Category Archives: Chefs
Check out the cutest little car in the world: the limited edition Ape (pronounced ah-pay) Calessino, manufactured by the Vespa kings – Piaggio. I’m doing a good job of breaking the tenth commandment this week…
It’s a far cry from the little Ape workhorses to be found chugging along Italy’s country roads or delivering a surfeit of produce to the local market via the narrowest of alleys.
Being Italian, they know how to sell these trusty little beasts of the car world – dressing them up for chic seaside photo shoots.
True Ape-lovers can be quite creative with their decoration:
Sal Machiani, a Tuscan Ape, made his name as an actor in Cars 2:
And now you can even build your own Ape. With LEGO!
This isn’t the only picture I’ve seen of a bride and groom making their getaway in one of these trusty little three-wheelers:
Berwick Street Market’s Pizza Pilgrims cook pizza in theirs:
And they’re not the only ones with such entreprenurial uses for their small vans:
There are so many Ape fans in the world that this selection of ape images only scratches the surface.
Alas, I have nowhere to park my dream Ape Calessino, even if Santa Claus managed to stuff one into my stocking this year and, truth be told, I don’t have stockings quite big enough for that sort of filler. Never mind. Thankfully, I’m content to daydream about my little Ape and what we might get up to together. With such a tiny engine and miniscule speed potential, breaking the sound barrier or filling up my licence with points wouldn’t be our kind of adventure, however filling up the back with a (small) friend, a (small) dog and plenty of everything for a relaxing afternoon in one of London’s parks, just might work. And, just like a cute puppy, a darling Ape like the Calessino is bound to be an ice-breaker, wherever we end up.
Once inside I found a lively L-shaped room filled with the happy buzz of people whose appetites were soon to be sated. The decor is Manhattan loft-style, with exposed terracotta brick walls, cosy booths, an open kitchen with bright stainless steel surfaces and when I walked in the kitchen counter was already covered with plates of Iberico ham in different guises. I’d starved myself all day so that I’d have capacity for everything on the menu, so you won’t be surprised to hear that one glance at the ham caused some (discreet) dribbling into the flute of delightfully dry cava that had been offered at the door.
In his welcome address Simon Majumdar, one of the Dos Hermanos behind the event, explained that there had been one thousand applications for tickets for tonight and we were the fortunate fifty to receive them. That was certainly interesting to hear – only five per cent of applicants would share the Dine With Dos Hermanos experience at Pizarro tonight and I was one of them (HOORAY!). I took my seat at a table with three lovely strangers, ready to begin the serious task of eating Mr Pizzaro’s fare.
First to arrive at our table was a plate of croquetas –perfect orbs of gold and so very creamy that they disappeared in a flash, causing me to dub them ‘flash croquetas’. I adore croquetas and these were at the top of their league – no gristle or tough old chunks to distract from the smooth, cheesy potato, just the right consistency with a smoky ham flavour wafting through the middle.
Next to appear was a spread of Jamon Iberico in three different forms, my favourite of which was the chorizo. Sliced paper-thin each mouthful brought more strange noises of contentment. My husband, a die-hard sausage-lover, would have hogged (pardon the pun) the plate for himself, had he been there, so I’m quite selfishly relieved he wasn’t. The accompanying bread was also good – bouncy, yeasty sour-dough, but the quality of the ham before us was such that it fully warranted being eaten on its own.
I went slightly bonkers with delight over the carpaccio of cod with fennel and orange. As the self-dubbed Queen of Carpaccio this combination was right up my street. The fish was fresh with the versatility to add the smack of ocean to the aniseedy fennel and zing of citrus. The only problem with Neptunian carpaccios such as this is that I’m always left wishing for more, still, there’s a way to get around that: I’ll just have to order double quantities next time.
We were next presented with the head of hake – this was understandably ugly yet delicious, with forks about the room excitedly excavating cheeks and precious fleshy bits from all parts of the fish head. Softened red pimentons were scattered liberally about the dish and these were a revelation in themselves – packed full of flavour but with an unexpected velvety texture on the tongue.
By now the guests were all heads-down, merrily eating and critiquing each plate. Meanwhile, the staff didn’t stop. Plates were cleared and new ones presented in a very efficient operation, especially considering that this was soft-opening week so everyone was working hard to get it right before inviting the public to come in and chow down. Such seamless professionalism was impressive, a testament to organisation skill. Not one of the wait-staff looked harassed, just focussed. What’s really amazing is how friendly they all were – no mean feat given the pressure they must have been under.
A side of tiny florets of cauliflower was a pleasant surprise. Cold, crudité-like, with the unexpected tang of vinegar, the cauliflower was simple, refreshing and palate-cleansing before the shift towards the heavier tastes of the evening: duck livers and Iberico pork cheeks.
The duck livers were served with red onion – or were they shallots? Small, red skinned, onion family… the liver was heady, stronger than chicken liver, yet smooth and gamey. The Iberico pork cheeks then arrived – morsels of porcine paradise. They practically dissolved in the mouth requiring next to no mastication – therein lies the beauty of slow-braising.
Then we were onto the cheese course – I regret I didn’t get the names of the cheeses, but being a fromage fan I was easily pleased here as there was a good representation of types – a couple hard and manchego-like with rind, one I’m sure was made from sheep’s milk… some black grapes and fruit chutney were the accompaniment.
And lastly, some cake – my single mouthful of this was enough as desserts are not really my thing, besides which I was thoroughly enjoying the PX Fernando de Castilla sherry, which eclipsed anything else I might have tasted at the time.
Throughout the evening, José Pizarro’s partners in wine from Cillar de Silos had kept us informed about and topped up with various glasses of Spanish goodness. We’d started the evening with a beautifully dry cava, which I wouldn’t hesitate to serve to friends as an aperitif, and then moved onto a rare and special fino from Gonzalo Bayass. The Duero wine-growing region was well represented by the Rosado de Silos and Illar de Silos Crianza from the Silos cellars, and lastly we had the delicious sherry to round off the evening. By the time I left for home I was one very happy bunny.
And so to the verdict on Dine with Dos Hermanos: well worth the effort. The evening was superb, the food and drink quality, the conversation excellent – especially as it mostly revolved around the common interest of the Fortunate Fifty: food. The icing on the tarta is that Simon Majumdar is, in my opinion, a really good egg with the right sort of priorities – family and food. As for José Pizarro, well, he kindly gave me some advice on how to make my tortillitas de camarones better, and that was a bonus to the evening that was most gratefully received.
Pizarro is definitely worth visiting if you’re heading down Bermondsey way. Don’t try to book – there’s a no-reservations policy, but as a back-up, if things are busy, you could always pop along the street to José, the slightly more senior tapas bar in the Pizarro stable, which opened to great acclaim last year. Definitely go to Pizarro if you’re fond of all things Iberico ham, be sure to try the croquetas, and if you’re in the mood for bubbles, why not give the cava a whirl? From what I hear Pizarro has had the odd teething problem since the DWDH evening, but that’s to be expected of any new establishment. Put simply, I’ll be returning soon with my chorizo-chomping husband in tow; he’s even fussier about food than I am, so if that’s not an EPIC seal of approval, I don’t know what is.
Pizarro, 194 Bermondsey Street, London SE1 3TQ
The Blind-in-one-eye Bum is an interesting name for a food establishment, and that’s the rough English translation for a Saint Malo restaurant named Borgnefesse. Borgne means blind in one eye (how efficient of the French to have one word for this affliction instead of four in English) and fesse means bum, buttock or bottom, whichever you prefer.
The original Borgnefesse was a certain buccaneer named Louis le Golif, who reputedly had had one buttock shot off by a cannon ball, hence the sobriquet which may also translate as ‘half-arse’ or ‘but one buttock’. No one can be sure whether or not the memoirs for which le Golif gained renown are fact or fiction, but apparently it’s quite an entertaining read if you’re a pirate nut who celebrates International Talk Like a Pirate Day each September. Thankfully, when Monsieur and I found Borgnefesse, the ‘half-arsed’ restaurant, there were no pirates (nor parrots) in sight.
We’d just arrived in Saint Malo after a long day which had involved much driving, battling of crowds at Mont Saint Michel, and a couple of fluffed-up €28.00 omelettes which were more like air bags than proper food and therefore barely sustained us through the afternoon. So tonight, we were hungry and boy, did we ever want to eat a fairly priced meal. Saint Malo boasted loads of eateries, but would we find one to suit our rather demanding palates?
A sunset walk about the ramparts of the old walled city had contributed to our appetites, so we set about finding somewhere to eat. One recommendation had closed and was now boarded up. The next on the list had changed in both name and cuisine. Some were closed because it was Tuesday. Some were closed for the summer holidays. We weren’t having much luck so we tried the strip of bustling restaurants along the wall between two of the town’s Portes but most of them served the same fare in similar prix-fixe formulae. Yawn. So we wandered away from the summer crowds and copycat menus in search of something a bit different.
The next restaurant we tried had taken its last orders at 9.30pm, even though its dining room was only half full. A handful of others we found to be too pricey and we’d had enough of feeling ripped off for one day, so we returned to a place we’d spotted earlier. The menu was compact but interesting and a pirate sign hung outside – now that’s different. Thus Monsieur and I entered Borgnefesse.
It was already close to 10pm but the waitress was smiling as she gave us a table. She single-handedly managed the entire room without even the hint of a grimace and all the patrons seemed happy. The decor had a subtle nautical theme, but all the table dressing was up-to-the-minute, with mushroom-coloured napkins and cloths. A stack of old books on a shelf between tables added a homely touch. In summary, the atmosphere was understated and warm.
There were no printed menus because this was a market restaurant, that is, they cook and serve whatever they find fresh at market each day. On a blackboard, across the room, were listed three different ‘formule’ or set menu options with different price points depending on the ingredients. Monsieur and I chose the middle-of-the-road €19.80 formule, which included a seafood starter, choice of main and cheese or dessert.
We both enjoyed our plates of fresh seafood, including succulent bulots (sea snails) which we twiddled out of their shells with a bulot pin, prawns and half a crab, complete with four long and spindly legs each. All the requisite shell cracking and crab-extracting tools were supplied so Monsieur and I could get our hands messy with produce so lipsmacking that it must have been that afternoon’s catch.
Monsieur was in need of a red-meat fix, so ordered the entrecote as a main. When it arrived it was smothered in a rich, peppery sauce and when my own main was set before me, I could see that the chef here must also be an excellent saucier because my stuffed squid was swimming in a little pond of aromatic sauce tinted a rich butter-cream colour with just a touch of saffron. Mon Dieu, how that squid was delicious – filled with a blend of minced calamari and tomatoes, and softened by the delicately spiced-up sauce. Served with a modest helping of wild rice and diced veg, the overall effect tickled all of the senses. The opposing textures jumped about on my tongue yet didn’t fight; rather they complemented one another. The squid was delightfully soft, having been cooked to perfection. The flavours blended into an overall impression of somewhere exotic and hot with a breeze from the sea. Oh yes, I did enjoy this dish very much indeed, and across the table from me, my husband had inhaled his entrecote so quickly that he’d been bored for a while now – a sure sign that everything on his plate had met with his hard-won approval.
For dessert, Monsieur polished off refreshing mango and strawberries with ‘their’ sorbets, as they say in France, while I had the most sensible cheese course ever: a simple slice of creamy camembert served with a couple of leaves of lettuce and some bread. It was tout simple but couldn’t have been more appreciated. Yes, I crave a taste of cheese at the end of a meal in France, but no, I didn’t always have the capacity for an entire cheeseboard. Long have I mourned the fact that I wasn’t born with more stomachs, like a cow, but it’s a fact I’ve learned to live with and the people at Borgnefesse make this hardship a little easier to bear by getting their portions right.
So, the food was superb, but at €26.00 our Pouilly Fumé tasted young and, strangely for a Pouilly, lacked in both character and bite, but in this instance even a duff bottle of wine remained perfectly quaffable. As we paid the bill and wandered back down towards the Grande Porte, Monsieur and I were comfortably (as opposed to belt-poppingly) sated.
“Do you want to know how much the bill was?” Monsieur asked,
“Sure,” I replied,
“Well, it was significantly less than those stupid omelettes at La Mère Poulard.” he announced,
“Hmmm. Doesn’t surprise me.” I said, “those were some seriously overpriced eggs.”
It wouldn’t take a mindreader to work out which of the two establishments, Borgnefesse or La Mère Poulard, is assured of our future custom, especially if the menu du jour shows the chef’s famous fish of the day stuffed with fresh Breton lobster or the Lotte (monkfish), which one former patron has described as ‘inoubliable’ (unforgettable). For now, Monsieur and I were simply relieved to have enjoyed a fine meal at a fair price. Even with a name like The One-Eyed Buttock, we will be back.
I have a dear, small, Scandinavian friend who, like me, loves food. This friend has survived a life-altering, direction-changing year, culminating in a decision to leave London in favour of her Tokyo-based love, going via Denmark to enjoy some quality family time. Needless to say, she couldn’t possibly leave the country without first dining with me, not least because such a large part of our friendship exists thanks to passionate discussions about FOOD.
The Tokyo Boy had recommended for us a little tavern-style Japanese place on Goodge Street. I googled it and the first review I read scared me. A Japanese person had written it, slating the staff and taking no prisoners about their surly attitude to white patrons. No no no, we couldn’t risk it, could we? Not on our last dinner together for some time. Scandi-La was resolute, however. Tokyo Boy liked it and so would we. In the wake of her culinary courage, I followed her lead and we went to Yoisho.
