We’re constantly being told what to eat and what to think and do about food by supposed arbiters of good taste. That’s fine, in a way – we all want to learn – but it can foster a debilitating anxiety. We worry that because we do not like X, have not been to restaurant Y or have never learned about cuisine Z, that our love of food is fraudulent or naïve. To which I can only say: rubbish. All of us have gaps in our food knowledge, peculiar peccadilloes or prejudices about which we should feel no embarrassment – diversity of experience and opinion is part of life’s rich tapestry. So let’s all be more honest about those idiosyncrasies. Here are my foodie confessions.
I can’t use chopsticks. I don’t come from a family that ‘travelled’. We went on holiday. In fact, I was a stranger to Chinese food until well into my late teens, hence this chopstick debility. Since then, I’ve repeatedly grappled with the ‘sticks, only to, minutes later, throw them down in frustration. I lack either the dexterity or the patience, but I’m not getting it. And, frankly, that’s fine. Would I ask an East Asian person to use a knife and fork if they were more comfortable using chopsticks? No, that would be nonsensical. It doesn’t alter the food, so please, everyone, do what feels comfortable. If anyone calls you a philistine, let them chew on this: in the US, a David R. Chan has famously eaten at over 6,000 Chinese restaurants, and he can’t use chopsticks. (Have a go at making our Chinese sesame noodles and try your hand at chopsticks)
I am ambivalent about truffles. Some people can’t smell androstenone, the steroid compound which has gourmets hailing white Alba truffles as, if not better than then akin to, the sensory overload of sex. Am I ‘immune’ to them? Or am I just allergic to the hype? Essentially, truffles taste like the most mushroom-y mushroom, ever. If you like mushrooms, you’ll love ‘em. Are they worth upwards of £1,000-a-kilo, for even bog-standard black winter Perigords? Never in a million years.
I’ve never tried a milkshake. Now, I KNOW you should try everything once. And I KNOW it’s just milk and ice-cream but… no… there’s something about that thick whipped shake that – OMG! Get it away from me! It’s a dairy-drinks-thing. A glass of milk makes me nauseous and if you put a lassi – not just pale, thin and watery, but yogurty too – between me and £1m, I would happily forgo the cash. That milkshake does not bring this boy to the yard. I’m running in the opposite direction. (If you disagree, our Dalmation cocktail is a milkshake for adults!)
I’ve no stomach for champagne. It’s not just that it gives me chronic heartburn (which it does), but also the fact that where wine buffs rhapsodise about ‘biscuity, creamy, floral notes’, I just get ‘champagne’ – with the added kicker that it can cost £80-a-bottle. Yes (heartburn notwithstanding), if I really, really concentrate I can discern those characteristics, but it’s like trying to name which Jedward is which. To me, it is all the same thing: those variations occur in a negligibly narrow spectrum in a, fundamentally, boring product. And did I mention it gives me heartburn?
(We love using champagne for our champagne syllabub dessert)
I don’t read cookery books. There are many well-thumbed cookbooks in my kitchen, but I use them for the practical purposes of cooking. I don’t read them for pleasure, and, frankly, I worry for the sanity of anyone who does. They claim that reading, say, Mrs Beeton, Larousse, el Bulli or Moro is not dissimilar to reading the best travel writing or social history, but not everything needs to be viewed through the prism of food, and it’s narrowly obsessive to think it does. To paraphrase Rudyard Kipling: ‘What do they know of food, who only food know?’
I’m not 100% sure how to say ‘gewürztraminer’, or ‘viognier’,or ‘semillon’. And I find navigating the French wine regions (Pierre, please just throw me the grape variety), a struggle. But get stuck in, try out these tongue-twisters, be vocal about what you like (flinty chablis, for me), and leave the rest to the sommelier. That is what they’re there for.
I have not eaten the Galician dairy beef at Kitty Fisher’s. Every few months, the London restaurant scene throws up a Spuntino! Palomar! Bone Daddies! – where, or so everyone tells you, you must eat if you are in any way serious about food. Pfft! Why the hurry? These kitchens don’t have expiry dates. If anything, they’ll get better with practice. This race to ‘tick’ restaurants is, in reality, fuelled by a minority of dysfunctional food nerds and bloggers, who are more concerned with looking cool than in enjoying themselves. Let the train-spotters scrabble for a table, let the fuss die down, then go.
Want to get a piece of the food-nerd action? Here are the most instagrammable dishes in London.
I am unconvinced by brewed single-origin coffees ‘It’s similar to sweet lemon tea,’ a third-wave coffee nut once enthused to me about a lightly fruity, citrussy Kenyan arabica. ‘That,’ I replied, ‘is why I won’t like it. If I want tea, I’ll drink tea, but, in meantime, may I please have a flat white?’
Our advice? Take coffee to the next level, and add it to your baking with our coffee recipes
I am bemused by the rise of the self-confident hobby baker In continental Europe, adults accept that they can’t be good at everything. Foodies honour the baker, patissier, chocolatier etc., by buying desserts from these master craftsmen. In Britain, we don’t have that self-awareness. Indeed, where once we were a nation of happy-if-amateurish home-bakers, now, post–The Great British Bake Off – everyone who ever got a Mary Berry book for Christmas, claims to be an expert in rye sourdough, crème pâtissière and chocolate work. That noise you can hear? It’s my eyes rolling.
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