorial crises when critical additions and deductions are quickly made, the reasons for which are as quickly forgotten. Very often I forget that I have made the list at all and find that I need another list to remind me to refer to the list that I’ve forgotten. The result is a litter of bookmarks, computer reminders and notes clipped into crocodile faced  fridge stickers: yet I am able to avoid, miss or blindly walk past any of these aide memoires. They have become like a walking stick to a man who does not have a limp yet, being accustomed to its presence in his hand, without it becomes unsteady. What I do remember clearly is a time when I wasn’t concerned with either forgetting or remembering. That time in my life when I knew exactly what I wanted at any given moment…I wanted to get laid, to have a drink, to be rich, to be somewhere else, to be someone else: I knew exactly what I wanted. There was spontaneity and carelessness. And now it’s lists; lists to remind me of what I want or at least what I wanted when I wrote the list but which want shifts as slowly and surely as the sands of the Kalahari or, less dramatically, as a smiling man with an unnecessary walking stick….

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The ‘lists’ were barriers which defined the battlefield in a tournament.

Posted in 2016, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 25 Comments

NEW Food Photography Course with Olia Hercules 2017

 In June 2017, together with Olia Hercules, I will be running a food photography course at the Villa Le Mazeau in West France. This wonderful location. which is one of Big in France’s holiday homes, is set in the heart of the South Vendéen countryside which is a perfect spot in which to relax and enjoy good food and wine….and take photographs of them.

Spring dates 2o17 : 16, 17 and 18 June

The theme of this course is cooking over wood fires. We’ll be cooking in the summer kitchen at the luxurious Villa Le Mazeau, which has a wood fired pizza oven as well as a wood fired plancha and grill. I should emphasise that photography and cooking share the star billing on this course, so if you want to leave your camera in your bag and just watch and learn from Olia, that’s fine…. oh, and then enjoy eating the wonderful gear that’s she’s created…followed by a swim or a country walk.

I’ll be offering tuition in practical food photography in the mornings and, for those who are still interested, a couple of hours in the afternoons when I can review pictures you’ve shot, give advice on other areas of digital photography that interest you as well as answering questions on the mysteries of Photoshop .

For the full picture and booking details have a look at the Cookery and Photography courses on:

BiginFrance.com

Posted in 2016, BBQ, clay oven, Cookery School in France, Cookery Writers, Cooking, Digital photography, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, French countryside, Olia Hercules, Photography, photography course, Photography holiday, Photoshop, pizza oven, summer, swimming pool, Uncategorized, Vendee, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A memory of Chez Allard

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Poilane, rue du Cherche-Midi, Paris

 

Memory is a wonderful thing and I am of the opinion that it is something to be enjoyed while I still have it. On one of my recent constitutionals down that virtual lane the name of Chez Allard came to mind. This is a restaurant that I love, not because I frequent it, but because it stands for an ideal that pleases me: bistrot cooking. Over the years this restaurant has changed dramatically which has left me with the memories of what once was and has left Chez Allard with Ducasse and  his well heeled acolytes. Because of this passage of time I must revert to the past tense.

There were few drawbacks to Chez Allard save that of drawing back one’s chair from the small table as they were so tightly packed together making it no place for a weak bladder: unless one was on the menu. The walls and the ceiling had a golden brown patina that could only be achieved by demanding that the clients smoked cigarettes of the highest tar content, which they did without complaint or pause, giving lie to the belief that smoking impairs the palate as the food  which the smoked clientele demanded was of the highest quality. It specialised in classic bistrot dishes such as volaille de Bresse,  which entailed a whole roasted fowl from Bresse served with a mountain of girolles or ceps to be enjoyed by two people. The menu also boasted the roast duck with green olives,  big metal dishes of butter bleeding escargots, braised pigeon and peas, rabbit stew, salads of beets and mâche – gear of the finest quality and wines to match. The magic once again lay in the fact that perfectly prepared food was not a surprise: it was expected.

I have only eaten there twice, with a huge gap between the visits. The first time was in the late 60′s when the activists of OAS were blowing up cafes and making life a little too edgy for a for a peace loving smudger on an early visit to what was gay Paris before the dictionary was hijacked. I can’t remember what I ate, but I do remember feeling very uncomfortable as a long haired hippie surrounded by severe crop haired colonels from the Legion Etrangeère  entertaining male or female lovers, and in some cases both, and whose humourless faces suggested that this was but a tiresome interlude before setting off to assassinate de Gaulle. They didn’t look like the sort of people who would take kindly to people who disapproved of them or, in fact, take kindly to anyone for whom they didn’t already have a use. I ate quickly, fucked off quietly and came back 35 years later when not wanting to kill the president of the Republic was more acceptable. On this subsequent visit I had the most wonderful pigeon and peas, followed by cheese and something else that was delicious. I was with Jenny, my wife, and Andy Harris. The latter is a man who knows a great deal about food so what followed was even more unexpected. Jenny was already in hell. There were far too many unrecognisable organs on white plates oozing blood, and snails and generally things that she doesn’t believe people actually enjoy, but only eat to be cool or, as she says, to show off. Andy had his eyes on rognons de veau, a plural, and those eyes widened and nearly leaped from their sockets when not they, but “it”, arrived at the table. In my memory the kidney was the size of a baby’s head, dark brown and with the protruding ends of some tubes quiveringly visible: a more than daunting sight for someone who had clearly been expecting a small dish of delicately sautéed kidneys. With downcast eyes he set to work on the monumental organ and, before the first mouthful was raised to his lips, he whispered menacingly, “Don’t say a fucking word, Roger” and so the meal continued until the Big Kidney was no more. You win some, and the big kidney bore evidence that you do indeed lose some. I didn’t need to remind him of this, but I did.

The basis of this piece originally appeared in “Simply Fed”.

Posted in 2016, Andy Harris, Cooking, Cuisine bourgeoise, food, Food photographer, France, Memory, Paris, Photographic Prints, Photography, photography course, Photography holiday, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 23 Comments