On entering this modest little restaurant, it’s obvious that this place is run by Japanese, for Japanese, with Japanese businessmen dotted around the place sipping on sake with loosened ties. We sat at the counter overlooking the grill chef’s work and immediately ordered bottles of Asahi dry and some warm sake. We had two waitresses, both of whom were perfectly professional towards us (no gaijin phobia there) and one of whom bore a fantastic short haircut of some style and geometric precision. Behind the counter the grill chef worked tirelessly, smiling at us and nodding shyly from time to time. Scandi-La and I felt not one hint of hostility towards us, although our enthusiasm for Japanese food and a few words of Japanese definitely did not go astray.
On the counter stood a lucky cat with waving paw and a figurine of a beer-hugging fisherman replete with fish and rod. The decor was hardly inspired, but felt refreshingly authentic in its tattiness, as if we’d walked off an Osaka street instead of a street in a wet and crowded pre-Christmas London. As usual, we struggled to decide on our food but eventually settled on gyoza (dumplings), a mixed sashimi platter, another of tempura followed by eggplant with miso – one of my all-time favourite Japanese recipes. Added to this was a selection of chicken skewers – some kebab-style; others mulched into grillable balls.
The gyoza were exactly as they should be: light, soft and tasty with that hint of Japanese chive, but it was the sashimi that stole the first part of the Yoi-show. In a more favourable review of this eatery, someone had written that the sashimi was so fresh that there must be an ocean in the basement. This praise was not an exaggeration of the quality of the fish we were served. Scandi-La and I hummed with a united appreciation of the yellow-fin tuna, salmon and some sort of delicate white fish – all absolutely fresh and almost creamy as each morsel dissolved altogether too quickly against my palate, with barely the need to chew, but the star of the sashimi platter had to be the prawns. Previously to dining at Yoisho, I’d never eaten sashimi prawns. These were served vaguely blue, ready to pop out of the pink prawn shell, and my word, how they tasted as they slipped around my mouth! Suddenly I wished myself a pelican so I could eat such things all day.
The mixed tempura, a heap of gilded king prawns and vegetable pieces, was almost fluffy, so perfect was the golden batter. And when we moved onto the eggplant with miso, I was ascending to eggplant heaven. The eggplant flesh was steaming and soft and slushy beneath the generous layer of miso – which both sweetens and salts the hot fruit beneath. We dug our chopsticks into the flesh, careful to load them with both eggplant and sauce, humming with yet more gastronomic delight.
At some point in proceedings I ventured down the modest staircase to the ladies’ room, tucked away down a corridor in the basement. En route I discovered another dining room, filled with more Japanese people enjoying some post-work down-time. The ladies’ facilities were scruffy, as I’d expected, and there, in the corridor, was the sashimi ocean we’d been discussing earlier. Well, not really an ocean, just more of a large puddle. There was no sign of pipework or a leak in the immediate vicinity, so I wondered how it got there. Could it be a magic, sashimi-producing ocean? Could it be that a sake-swilling patron had leaked on the way to the loo? Perhaps someone had left their brolly there and it the water was its legacy. Whatever it was, it made me smile. Perhaps there really are secret basement oceans capable of producing dream sashimi.
The verdict? Scandi-La and I were more than satisfied that our last London dinner together had been such a success. As we paid up, the grill chef looked sad to see us go. I think he must have enjoyed all our happy hmmm-ing and humming, yet I have to be honest and say that neither diner particularly enjoyed the chicken, leaving most of the skewers intact. In short, if you’re hungry for sashimi in London, give Yoisho a go. Here’s how Yoisho scored against the Epicurometer:
Gyoza – 8/10 (extremely good but not remarkable)
Sashimi – 10/10 (absolutely magical from that ocean in the basement)
Tempura – 8/10 (extremely good but nothing unusual)
Eggplant with miso – 7/10 (very tasty and I hate to admit it but I once had better in Sydney)
Mixed chicken skewers – 4/10 (had the texture of cheap chicken meat. It’s not like Scandi-La or me to leave food on our plates in a Japanese establishment so this was poor going.)
Asahi dry – 10/10 (great to have the choice of dry and comes in large bottles so it keeps you going for a while)
Sake – tut tut, wicked girls! We chose a sake for serving cold and asked the waitress if it was possible to serve it warm. Yes it was and there was no fuss about it or trying to upgrade us to a superior sake for serving warm. I don’t know enough about sake to score it but safe to say that it was perfectly drinkable with that lovely warm rush that’s so precious when you’ve just been drenched by a London downpour, as I had.
Decor – don’t go here if you’re passionate about interiors, unless you want to see a well-seasoned Japanese tavern-style eatery. Upstairs is definitely better than down, and that’s saying something.
