Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

A Culinary Cultural Difference

I don’t know what it is, but I seem to always revisit my blog around the time that I’ve been to the US. Part of me thinks it’s a reminder that the culture in the US has a huge food angle to it, and maybe it’s something to do with the check-in at BA asking if I was going to pay extra for being over the weight limit (for me). Don’t get me wrong – I absolutely love eating out in the US, and especially in New York. I find the food vibrant, ever-changing and it clearly attracts some of the most talented chefs in the world.

I do, however, try wherever possible to try eating steak every night. Seems crazy for someone living in the UK where the average is benchmarked at Harvester. (Any American’s reading this – PLEASE do not go to Harvester. It represents the culinary equivalent of trailer-trash). I did have a superb evening again at Tao but found myself with a group of salesman at the New York Striphouse ( a couple of days later. It’s a weird place. Very dark and I mean VERY dark, apart from at the tables themselves. Not sure if this is intentional or if the credit crunch is forcing the dimmer-switches down a click.

As steakhouses go, this is one of the best. I would class myself as something of an aficionado of all things bovine and this ranks incredibly high. We bailed the starters and went for the special which was a bone-in ribeye for two, which was exquisitely cooked and carved off the table. Nice touch that they then brought the bones back in case there were any gnawers in the party. And if the steak wasn’t enough, the serving of creamed spinach with truffle was amazing. I mean, truly amazing. I’ll be stealing that one for future dinner parties.

And then the bill came, which I was carrying. The bill. The emotive bit. Don’t get me wrong, I will always give credit where credit is due in a restaurant. In fact, I think I’m quite good at getting the tip right, on both sides of the pond. Not here though. Through a mathematical miscalculation, I ended up adding on 6%. That’s the American equivalent of saying “your food was tasted like shit, and your waiters were trained by Pol Pot”. I was even more surprised when the waiter came chasing after me asking if everything was OK and pointing rather antagonistically at the bill (check). Only when I left did my sales brethren, who were clearly more on the mathematical ball than I that evening, point out my culinary faux pas (and Alex, who lives nearby, swearing profusely at me for ruining any chance of being able to go back to his favourite restaurant).

The thing is, if this was in Britain, nobody would have batted an eyelid. I’ve been in restaurants where we’ve spent well over £1000 for 4 people and tipped £20 (not by me, I hasten to add). Silence. But I’m fortunate enough to have read Waiter Rant so I know that US waiters get paid bugger all and therefore the only way they make ends meet is the tip. So how bad do i feel now ?

So, for the waiters and staff of the Striphouse, I am most sorry. I promise to buy the Chateau Ducru next time and donate a second bottle to you.


New York, without the anvil

I’m just about to head out to New York for a few days. New York is an amazing city for food, make no mistake, and some of the best meals I’ve eaten in my life have come from chefs in New York. It does have a few advantages after all:

  • It is on the coast, and can therefore benefit from some amazingly fresh seafood and fish.
  • It is a vibrant mix of cultures from all over the world
  • Americans love to eat
  • Americans REALLY love to eat

In fact, some of the best food I’ve eaten in my life has been prepared by chefs in New York. If you’ve never been, I heartily recommend it. Speaking of heartily brings me to the one thing that I really struggle with in my numerous trips to the city that never sleeps. I come back feeling like I’ve swallowed an anvil. I’m amazed that they don’t charge me extra when checking in at JFK. There’s just something about the way in which the food is so plentiful that you almost feel obliged to eat what’s on the plate. Not helped, of course, by the fact that I was brought up to actually finish everything on my plate. And, before you say it, I don’t want my leftovers bagged thanks. I ate cold leftovers as a student and, now that I can afford to eat in Michelin star restaurants, I’d rather not have a half-eaten steak festering in my fridge thanks.

I have therefore taken a pre-emptive step in anvil-avoidance. For the one business dinner I had the flexibility to arrange I’ve gone for something that you really would not want bagged up for tomorrow: Japanese. I will, of course, let you know whether my plan works, or whether they’ll be putting me in the hold with the oversized luggage…

So easy, even a child could do it

I know this is probably easy for me to say, but I do think a lot of cooking is dead easy. I look at the rows of ready meals in Waitrose and my heart sinks to think that people cannot even conceive to put a simple dish together. And don’t get me started on ready chopped and peeled carrots. I mean – how hard is it to peel a carrot ??? I don’t even buy the whole “I’m too busy” argument either. I’m up to my eyeballs in work right now and I’ve still just put on a lamb saag – from fresh ingredients – which took me all of about 10 minutes to prepare. I think there are a lot of people out there that are scared to find out about cooking, and so resort to lazy (and often unhealthy) food as a result.

It’s got to start at childhood though I reckon. I learned all the basics from my mum – an absolutely fabulous “home cook” – and have built on it ever since. And it’s not even that hard to introduce to your kids either. Baking cup cakes or cookies is, quite possibly, the simplest thing in the world to make. And, you know what ? Most kids would just love the opportunity to get their hands mucky and end up eating what they’ve made.

And so, this teatime, my eldest daughter and I made tuna fishcakes. (No cries of “urrrgghhh fish” please.) I tell you, this is the simplest thing you’ll ever make and kids will love it. Mashed potato, a tin of tuna, bit of salt and pepper, then coated in beaten egg then breadcrumbs. That’s it. Healthy, easy, bit of veg on the side, and both my kids wolfed them down. So easy. even a child could do it…and in this case pretty much did from start to finish. And here’s the proof: