In every blogger’s life there comes a time when your positive approach to your chosen subject matter just runs out of steam; when every time you sit down at your battered old typewriter (who am I kidding? your battered old pc), the joy and inspiration you’re supposed to feel just isn’t there. It’s not necessarily that you having nothing to say, but really just that you have nothing nice, or at least positive or constructive to say.
So sometimes you wait until that feeling- or lack thereof- passes. But if you’re not paying attention, that feeling can last for much longer than you might think, and you eventually find that you haven’t written anything for months, all because you felt you had to sugar whatever pill you were going to serve up. Of course that not good for either a blogger or a blog.
Sometimes you just have to accept that you’ll be writing in the negative – with squid ink, so to speak. At least that will get any food-related grizzles and gristle off your chest, and who knows? You might find that there’s a world of people out there who agree with you. So in that spirit of complaint and ventilation, I am now going to whine about this foodie’s current pet peeves in the culinary world:
1. THE PEJORATIVE USE OF THE TERM “FOODIE”
Of course “foodies” can be “snobs”, and of course “foodies” are meant to be “knowledgeable” about “food”. But we ain’t all “It’s farmer’s market organic bio-dynamically grown or you can stick it in the bin and that’s the wrong wine for that course” meanies. Personally, I take the term “foodie” to mean “someone who has an enthusiastic interest in food as a hobby”.
I make no claims to high-flown tastes (I loathe caviar, and even if I didn’t, the tub of Strawberry Nesquik in my cupboard would give the lie to that) but I am just fascinated by food, from taste and texture to origin and history and just why we eat and like what we do. But most importantly for me, IT’S FUN.
Of course like most foodies I believe in certain rules, such as “If you want your steak well done, cook something else.” But I completely accept that many of these rules are actually personal, such as “If you want to serve me fish pie and then have sex, serve something else.”
This wouldn’t have made my current pet peeve list if it weren’t “The Vegetable That Will Not Die”. It seems like a decade ago that I first wrote about the current British cheffy obsession with the beet, but unlike goat’s cheese and rocket, both of which have settled into a less pervasive culinary sphere, this taproot is stubbornly sticking – like a blood stain – to British TV and restaurant kitchens.
Its “vibrant colour” and “earthy flavour” are still being touted to this day, and contestants on shows like “Masterchef” are still presenting dishes called “Roast venison with textures of beetroot.” I don’t want beetroot one way, let alone five. And that whole “sneak beetroot into chocolate cakes and brownies so kids won’t know they’re eating a vegetable” thing? I can only refer you back to that “earthy flavour”. I’m not personally a big fan of chocolate, but I’m even less a fan of chocolate that tastes like mud.
3. TEXTURES OF …
There is no current cheffy restaurant trend that annoys me more than “four ways to serve you a side of onions”. I adore onions. I like most vegetables (aside from broccoli and the one listed above), but I don’t want endless variations on one vegetable theme on my plate. It’s even found its annoying way into desserts. Just imagine “Clotted Cream With Textures Of Strawberry”. And anyway, the very term “textures of” is distastefully reminiscent of sifting through carpet samples.
4. THE CURRENT STATE OF BRITISH TV COOKERY
Things just ain’t good this year in the British TV Kitchen. Yes, of course there’s the annual “Great British Bake-Off” treat, but even that show just ain’t rising to its previous fluffy heights for me. Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc remain fabulous hosts, and Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry judge as astutely as ever, so it’s probably just that I’m not really warming to any of the contestants this year- with the possible exception of Martha The Scary Teen, who has a rather fetching habit of staring at her competitors’ bakes like she’s working on her Stephen King style “Carrie” skills.
But other shows are faring much worse for this foodie’s palate. The UK version of “The Taste“, whilst being much better than its US predecessor, still fundamentally failed to connect with either the contestants or- more importantly- the food. Tom Kerridge’s “Proper Pub Food” may improve with a second series as he’s an affable presenter (though not yet comfortable with lifting scripted bits off the page), but proper pub food is something for which people go to a proper pub, not something they want to cook at home.
There’s that gap of basic accessibility at play there, much as there is with Rachel Khoo’s “My Pretentious Paris Kitchen”, or the new-found BBC oeuvre of “Former Models Cook For You” – Sophie Dahl? Lorraine Pascale? Though Ms Pascale certainly makes for a more convincing cook. It’s just that she has no viewpoint other than “My cooking is slightly less bland than me.” Over on Channel 4, the indefatigable Ms Perkins does her level best to liven up “Cook’s Questions“, but not even Perkins Power can make charmless professional chefs teaching overwrought recipes to a roomful of “foodies” who look like they’re waiting for jury duty down at the municipal court feel at all inclusive for your average (or even true “foodie”) viewer.
For my money, the only British cookery show of real note in the last year or so has been “The Incredible Spice Men” on BBC2, which took fantastic chefs Cyrus Todiwala and Tony Singh, and set them on a journey across Britain, bringing Asian techniques, spices and flavours to traditional British food. It was funny, it was inspiring, and most of all, it had personality and a true point of view. It tackled this country’s traditional attitudes to foods, and therefore said a lot about this country. Yes, it was “Two Fat Ladies” recast with two Asian gentlemen, but that in itself is a genius idea, and it remains the only cookery show of recent years that has made me want to buy the book, and cook from that book.
Never mind that the very name on paper reads like the kind of physical infection that affect one’s personal bits and cause an unpleasant discharge (“I see you have a nasty case of Clafoutis”), there’s something neither here nor there about the Clafoutis. To me it’s not quite a pastry and not quite a pie and not quite a quiche. It may be that I’ve never sampled one that was cooked correctly, but I’ve always found it to be either soggy or a flan with the texture (there’s that word again) of flannel. And that name! I refer you to the Wikipedia article on the subject, in which one sentence reads: “Clafoutis apparently spread throughout France during the 19th century.”
6. BRITISH BREASTS
I am not referring here to the mammarian state of British womanhood, but rather the near quixotic-ness of going to a British supermarket in the hopes of purchasing a chicken breast that still retains either its skin or its bone or both. It truly is seemingly impossible. You can buy thighs, drumsticks, and even the full legs with all their flavor-giving skin and bones intact, but Julia Child help you if you’re looking for the same in breasts.
Personally, I blame it on the advent of the “skinless chicken breast as a way to get low calorie though almost certainly flavourless protein into your diet because you’d only eat this if you were trying to lose weight” school of dietary propaganda. One can blame supermarkets and food halls all one likes, but the depressing fact is that market forces prevail. White chicken meat is so separated from dark in the current UK culinary world that you either have to adapt a recipe to such extents that it no longer resembles ( or tastes like) what you wanted to achieve in the first place, or you have to make the extra effort to find an actual butcher who sells actual bone-in skin-on chicken breasts. For which you will pay a hefty premium. Does this same problem exist in the US?
So those are my current foodie whines. Agree? Disagree? What’s been getting your culinary goat lately? Other than the cheese, please. That is so eight years ago. NB. I whine about the UK in foodie terms only because I live, shop, cook, watch tv and eat here. Were I to live in the US, I would no doubt have other (or possibly the same) gripes. Possibly in larger portions.