Eating at the counter – 10/10 for entertainment value, relative comfort and the fisherman figurine. I think he’d be happy to come home with me and live with Blue Monkey.
Staff – The waitresses get a score of 7/10 and the grill chef earns himself a 9/10 for being so friendly.
Likeliness to return to Yoisho? 10/10 as in extremely likely. If I weren’t watching my pennies before Christmas, I’d teleport myself there right now. Those sashimi prawns are what dreams are made of.
Yoisho – 33 Goodge Street London, W1T 2PS - 020 7323 0477
It’s that time of year again, when a weekend in New York looms in Big Apple style on the pre-Christmas horizon. I have long associations with this city; it was in New York that, as a foetus, I first kicked my mother from the inside out, thrilling her with the reality of impending motherhood. It was as a teenager in New York that I first rode in a stretch limo and played the piano with my feet at FAO Schwarz, just like Tom Hanks did in Big. It was in New York that my Stateside friends threw me a surprise birthday party, the only one I’ve ever had, when I’d tiptoed out of London in order to avoid another year older. And now, decades after launching that first little kick, the inspiration to skip, and jump my way up and down that little island known as Manhattan still ignites me from the moment I start to plan a visit.
Some people like to shop in New York City. There’s certainly plenty of opportunity to do that: from bargains to be found at Century 21, located somewhat eerily adjacent to 9-11’s Ground Zero and its ever-present conspiracy theorists, through to the air-kissing environs of Barney’s and Bergdorf’s at the other end of the spender’s spectrum.
However, shopping is not what gets my Big Apple Fires a-burning; it goes deeper than that for me. There’s a vibe about Manhattan which ripples invisibly through the air, up and down the grid of streets and avenues, and straight into my soul. It’s the small things, as much as the skyscrapers, that thrill me here: the excitement of buying Motrin at Duane Reade (SO much better and more cost-effective than Nurofen), Chinese being spoken in Chinatown in front of windows of crispy fried ducks hanging by their feet, a glimpse of hand cuffed to briefcase in the diamond district, meetings beneath the clock at Grand Central Station. A smile threatens to break every time I see a yellow cab with bent plastic fender or when I hear someone in a deli order “pastrami on rye!” or when I pass a man wearing a battered Yankees cap or when a debate starts over where to find the best bagels in the city. Even when struggling to decide whether to go to the MoMA, the Guggenheim, the Whitney or the Frick because, goshdarnit, there’s just too much choice, I feel a constant buzz buzzity buzz.
Plenty of people go to New York to make money and/or spend money and there’s plenty to do there for all tastes and ages. Shoppers ogle at the animated Christmas windows, romantics sigh at chestnuts roasting on street corners and in every crowd you will spot Big Brown Bloomingdale’s Bags. It’s a melting pot of art and culture and music and design and hippy and chic – all in a mere 23.7 square miles. As might sound familiar to those In The Epicurienne Know, it’s New York’s food that really gets me going. There’s such a wealth of variety to be had, just begging for the attention of food lovers like me. So where have I been so far?
- The Red Flame Diner with its bottomless cups of coffee and evil stacks of pancakes swimming in maple syrup and crispy bacon is a breakfast favourite. It’s so busy here at weekends that there’s no time for pleasantries. Order, eat, pay and move outta the way for the next in line. Please note: I’ve never seen the place without a line, but it does move fast and it gives you plenty of time to read the How To Help A Choke Victim poster, just in case.
- Les Halles, the restaurant called home by travelling chef Anthony Bourdain. With a mouthful of cassoulet you could close your eyes and think yourself in Paris, so authentic is the atmosphere. It would be easy to believe that a tornado had picked up a brasserie in France and plonked it down, intact, in the middle of New York.
- Nobu Next Door is the no-reservations little sister to Nobu, located just next door to the main restaurant in Tribeca. It serves delightful small plates, including Nobu’s signature black cod in miso but it’s a bit of a trek and to be assured of a table, you really need to get there after 10pm. Even then, there will be a queue. Your patience will be rewarded, if you can stay awake after a long day exploring New York.
- Mama Mexico’s on East 49th Street (and another located on Broadway) is a Mexican food-lover’s mecca. The guacamole is made at your table by one of the friendly wait-staff, tasting better than any other guac on earth, there’s plenty of choice and the portions are so humongous that we watched an entire table of eight leave smiling with doggy bags. Not one of them finished their main. Nor, as it happened, did I. Mama Mexico’s even offers take-out, a BIG reason for me NOT to move to New York. I’d probably never cook again.
- Union Square Cafe is a place I will always cherish because the grim-faced bouncer carded me there when I was a ripe old 27. I laughed as I pulled out my passport. “This is no laughing matter, ma’am.” he growled. Au contraire, mon frère! I took being asked for ID as a massive compliment, though, and told him so, bless his size thirteen cotton socks.
- Spring Street Natural was recommended by a former colleague who knows New York well. I had a divine tuna steak there, served rare to perfection. The food is as healthy and organic as it is possible to be, but not at the expense of taste or portion size.
- Brasserie Ruhlmann on Rockefeller Plaza is faithful to Art Deco style, as it takes its name from a great designer of that era – Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann. Another former colleague whisked me into this restaurant for lunch and a whirlwind catch-up session when I was in town a few years back and my, what a treat! The food was divine, the service infallible, and the atmosphere absolutely authentic. The disappointment was in having to squeeze as much out of it as we could within the one-hour lunch-break time-frame. I guess I’ll just have to return when we’re less hurried.
- Heartland Brewery is a chain with multiple locations. It’s ideal for a laid-back bite with a Heartland beer in hand. The menu is quintessentially American fare with old favourites like Classic Caesar Salad, Clam Chowder and St Louis Smoked Ribs. You can have Maine & Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes with a side of Idaho Mashed Potatoes or a burger of free-range South Dakota Bison with Hand Cut Idaho Fries, ‘cos ‘dem taters dere dey all do come from Idaho, ya know. Being a brewery I must also mention their beers. They have great names like Indiana Pale Ale, Farmer Jon’s Oatmeal Stout and Indian River Light. I tried Cornhusker Lager and very pleasant it was indeed. With more time on your hands, you might even be tempted to take a Voyage of Beer, enjoying a sampling of Heartland’s six classic beers.
Other New York experiences in the Epicurienne catalogue include eating very average Chinese in an ominously-empty Chinatown restaurant, (now I am furnished with foolproof tips for that area so hopefully history won’t repeat itself in that neck of the woods) where the biggest action took place in the fish tanks. I’ve lunched with the glitterati at Barney’s and twirled spaghetti in Little Italy and ordered pizza delivery at a friend’s Midtown apartment. I’ve hung out with the son of an Irish immigrant who made his fortune pouring beer for the folks of the Upper East Side and I’ve stood with dropped jaw as a woman ahead of me at Dean & Deluca ordered a “skinny decaf soy latte” which is very Sex and the City but defeats the purpose of drinking coffee in the first place. However, my finest hour when eating in New York? Sitting opposite the man I love in the Pomodoro Rosso and NOT getting dumped. You see, the Pomodoro Rosso is THE recommended break-up restaurant in the comedy series, Seinfeld. It also does a very good Sunday brunch menu, which is some consolation if you’ve only just realised that ‘he’s just not that into you’.
That’s all for today. In the next instalment I’m going to write about places on the Epicurienne Hit List, New York Edition. I may need some help choosing where next to dine…suggestions are welcomed because this is a case of so many eateries, so little time. And sadly, only one mouth.
For the true grub-loving gastronome, the most fatal by-product of enjoying our food has to be weight gain. Monsieur and I are no different, loving our food as we do and engaged in a constant battle of taste versus calorific content. It was therefore serendipitous to catch a tweet from Quadrille Books, asking for bloggers to review Lighten Up by Jill Dupleix.
I admit that Dupleix’s name was relatively new to me, so for a girl with shelves plural devoted to cookbooks, I have had to ask myself why this is the first of Dupleix’s fourteen books to break into the Epicurienne fold. As I learn more about this seasoned kitchen whiz, I am astounded that her profile isn’t better known in London. I thought it might just be me, so I asked some foodie friends about Dupleix. Apparently, it wasn’t just me. It would seem that unless you’re a regular reader of The Spectator or The Times food columns, you may just have missed this writer, much like I have, and that is what I’d call an absolute travesty of gastronomic proportions. Here’s why.
Dupleix’s website profile tells us that she was born on a sheep farm in Australia, growing up with ‘good, fresh, no-nonsense home cooking’. (This sentence alone makes me nostalgic for the freshness of unregulated Downunder produce). But, in spite of a growing passion for food, Dupleix didn’t enter the realm of the food writer until she’d done a spell of copywriting, encompassing such non-food-related topics as cars and fashion. Then something happened along the way and a passion for food, cookery and restaurants overtook all else. Dupleix first took the mantle of Cookery Editor for the Sydney Morning Herald, later moving to London to do the same job for The Times. Nowadays, Dupleix contents herself with freelance food writing and cookbook work, which is a good thing indeed, especially for foodies whose nightmares involve a set of bathroom scales.
