In the current issue of the Observer’s ‘Food Monthly’ magazine, there is a series of interviews with chefs of various ages. Some in their 20s, 30s and so on, up to a lady in her 80s.
They offer a range of good – and rather surprising – advice:
- wear surgical tights (Anna Hansen, 44, of The Modern Pantry, London)
- stay away from women (Albert Roux, 78, La Gavroche et al)
- study accountancy (Rick Stein, 67, Padstow, Cornwall)
- don’t neck the wine (Georgina Dent, 20, Café Murano, London)
But the phrase that struck me most came from the 83-year-old Joyce Molyneux, formerly of the Carved Angel restaurant in Dartmouth.
Describing how she prepares a dish of saddled hare, she remarks that “it’s a very satisfying thing to do.”
I suddenly realised that the phrase – “a very satisfying thing to do” – sums up perfectly my attitude to my own cooking.
A few years ago, I left a fulltime job in a newspaper to become a sort of jack-of-all-trades: I teach, write – and cook. I’m the family chef, putting two or three meals on the table every day.
Over those years of cooking, I have been through every bend, corner and loop of the emotional rollercoaster. There were times when I was singing and whistling in the kitchen, and other times when I would have killed for the Saba To Go take-away menu.
Initially, I approached it as a man would: I got a manual. Or, at least, the closest thing to it in the culinary world. ‘The Kitchen Revolution’ is a list of recipes for every day of the year. It has printable shopping lists and menu plans and leftover recipes. It is the cooking equivalent of the Rule of St Benedict.
Like many a Benedictine monk, I strayed. I was lured off the path, into byways designed by Jamie Oliver, Yotam Ottolenghi and even Gwynneth Paltrow.
In the cookbook sense, I have slept around. And, despite the odd week when I can’t bear to whisk, chop or soften anything, I have enjoyed it. It has been, as Ms Molyneux says, “a very satisfying thing to do”.
I’ve enjoyed trying quiches and empanadas, meringues, tagines and klafoutis. I’ve liked learning about sumac and zatar (thanks, Yotam!), about steamed puddings and blind baking pastry.
I’ve loved baking. I turn out a loaf almost every day, and love making crumbles, biscuits and the odd Victoria sponge.
A while back, I came across an article about home cooking. A mum said: “Staying at home and cooking every meal from scratch is one of the most useful things a person can do.”
Of course, as someone doing just that, what she said reasonated with me. We all love to have out choices validated post-facto.
But, in a way, she is right. To cook from scratch, chopping, grating, sauteeing everything yourself, is worthwhile. You are waving a crucifix and a string of garlic in the face of the modern vampire that is processed food. You are firing both barrels of your frontiersman shotgun at the predator that is transfats.
You are putting food on your family’s plate every night, but you’re also putting something else: care, even love.
Here are the things I cook most often for my family:
Brown soda bread (Ruth Isabel Ross);
Chicken with oregano, cherry tomatoes, sautee potatoes and spinach (Jamie Oliver);
Anchovy pasta with panna gritata (Jamie Oliver);
Smoked haddock risotto (family recipe);
Victoria sponge (Hugh FW’s recipe);
Anzac biscuits (Tamara Ramsay);
Salmon fishcakes (Tamara again)
Courgette and tomato lasagna with pesto béchamel (Kitchen Revolution);
Cinnamon rolls (family recipe);
Apple crumble (Guardian.co.uk recipe);
Fish and “chips” (Jamie Oliver);
Sweet potato and feta frittata (I just wing it);
Soupe au pistou (Kitchen Revolution);
Salade Nicoise (traditional recipe);
Sunday roast chicken with roast potatoes and roast Mediterranean veg (Nigella’s recipe).