Bring on Lighten Up, the latest Dupleix offering, first released in 2007. From the moment I first flicked through this brightly-covered paperback, I was a fan. Then I read the introduction and became a total Jill Dupleix acolyte. Once I proceeded to test the recipes for myself, I started daydreaming about hanging out with Dupleix in her kitchen, making Chawan Mushi.
So what makes this book different from its rivals? For a start, the inspiration. Dupleix has created a more easygoing, lighter alternative to the heavier northern hemisphere diet, which sees altogether too many antipodeans expanding sideways once they’ve landed in the likes of North America or Europe. There is proven, personal inspiration also, in the form of Dupleix’s husband, Terry Durack, a restaurant critic who, through his self-professed love of long lunches, cultivated quite an impressive girth. With the help of Dupleix’s lighter approach to eating, he managed to lose an admirable 38 kilos. Now, with Lighten Up, we can all benefit from Dupleix’s tasty, healthy food and a few lost pounds to boot.
The book’s layout is so easy to follow that even a novice cook would find it difficult to make a hash of the recipes. The instructions are short and written in a brief, bullet point style, starting with the action required for each stage: SEAR, CUT, MIX, ADD, TOSS, TRIM, SERVE. The book is separated into sensible sections, such as Morning Food, Salad Food, Soupy Food, Spicy Food, Fast Food and Slow Food. These are interspersed with snack ideas using bananas, bread (yes, the Dupleix Way even bread-based snacks can be good for you!), Japanese ingredients like nori and miso, and perhaps not surprisingly, tofu. There’s a glossary of terms so you have no excuse for mistaking your tamari for tamarind, and if you’d like to know what kitchen accessories rate high on Dupleix’s list, you will find out in Lighten Up.
That’s the summary, but in practice, what are the recipes like? So far, so scrumptious. I’ve particularly enjoyed the ease of Fast Roast Fish with Anchovies, the Fresh Salmon burgers with dill pickles and watercress and Spring Onion Scallops served in their shells, which were so professionally tasty that friends might think you’d called in the caterers. Grilled Chicken with Salsa Verde has received exacting Monsieur’s seal of approval and I’m happily working my way through the little recipes in the Extras section. But what I particularly love about Lighten Up is that it’s time-friendly to the full-time working woman, allowing weight-loss to be quick in preparation with any sense of deprivation completely eliminated.
Still on food but with a whole different slant, here are some articles by Dupleix:
How I shrunk food critic Terry Durack, where Dupleix talks about transforming her husband from Mr Piggy into Mr Fit
Hollywood audiences must think we never eat, where Dupleix wonders why Great Australians are never seen eating on film
And if you want to try out some fantastic sweetcorn fritters, here’s a Dupleix recipe for you. Oh, boy, I’m actually making myself hungry now.
Lighten Up is certainly a worthwhile introduction to Dupleix, with the tantalising photography by Petrina Tinslay spurring me on to try more and more of the Lighten Up recipes. Next on my list will be Chicken Tortilla Soup with Avocado, Watermelon Carpaccio with feta cheese and kalamata olives and the Crab Salad with pumpernickel crisps. When I’m done with those I just might let have to pop along to Books for Cooks to pick up another of the thirteen Dupleix books I have yet to read. I have a funny feeling that Jill Dupleix will be popping up again on Epicurienne, so if you like her style, watch this space.
When I was about eleven, I started home ec classes at school. My classmates and I then spent the next two years fighting over ingredients in these core classes as we perfected the mangling of simple dishes such as scrambled eggs and kedgeree. The worst part of these classes, however, was post-cooking when we had to sit and EAT what we’d just burned, undercooked or over-salted. At this key time in my culinary development I learned precisely how not to cook in class; conversely I learned how better to cook at home, where I’d help in the kitchen and sit with my mother in front of afternoon TV shows of Julia Child slamming food around her studio kitchen amidst what could only be described as a slightly awkward, inelegant presentation. Part of me loved watching her infectious passion for food and admired the results, wishing she could visit our dated home ec kitchen to inspire our prematurely-jaded attempts at food preparation; another part of me sat glued to the set in awe of the hulking woman who obviously knew her onions when it came to food, but whose booming voice and giant stature were more than a little intimidating. In case you need reminding, here’s a clip of La Child in action:
Cue a bout of Julia Child amnesia, until last year, when I bought Julia Child’s memoir, My Life in France, written in conjunction with her great nephew, Alex Prud’homme. I’m embarrassed to say that it sat in my ‘to read’ pile for some time until recently, when I quite literally devoured it. Once more, I was mesmerised by this towering doyenne of cuisine as I learned that there was so much more to her own personal history than is first apparent when you think of an acclaimed author of cookbooks. For a start, she wasn’t born with a wooden spoon in her hand, nor could she bake soufflés before she could walk. Au contraire; Julia Child didn’t start cooking until she was 37 years old, when she moved to post-war France with her adored husband Paul. Once there, her love of eating and a fascination with French food led her to the Cordon Bleu school, where she studied food and its preparation. Julia also spent time getting to know the local market vendors, finding the best produce, learning French and experimenting in her own kitchen in an odd apartment on the ‘rue de Loo’, as she called the rue de l’Université. On top of all of the above, the tireless Julia somehow found the time to socialise with Paris-based foodies. She taught, gave dinner parties, helped a couple of new friends with their attempt at ‘cookbookery’, and it is this latter activity that eventually developed into Child’s weighty mega-oeuvre, Mastering the Art of French Cooking (1961), which brought truly French methods and cuisine into the American kitchen and subsequently revolutionised many kitchens all around the world.
This new-found passion for French cuisine changed Julia’s life, but not without hard graft did she become a published household name with her own TV show. I dare not give too much away, as this book is filled with such characters and surprises and inside knowledge of famous restaurants, critics and foods (I yelped with delight at the part where she visits the original Poilâne bakery in the name of breadmaking research) that it demands a reader’s first-hand attention, rather than a second-hand account. However, to whet your appetite, I will say that the complex politics of the time does not escape mention and honest accounts of strain on a workaholic’s interpersonal relationships, a quite unexpected picture of Julia in the bath with her husband and the down-to-earth description of universal frustrations and disappointments can only add to the admiration which Julia fans will feel on reading what she referred to as ‘The French Book’.
My Life in France was the sort of book that pained me to finish. There was only one thing to be done: I’d been bitten by the bug and now simply had to read more Julia. So, as you do, I popped onto Amazon, where Julie and Julia – My Year of Cooking Dangerously by Julie Powell came to my attention. I’d heard of it; in fact, one of my grub-loving friends had recommended it to me; I just hadn’t bought it yet. One click later and the book was delivered to me at the end of last week, just in time for the May Bank Holiday weekend – a blissful three days of Nothing Planned. Julie and Julia arrived with impeccable timing because on commencing to read this book I experienced the startling result of waking up well before I would normally have roused myself on a long weekend. Why? To read The Book, of course, and for once I’m not complaining about waking early. Not at all.
So, every morning for the past three days, as Monsieur slumbered on next to me, my first waking thought was “I wonder what Julie does next?” as I grabbed the book and read as quietly as possible so that Monsieur wouldn’t wake up and disturb this precious reading time. You see, this Julie Powell person had decided on a whim to cook every single one of the 524 recipes in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking in a mere 365 days. AND she had a full-time job, AND a tiny kitchen AND lived in Long Island City, which isn’t the best place to find some of the more unusual ingredients commanded by such recipes. To call this book entertaining is quite the culinary understatement. Refreshingly, there’s zero pretension. If the aspic doesn’t set or if murdering lobsters keeps Powell awake at night, we hear about it. Some recipes work, others don’t, and at times Powell enlists a search party to track down some strange foodstuff or other. Oh my Heavens, how I am loving this book, right down to the plumbing issues and day job and the strain that an obsession with cooking can place on a relationship.
As veteran Googlers tend to do, I’ve also spent some time reading the Julie and Julia Project blog, which is the unwitting inspiration for the book. There’s also the current Julie Powell blog to salivate over and on You Tube, there’s a trailer for THE FILM (see end of post), starring none other than Meryl Streep as Julia Child and Amy Adams as frustrated cooking-by-night-to-save-own-sanity government agency temp, Julie Powell. Now we just have to wait until it’s released on 7 August (I’m counting the days and if you know someone who can donate preview tickets to this particularly enthusiastic fan, then please please pretty please would you let me know?).
Believe it or not, you can also follow @Julia_Child on Twitter, only it’s not REALLY Julia (unless there’s a new app allowing us to tweet from beyond the grave), because she passed away in 2004, aged an astonishing 91. Following this sad date on the Child fan’s calenday, The Smithsonian was lucky enough to be given her kitchen, copper pans, units, books ‘n’ all and it’s now a crowd-drawing exhibit. (The Smithsonian has been added to my Bucket List. )
So, to sum up, unless I’m mistaken, it would seem that we’re in a mid-Julia Child revival and we just might have former government drone, Julie Powell to thank for that. Personally, I love the fact that courtesy of Powell I’ve now learned what a gimlet is and have added kattywhompus to my vocabulary.
In the meantime, here’s the trailer for the film of Julie and Julia: