Glenwood Bakery

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Massimo at Osteria Francescana, Modena

The Robinsons watched Netflix’s ‘Chef’s Table’ few days ago. It was very interesting in parts. Very. What was particularly interesting was watching the episode on Massimo Bottura, an Italian born chef, working in Modena. There he is head chef for his restaurant called Osteria Francescana.

This restaurant was, during the early stages of its existence, so quiet that it sometimes fed no one. It now has three Michelin stars and is, as expected, fully booked for months. This is despite its home being a small and extremely traditional Italian village. Now, most will assume that it being in a small and traditional village is a challenge to its success because it is out of the way and populated with the non-cognoscenti one expects to find in rural areas. But, in fact, the reason why it is a wonder that it exists despite its surroundings is because the people of Modena, for a very long time after the opening of it, judged its extravagant and lawless reproduction of traditional Italian cuisine as unacceptable. What were those splotches, broken pastries and strange compositions which only remotely represented what they were used to eating? From where the audacity to mess with what has been firmly established and is, evidently, the food people have grown up on?

Of course, the Netflix ‘Chef’s Table’ sings the praises of Massimo’s self-belief, determination and his commitment to his vision; one which flies in the face of tradition. The Glenwood Restaurant too sings his praises for his self-belief, determination and his commitment to his vision. But we do not share his actual vision. We found ourselves strangely siding with tradition – with the people of Modena and not with the bedazzled Milanese making their way to Osteria Francescana to eat deconstructed tortellini en brodo. We found ourselves very sympathetic to the fact that there should be ten tortellini for every mouthful and not six marching on a piece of slate towards something which merely represents the brodo. Call us old fashioned, but we think the people of Modena have been robbed.

There are indeed many, many traditions which must go. Such as expensive wedding dresses and American movies with a Christmas theme. But do not mess with tortellini en brodo. Nor with lemon tart. So, if The Glenwood Restaurant ever closes its doors due to a lack of comprehension it will be because the supposed cognoscenti are looking for pieces of slate carrying food that looks like Jackson Pollock paintings (note, we are fans of Pollock paintings when done in oils on canvas). Such food, for good reason, will never, ever be found across our threshold.

Nevertheless, we genuinely love Massimo for his commitment to, and revelry in, cooking. Also for his evident skill. But we looked in wonderment, with much real entertainment and with not just a little horror at what emerges from his kitchen. Viva la cuisine!

How to make risotto nero. Or, once more, unto the breach.

How does one make risotto nero? It depends on where it is being made. Cooking risotto nero can either be done in an hour holding a glass of wine, or it can take many days, as part of a violent battle. Cooking it in a restaurant makes it akin to waging war.

We know very little about each other’s professions. And why should we know more? We are, naturally, more interested in ourselves than in others. Some of us, however, have created a little soapbox to speak from. Here is that soapbox, and this is that speech. It is the speech that answers what it takes to make very simple, good food for restaurant patrons. It takes much, much more than what most people think. Any person who actually cooks, and by this we mean a person who takes in hand stuff that grows, walks, swims and flies, knows that to produce a plate of food which is good, even if it has seemingly only one thing on it, often requires many steps. Sometimes, but not always, it also requires a lot of time. But to make good food in a restaurant is never a case of combining pre-existing ready-made components in novel, or not novel, ways. Good food does not manifest from dabs of this, slices of those or splashes of that unless the dabs, slices and splashes were first made under a very watchful eye.

These steps include finding the raw ingredients. Thus, much time is spent holding a phone with a chin speaking to the butcher, the baker, farmers and grocers whilst bringing to the boil two or three stocks. Lists, which have been written at the end of the previous night’s service, over a glass of wine while high on adrenaline, are now studied and soberly executed. These lists are based on what has been used up and needs to be replaced – and this depends also on what will change on the menu that day and what remains the same. So the list is not simply a ‘stock’ take, it involves menu planning at the same time.

Any restaurant which actually engages real cooking, and The Glenwood Restaurant is sadly one of only a few in Durban, will have such lists. At The Glenwood Restaurant this includes instructions to make certain types of pasta doughs – things like herb tagliatelle, linguini, mezzaluna – butter, ricotta, tart pastries, butchering, poaching and reducing. Whilst three people attend to these lists as from 8 am, the head chef, if he is also the owner, will meet with managers, work out the cost of goods, determine the margins, look for better suppliers of better ingredients and fire bad ones. In the afternoons, wines must be tasted, wine lists updated to remain in keeping with the menu and the general ethos of the particular restaurant. This includes the decisions which have been made around the pricing of items on the menu. In short, a day running and cooking for even a small restaurant, which offers a certain type of menu, is a fourteen hour non-stop affair, if one is lucky.

This is certainly not a complaint. This type of work is self-inflicted, of course. And it is chosen as an occupation by people of a certain type. Given the chances of receiving criticism on a daily basis, because food and eating is a very emotional thing for most of us, often whilst under pressure and barking orders at others, makes for a nerve wracking work day. Like actors, cooks, have tomatoes thrown at them. As they should have. No, kitchens are not pretty. They are stages, bared to scrutiny. One either becomes an actor, soldier or a cook. Turning on the first flames and sharpening your knives when the sun has just risen, so as to feed people when the sun sets, is a case of ‘unto the breach, once more’. And the battle is won in systematic layers; each, time consuming and, all, indispensable. That is how one makes risotto nero with squid tentacles and mussels. It has very little to do with the tentacles and mussels, except that someone must be certain that they are very, very fresh. But it really starts early in the morning with a good stock and ends, before plating, with copious amounts of hand-made butter.

Important notices:

The Glenwood Restaurant now serves lunch all week, from 12 am to 3 pm, in the form of a harvest table. We are making beautiful salads, tarts and warm dishes. You may help yourself to what you want. Take-aways are possible. Weekend lunches, and all dinners (Wednesday to Saturday) remain menu based, as they always have been.

The Glenwood Bakery now serves breakfast all day.

I love you, Thomas Mann.

I have recently discovered Thomas Mann. I am not sure how I would have turned out had I discovered Mann in my youth. But there is no doubt that my character would have been significantly, and permanently, altered on reading his work. Even after just two novels.

I first read The confessions of Felix Krull, confidence man. And then I read The Holy Sinner. Presently, for me, if a novel cannot make me laugh out loud – preferably bitterly – it is doomed at the outset. Profundity, as a rule, is ruled out. If, however, profundity, is an absolute must for the author, it should present itself properly armed with satire, or it should invoke personal embarrassment in the reader, or it should make you want to meet the author and spend a whole night holding them very tightly. When it does all three, whilst firmly prohibiting any saccharin and exalted delusions of wisdom in the reader, it is safe to call the author a genius. Thomas Mann is such a genius.

He manages to consistently make me feel as if he has seen humanity naked, finds it often wanting and just as often beautiful, but never commits himself to an opinion. But this lack of commitment does not take the same form as J. M. Coetzee’s refusal to offer a moral exemplar. It is not nearly as self-consciously detached and objective (please note, I am a fan of Coetzee’s too). Unlike Coetzee, Mann often comments through his narrators. He judges, he approves, he fears for them, he puts his reader at ease about them. But his narrators (at least, in these two novels) are themselves characters like confidence men or Catholic monks. Objectivity is thus instantly thwarted. What I have loved about them both, the confidence man narrating himself into existence and the monk narrating a very holy man, is that through their respective biases there is a sort of fictionally tempered objectivity. I suspect Mann’s reasonableness, his clarity about people, is simply a feature beyond his control. He cannot help but see things like they are. His humour is surely an extension of this reason.

But, granted, love is blind. And I am in love with Thomas Mann. How is one when one is in love with Thomas Mann? You first tread carefully to see if it is appropriate to express this love. One does not simply fall at his feet. That would be madness. A path to self-ruin. If one wants the love to be reciprocated (figuratively, of course), one investigates, plans and then approaches head on. To love Thomas Mann is to approach confidently, but be ready to retreat should his gaze begin to, as they say, ‘go right through’. That would make one invisible – the death knell to a hopeful lover. Unless one’s flaws are interesting, sophisticated and even glamorous – in the broadest sense of the word – one should rather simply be Mann-perfect. Either way, it is very evident to me that what he wants from his lover is a person who is able to temporarily bend the path of his gaze. I’ll probably never be ready, but I will declare it in this very, very private place: I love you, Thomas Mann. Also for your politics.

The meaning of a white table cloth

What does the object, a white table cloth, mean? What does it symbolise, conjure up or denote? In terms of denotation, of course, a white table cloth is a white table cloth. Since there are no words involved here, the thing denotes itself. But what it conjures up and symbolises is as varied as the cultural milieus in which this item might be put to use. It is as complex as the societies which eat from its pressed linen surfaces. There are those who flagrantly spill wine on it, those who revere it, those who regard it as an indication of their excellent choice in eating place or those who regard it as an artefact, minimally, required for civilised eating. Does the reader find this hard to believe; the claim that white table cloths mean different things to different people? Can anything be a more unassuming object than a plain of white cloth? Bear with me.

Whilst making my case about white table cloths I would like the reader to extrapolate the moral expounded here to other physical features of eating places; such as tables (with or without white table cloths) set up with wine glasses and cutlery, the absence of brightly coloured menus with seasonal, uplifting messages on them, waiters in black and white, cut flowers, cloth napkins and many more. All these features, these moments of creating an identity for an eating place, have the potential for meaning different things to different people. Sometimes, they evidently mean different things to the Patrons and the owners.

In France something called a bistro or even a café can have starched white table cloths and waiters dressed in black and white. And that is not because a café in France is like a posh restaurant in South Africa. Cafés in France are what they say they are; places where people drink coffee during the day and have light meals, and perhaps a glass of wine. To eat in a café in France is to not plan one’s outfit, gather a group of friends and secure a booking. It is a place where one arrives, perhaps, in the middle of a working day, asks for a sandwich, pastry or bowl of soup and have that, perhaps, alone over a white table cloth served by a waiter dressed in black and white. One might do so in a pair of jeans and a t-shirt. Why is this? Why are the French not intimidated by the same things that we see as formal and demanding? I am not sure. Perhaps it was their revolution that changed things. This is not the seminal question though. The point is simply to show that white table cloths and other artefacts, mean different things in different contexts.

To others a white table cloth, or tables set with wine glasses, or cloth napkins means a show. A show of pomp and ceremony; of finery and formality. But my suggestion is that to think of a white table cloth – and any of the other artefacts mentioned – as necessarily signifying formality is either a sad petit bourgeois hangover or it is an unresolved childhood fear of bed linen and going to sleep at night. White table cloths, wine glasses, rows of cutlery, cut flowers are beautiful, and beauty is supposed to bring succour to the artistic soul, the unconstrained soul, in pursuit of finer things. This is surely the only way to think of such things. Beyond social demarcations and etiquette – into a meritocratic world. A world where a beautifully arranged space can simply be there to form a backdrop to a quick bowl of soup and a glass of wine.

Bernadette’s Face

Bernadette’s mother, imminent scholar and great intellectual, had relentlessly cautioned Bernadette about the vagaries of social networking. But Bernadette was always more her father’s daughter; a girl with a propensity for the fickleness of fashion and capriciousness of social success. However, it would be a mistake to, therefore, think that she was not capable of the sort of scholarly gravitas that her mother was. Lo! not in the least. Bernadette was prodigiously talented. She simply did not think that book learning would bring her any joy. And Bernadette believed everything she thought. This was an ongoing luxury, which she had gifted herself on her sixth birthday.

Social networking is something she indulged in several times a week. Many times her social networking engagement consisted of finding interesting photographs to illustrate some thought she was compelled to share. Mostly the search for the photograph, illustration or digital representation of a renaissance or medieval painting ended in a choice which was completely unrelated to her initial thought. But Bernadette was unperturbed by the absence of an overt relationship between the thought and the illustration thereof. She always believed that rationality is overrated. As with self-criticism.

However, despite her own penchant for the wistful and vapid in herself, Bernadette could not tolerate such qualities in others. (This should come as no surprise to the Reader; that Bernadette permits herself to hold inconsistent views was explained in the previous paragraph.) It was her aversion for the vulgar immediacy of venting feelings, ill-considered and subjective, and of articulating thoughts, uncritical and messy, that made her her mother’s child. And such venting and articulating was a singular function of social networking. She would sit, wrapped in emerald green silks (if on Wednesday, fuchsia lambs’ wool if on Friday), and let her warm tears flow, as she read the upbraiding by those who thought they finally have reason to hate her. She listened to them find the petty flaws among her many perfections, and watched her enemies turn them inside out, expose them to the world or simply whisper tiny poisons in her ear. She would listen as they make her failings louder and uglier than they really are and then felt them discarding her, their social networking victim, slowly palpitating like a dying heart in the wet drains of her own despair. Left for dead.

It was always at this point (being left for dead) that Bernadette would turn her face, the epitome of pre-Raphaelite perfection, towards a cold, small glass of Vodka on her table. She would drink deeply. She would turn off the life of that garish, uncouth world, knowing it would nevertheless unrelentingly continue. But she would feel bravery and clear headedness saturate her being with another cold, small glass of Vodka. She would dress in an armour of silver and gold satin, with a helmet of pearls, take up her Vorpal Sword (thanks to Lewis Carol), and dance with Only Everyone Who Loves Her, until the sun comes up.

Staying on.

Less than two months into the life of The Glenwood Restaurant (and less than four years into the life of The Glenwood Bakery) it is high time to look at the nature of what makes for very old, near historic, eating places. You may laugh, dear Patron, but a wise and charming little blonde girl once said to her bitter and twisted, wine swilling father, who was sneering at a building of 100 years being called ‘old’: ‘Buildings first have to be a 100 years old to get to a 1000’.

But this missive is not about buildings. It is about establishments. In particular eating establishments. Places where people have chosen to eat and drink for, sometimes, more than a hundred years. Checchino dal 1887, in Rome is one. El-Fishawi in Cairo, a café more than 250 years old, is another. The Russian Tea Room, in New York, now 89 years old, has never been a place which bows to the pressures of the New York reverie of haute design. Its focus is elsewhere.

Even though visceral atmosphere and visual aesthetics are extremely important for enduring patronage and, consequently, longevity, the eating and drinking places which live for a very long time are hardly ever trend oracles. Trend oracles, even when extremely beautiful and elegant, if also faddish, are expected to be fast paced and ever changing. They themselves create such expectations. After all, the people who are expected to love them are similarly fast changing; wall paper might be the final word on decorating this season, but it could also be the death of a restaurateur the next. Such eating houses’ lives are accelerated and their deaths always imminent. This, of course, has a beauty of its own. But the truly creative genius of, for instance, elBulli and others like it, in both food and restaurant design, is not sustainable.

Sukiyabashi Jiro, still in its first generation, is patently not about faddish trend. If it ceases to exist it will not be because sushi is out of fashion or because people have become aesthetically inured to its interior. It will not be because what it costs to make even Jiro’s sushi is financial lunacy. And this is because Jiro’s sushi is made by a small group of people who do so with near monastic dedication. The luxury experienced is contained in the freshness of the fish and silkiness of the rice, the skill of the knife work and the delicacy of the pickles. For the cooks at Jiro, feeding people is about incremental steps towards perfection, in a very narrow and very old tradition. If Sukiyabashi Jiro ceases to exist it will be because the people who work there have decided to extinguish it. And this, ironically, is a credit to its patrons; people who understand fully what it takes to labour at that sort of food, and who will continue to eat there whilst someone is willing to do that sort of work.

It would, however, be a mistake to read this letter as a dismissal of haute design. This it is, by no means. There can be no greater disciples of the pursuit of beauty; higher, faddish and other. Nor is the claim that all old eating places produce excellent food. This is simply an attempt to isolate what it is that hardly ever enables the longevity of eating places; it is certainly not novel concepts, food wise, nor slavish reverie of transient visual aesthetics.

The Importance of Making Bread

We feel it is necessary, in the wake of having opened a little restaurant, to say something about having a bakery too. For many people who have known Adam Robinson of old, his career took a strange and incomprehensible turn when he started baking bread. There are many who could not take ‘this bread baking business’ seriously. Undoubtedly, the analysis of why he did this yielded many extraordinary theories. But what came through in conversation many times, and still does, is that it is a good thing that he is finally cooking food again. That he has a ‘proper’ restaurant. That he is doing what he is meant to do.

The bakery is, of course, not by any means a proper restaurant. It is not a restaurant of any stripe. Bread is not quail on semolina gnocchi, chicken parfait or pappardelle with borlotti beans. But to dismiss what bread is to nearly every traditional cuisine found worldwide, is to not know what food is. To not understand how many Western European cuisines, to mention but a few, has as a staple, bread, is to miss what is fundamental to eating in those parts of the world. It is for this reason that most chefs who love food (and there are many who do not) will take seriously what bread contributes to their menu. And if they take seriously what things taste like, bread, even if only served in small quantities at their restaurant, should be excellent like the rest of what is offered on the menu.

The Glenwood Bakery is a paean to bread. And it signifies Robinson’s interest in eating. It is, consequently, a big mistake to see his interest, and this is interest is ongoing, in bread as an aberration to his career. Learning to make good loaves is a necessary and natural part of learning about food. And, given the rather academic dedication which knowledge of bread demands, this pursuit is very far from an interruption to a career in food. The cognoscenti might even insist that a serious excursion into bread is utterly required for a complete set of culinary skills – a complete set, of course, only being an ideal.

It is from the love for flour, salt and water that also comes the love for pasta. It comes from understanding the technical nature of working successfully with these ingredients, that a cook and restaurateur understands the specific types of menus and kitchens that are a function of these foods. It frequently is to a good sandwich that a chef comes home late at night. Similarly, it seems perfectly normal to get into bed with a plate piled high with butter and Bovril on sourdough toast, with tea, after a day of cooking some quite sophisticated plates of food. And, when doing so, it seems nearly inevitable to find oneself in a state of drowsy ecstasy at what one is putting into one’s mouth, understanding fully, what it takes to make that bread.

These words are an acknowledgement of what The Glenwood Bakery is to The Glenwood Restaurant.

If writers wrote the world…

…and Burgess were the author, it would be the richest of worlds. Where it is most sensual, most erotic and most immodest it would also be most dry, plain and prudent. Where it is most funny it would be the saddest too. And if this sounds to the reader like nothing more than a postmodern hymn to the Nebulous Nature of Everything, then such a reader would be wrong. Nothing could be further from the truth. Burgess, we know, even though he has not been asked as such, is entirely against postmodernism.

How would he manage to write the world like this? Take as examples two books recently read: ‘Nothing like the Sun’ and ‘A Dead Man in Deptford’. The first is about William Shakespeare and the second about Christopher Marlowe. ‘Nothing Like the Sun’, which I have written about before but cannot stop thinking about, is light in the sense that Shakespeare, according to Burgess, is not an intellectual, nor is he particularly complex as a person. This becomes more apparent when one realises, upon reading Dead Man, how Burgess does, in fact, render a darkly intellectual and unusually complex person. Shakespeare’s aspirations are normal; he hopes for success in his craft, recognition by his peers and financial prosperity. He works very hard. But he is also a romantic, a hopeless disciple of Eros. Yet, not once, in the rendering of William Shakespeare is his romantic nature made saccharin or his very normal human ambitions, trite.

Burgess can do this because he seems to be devoid of platitudes. Like Shakespeare does, he writes even the most tender afflictions in shards. The most adolescent heartache and most naïve and deluded mandates are written in prose which mesmerises because of its musicality but never hypnotises due to overuse and predictability. In other words, ‘Nothing like the Sun’ is entirely devoid of clichés.
‘A Dead Man in Deptford’, by contrast, is deeply sexual. It is dark and, short of the male entanglement of bodies, is lacking in kindness everywhere. It is unapologetically so. Burgess writes a person who is intellectually fertile and morally confused. His Marlowe vacillates between a true Christian sense of compassion and love for his fellow man, in the Platonic sense, and a cynicism so austere as to have him writing Faustus. His Marlowe never resolves this conflict; not with the application of any amount of philosophical abstraction, scholasticism or hedonistic indulgences. Where Shakespeare is innocence Marlowe is the opposite, whatever that might be. The point, here, is that Burgess, in his genius, captures this conflict without resorting to the ever threatening sentimentality of angst and the usual psychobabble that some writers seem to need. There is no free association, no dreamscapes and no tears. It is just plain and simple blood, gore, betrayal and fear. It is about sex and power and a properly sublimated hope for love.

If Burgess wrote the world, it would be clever, funny, clear and mostly unexpected. It would be incapable of containing anything ‘comfortably numb’ (gratitude to Pink Floyd, for this phrase).

Provenance

Why has this become so important? In the restaurant world, ‘Provenance’ (yes with a capital ‘P’) has become a word imbued with a magical spell. Akin to Artisanal, Sustainable, Local or Hand-Made. Words that have been hijacked by the world of ‘creatives’ and subsequently shorn of meaning, but, nevertheless, used over and over again to persuade the audience that what they’re experiencing is something of value.

Despite the degeneration of the word, the idea is, I would claim, important and ripe with consequences.

Why? Not because a lack of food miles is any real contributor to a lessening of the burning of fossil fuels. Not because a local farmer is necessarily more worth supporting than one a thousand miles away. Not because a restaurant is necessarily one of quality because farms or regions are mentioned on their menu.

But if we feel the produce is sourced carefully then can we also not feel that the provider of your meal executes his craft with some care. When we read that our steak comes from, for instance, Greenfields Farm, it is not because we intend on taking a drive up there at the weekend (where is it? The Midlands, The Cape, Namibia?) to inspect the happy cows that are intended for slaughter. It is because the naming of the place gives us some reassurance that this inspection is at least possible. It reassures us that our cows are not condemned to the misery of a feedlot or our chickens to battery conditions. We are reassured that the beasts or, indeed, vegetables are raised by a human being rather than a corporation. We might even go further and hope that the naming of the farm indicates that the size of the operation is on a scale that we can conceive, not the standard industrial process that produces such quantities of chicken thighs, beef fillets or breadcrumbed shapes of fat that the counting is beyond comprehension.

This is as a consumer. As a cook, I am interested in provenance so that I too can source the best possible produce for my kitchen and follow the trail of some fellow obsessive.

Food miles has been mentioned as a chimera for our ecological conscience, but distance is important for other reasons – reasons of freshness. The economy of shipping vegetables of fruit over thousands of miles has been well documented – particularly in relation to our individual trips to the shops to buy our 2 kgs of potatoes. But there is an inevitable deterioration in quality because of increased storage time. The fruit will have been picked unripe, the product will have been grown with storage as one of the major virtues and the process of large scale shipping can only be worth it if the stuff has been grown on an industrial level.

It is for this reason why we try to source our produce locally. Our milk, cream and cheeses are from the Midlands, where the churches are full and the goats are fat. Our olives and olive oil comes from the Cape. Our flour comes from farms in the Free State, the Berg and a Durban mill. Our meat comes from a single butcher that either owns or knows the farms on which the animals are raised. These farms are nearly all free range and practice humane animal husbandry. The sad exception is our pork, but there are loader and loader whispers of this changing for the better. Our charcuterie is prepared by a family not 5 kms from our shops. Our eggs are free range and delivered by the man who wakes the chickens up early in the morning. The fish and shellfish come from these shores only, and, ideally, from the boats or rods that immerse themselves in our bit of the Indian Ocean. The herbs and salads are grown by ourselves and, those that aren’t, are grown and delivered by the only man I know who gets up at the same time as our Bakers. Our mushrooms, other than those that are foraged, come from a passionate mycophile in Isipingo. For the vegetables and fruit that I can’t source individually or organically, we use the Durban municipal market. This market is often frustrating for the lack of choice, but the flip side of that is that it is local and seasonal. We are privileged to be living in a city that does not provide raspberries 12 months of the year. Where we welcome the first asparagus of spring and celebrate spotting the ephemeral artichoke.

So let us all celebrate the local wealth and wallow in the unique terroir of our chosen home.

Bernadette chooses a dress

By the time Bernadette had received the invitation to Mr. Moon’s annual party, she had already changed her mind seventeen times. Year after year, the party is left with firm resolutions about what she will wear the following year, and even firmer resolutions about what she will not wear. This means that the first change of mind happens about three weeks after the previous party. And so it goes, until the following annual shindig.
Being capricious in this manner had always been a matter of hot philosophical dispute in the childhood home of Bernadette. Her mother, eminent intellectual and earnest scholar, held that to be capricious is to be fickle. Bernadette was always a little disappointed in her mother’s piffling contribution; just a synonym, is what it was. Bernadette maintained that words, unless in a poem, could not really change anything in the world. Synonyms, least of all.

Her father, hopeless socialite and unhinged fashion zealout, was of the opinion that, once one accepts that decisions are based on reasons and that it is the reasons which change, being capricious can be as rational as many other dispositions. Bernadette thought this a very sophisticated argument. But what does she know? Tripe! her mother would exclaim in disbelief. To which her father responded pleasantly; with onions or curried? Bernadette could never decide which would be better.

This year, deciding on a dress for Mr Moon’s party required additional attention. There would be a chef that Bernadette had followed across the world. He was to cook for Moon this very month. This made her options all the more confounded. She had had his lamb fillet with truffled gnocchi in Cannes. She had eaten his red mullet gaudi in Barcelona. Bernadette had consumed with a great gluttonous speed his baked gammon, served in an earthenware dish. Bernadette could not cook. She could never have a conversation with him using the lexicon of cookery. But she could dress for the meals that night.

She was to stand alone, in the heat of impossible choice, with the world of colour, texture, shape and proportion to bear alone on her shoulders. The pressure was nearly unbearable, but asking others inevitably increases the options. Bernadette had to resist this temptation. She had consistently ruled out black. Why? It was difficult to find an answer to this question. But she had no time for reasons at this stage. She had only three months left. After a breathless and sleepless journey into the world of multitudinous whites and countless greens, she landed on a dress that would float when she moved and would hang plumb down when she was still. It happened to be green. The green of the sea, when it is green from algae and grey skies. The colour was an accident. But a happy one.

Bernadette would never know whether the chef saw her. But she knew that when she ate his freshly extruded bucatini, prepared as a tribute to Arabic Sicily, with sultanas, saffron and fennel, she forgot her dress completely. It hung quietly from her shoulders, like a small child waiting for attention from his father, while she was lost in a complex history of food, which is, after all, the history of the world.
Exciting notice: The Glenwood Restaurant is officially open on the 14th of April. See our website for booking details. Although we love people just arriving to eat, bookings are recommended. We do not yet have a liquor license. Bring your own.

Gluten, that evil

To follow is a one question interview with the writer Michael Pollan. For those who are no familiar with Michael Pollan, he is a journalist, activist and writer. He lectures at the Berkeley School of Journalism. He has written some extraordinary books on food; its history and the myths surrounding it. Modern Farming asks Pollan this question about his opinion of gluten intolerance as expressed in his book, Cooked. This excerpt is, of course, too short and too superficial to be regarded as a serious attempt to explain anything about gluten intolerance. Cooked says much more. But the overriding thought expressed is one we think worth taking seriously.

MF: I have to ask you about the gluten segment in Cooked, because I know that raised a lot of people’s hackles. You insinuate that gluten sensitivity is actually a psychological phenomenon for many people. What is the evidence for that?

MP: A lot of people really do have this condition, and it’s important to make clear that celiac disease is a real phenomenon that affects between one and two percent of the population. And for those people eating any kind of gluten is going to cause serious problems. And then you have a much larger group of people who are gluten intolerant. That’s where things get squishy. These are people who have trouble digesting gluten, but it doesn’t lead to the same kind of medical problems as celiac disease does. Then you have people who are part of what I think is social contagion—people hearing about gluten as this great evil. We have this long history of looking for the evil nutrient to explain our unhappiness. That spotlight right now falls on gluten. It was on fat before, and for a long time it was on sugar.

So in the middle though of that Venn diagram, you do have a group of people who have a real serious problem tolerating gluten. And that can be explained several ways. I’m not sure which way is the most important; they don’t contradict one another though, so it may be that all of them are true or partly true.

One is that we make bread differently than we used to. We leaven bread very quickly and use yeast to do it, rather than long sourdough fermentation. There is very good research from Italy to suggest that long sourdough fermentation breaks down the two peptides that are implicated in gluten intolerance. And that the sourdough process, basically the microbes in the sourdough starter, are putting out enzymes that are breaking down complex proteins and that’s what gluten is. So maybe the problem is that the way we are making bread is changing.

Theory number two is we are getting a lot more gluten in our diet then we used to. We get it not just from bread, but gluten is used in a great many processed foods to give them a stretchy or chewy quality. It’s a filler. So maybe we are being overexposed to gluten because we’re getting it completely unprocessed by microbes in many, many other foods.

The third is that disorders in our microbiome—the fact that our guts are not optimally healthy because of our fast-food diet—are leading to a whole range of problems. Gluten intolerance perhaps needs to be looked at along with the high rates of allergies, asthma, and autoimmune diseases, which have stumped many health experts. They are all way up. Peanut allergies are a great example. So we may have just a kind of general digestive malaise where our bodies are confused about who his friend and who is foe among all these nutrients and is just fighting these big proteins that should be regarded as friends.

All these theories may have part of the answer, but I have yet to see any research that tells me, “aha,” this is what it’s about.
At The Glenwood Bakery we do not make gluten free products because it seems impossible to make a good loaf of bread without some quantity of gluten in it. Our raison d’etre is culinary, as always.

Even more ovens, pots and knives. A relatively important announcement.

Adam Robinson is opening a restaurant. Despite his passion for bread and the Robinsons’ love for their bakery, Mr. Robinson has sustained an injury to his wrist from making bread. Lo! the prognosis, from both the orthodox to the not so orthodox health practitioners, is that this injury is degenerative, unless he stops.

But all is thrills anyway! To keep the man off the streets, absolutely everyone knows he must take to The Stove. The Robinsons’ have, consequently, signed a lease for premises, not in Madrid, not in Johannesburg and never in Cape Town!, but in beloved Glenwood.
The Glenwood Bakery remains irrevocably ensconced in their hearts and will continue to feature heavily in their everyday work. Teams of bakers are being prepared. People are getting ready for great things, but now on two fronts.

Beautiful hosts and chefs are being imported from London for the restaurant. Here are some brief profiles of the people who will be serving the great and good of Durban.

Robinson’s first instruction came mostly from Alastair Little, from L’Escargot in Soho, where he eventually took over as head chef from Little at his restaurant, ‘192’. During the years working as head chef in ‘192’, he spent all his money eating in good restaurants and doing stints of learning, in England and in France, with people such as Mouilleron, the Troisgros and the Roux brothers, where he was taught and tortured in equal measure. He quickly found himself at the heart of a very fertile period during London’s culinary ‘catching up’ when he opened the The Brackenbury, then The Chiswick, and then The Salt House and The Bollo. These were all places which brought light to ‘unlikely’ areas in London and formed a part of the social movements of the young and beautiful creatures of the night. His outside catering company was called The Artichoke and Anchovy.

Adelaide Robinson, Adam’s daughter, who will manage and host, was raised a daughter of the London food revolution that her parents were part of. She slept many of her babyhood sleeps in the haze of people cooking and eating, and played many of her childhood games between the kitchens and dining rooms of her parents. Eating good food and knowing about good wines is as natural, for Miss Robinson, as playing at hopscotch or marbles is for other children. She has spent the last few years in London working in hospitality, until recently summonsed. Her deep and natural talent for hosting and service, and her understanding of food and wine, is something which cannot be taught to people and is the reason why she finds herself back in Durban, at her father’s side.

Mr. Stanyer started out working in hotels in Berkshire and Leicestershire in England, including Cliveden House, which was voted best hotel in England. He moved to London to work at Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant, Royal Hospital Road, which was Ramsay’s number one restaurant with three Michelin stars. From there he left to go to Daphne’s (at Caprice Holdings) and thence to Launceston Place as sous chef. Launceston Place won its first Michelin star in the first 6 months during the time that Stanyer worked there. When he left London to join Adam Robinson in Durban, he was working as head chef at The Butcher’s Hook, a fashionable gastro pub in Chelsea.

Carin Robinson has spent the last 10 years of her life becoming proficient in the art of abstraction, reduction and obfuscation. She also writes arguments. In other words, she has obtained a doctoral degree in philosophy. Having thus qualified herself for a nearly non-existent job market she now writes copy, chiefly for her husband’s enterprises, The Glenwood Bakery and, soon to be, The Glenwood Restaurant. One denouement of her relatively recent exposure to the business of food and wine, is that Robinson has developed a morbid fascination for social media, and the role that it evidently plays in the profiling of their businesses. It is this fascination, as well as her interest in the physical aesthetics and operation of eating places, which presently occupy her.

Yes, it will be a family affair. The menu is inspired by Robinson’s recent fascination in all things wheat; so pasta! including the rest of the contemporary Western European tradition from which he hails.

The Glenwood Bakery Facebook site, as well as a few of these Newsletters, will keep you posted as to the website for the restaurant and the eventual day on which it will be opened.

April will be the month.

Scallop and chocolate mousse, wrapped in seaweed

Some things are just not meant to be. Even if they can be dreamt, and experienced in a dream, they should, nevertheless, be wholly banned from reality.

Last night Someone dreamt of a warm scallop and chocolate mousse, wrapped in seaweed. They were like little parcels akin to sushi rolls and dolmades. In the dream, these foul parcels were also tasted – fully inclusive of the mouth and nasal experiences which tasting involves. Upon questioning the dreamer, he volunteered that the mouth feel was not half bad, but the flavour, a nightmare. It is hard to write about other people’s dreams. The Reader must use her imagination.

Yet, some frightful combinations, in fact, do make it from the dreamscapes of cooks into the visceral reality of their kitchens. That this happens shows extraordinary self-belief and an utterly uncritical intellectual commitment to the thought that dreams are guiding lights, prophetic or expressions of genius. Dreams, more than likely, are irrational combinations of experiences, or feared and anticipated experienced. The point is that sometimes they evidently are prophetic, even when they needn’t be.

One such dream that did make it into the kitchen of A Certain Cook, during the exuberance of youth, was steamed calf’s livers served with soy. Cooking and serving this, as he says now, was his road to Damascus. It was here that the invaluable lesson was learnt that culinary rules are there for good reason. Therefore, when broken, the reasons should be even better. It was on offering this confounded dish to his patrons, that “the light came on”. And, indeed, the world is a better place for this lesson having been learnt.

But it is well known that, despite the manifest horror of some food combinations, they still endure in the world of flesh and blood. Perhaps, it could be argued, this is how new conventions are formed. It is possible. Time will tell. But even if they do make it to the status of Respectable Convention, there are some conventions that simply should not be.

The famous Roux brothers, may they not rest in peace, served lobsters with mangoes. That Poseidon did not emerge in his full aquatic glory and strike them down, is surely only a sign that they were colluding with the devil himself. One is left with the ever bothersome question; is there a wine which can be prudently had with lobster and mango? To ask this question is to come to a similar conclusion as when asking whether 2 and 2 can ever be anything other than 4. It is simply impossible. And to make something with lobster, that is not curry (yum!), that cannot be had with wine, is surely a colossal mistake.

The word ‘right’ can mean so many things, including the opposite to left and morally good. But it is its capacity to mean ‘correct’ which I write about here. That some things which are dreamt up actually become material, is simply not right. Such as pineapples on pizzas.

Licentious behaviour and patrician laws

If one were to start a little restaurant in Durban one could easily find oneself faced with the horrific reality of there being either a church or a school, usually both, within 500 metres of every beautiful Victorian building which might house such a little restaurant. Places of worship and learning, states the 2014 amendment to the 2010 liquor license act of KZN, cannot be close to where alcohol is sold. Alcohol must, consequently, be moved.

This is not a concern for people who like to cook, eat and drink because of the nature of either schools or churches, unless they are inherently ugly buildings. But the consequences of such an act, combined with the current realities of town planning, are such that a place which aims to sell extraordinary food, must also now be a temperance hall. The tragedy of this, the violation of at least some of the conventions of selling and eating food, is one of gigantean proportion. Indeed, to not offer wine with food, makes some significant types of worship impossible. To not savour the coupling of the fermented grape with a bowl of carefully prepared pasta is a violation of aesthetic principles and personal freedom. Not everyone worships at the altars of invisible beings. Not everyone wants to drink orange juice with a carefully crafted spaghetti vongole. Not every cook wants to see their precisely prepared sous vide steak eaten whilst quaffing coca cola or wrongly selected wine.

There is not a place in the world where the incongruent combination of the liberal ideal of individual freedom, combined with prohibitionist laws, has not ended in excess and in tears. That school children and worshipping families cannot be protected from the vices of wine imbibing sinners by other more sophisticated laws is simply incredible. Such as the existing laws of selling to under aged children. If worshipping families cannot rely on their own sense of what is morally right to keep them away from dens of iniquity, then of what use is the hours spent in pews, listening to someone promulgating obedience to an ontologically compromised being?
But to hope for rationality from a patrician and prohibitionist society is to draw water from a stone. One must therefore rely on the pressures of economics and logistics to correct such folly. One must wait to see if nearly the entire Florida Road will be vacated, whether many places in Musgrave Road will be closed down, whether Durban’s beautifully bustling central business district will be voided of all the little bars and restaurants interspersed between its churches; Anglican, Roman Catholic and Charismatic. Where will these places leave to? What will happen to the business and pleasure of so many Durbanites?

We wait.

Morals about Italian Food

Alastair Little writes in Italian Kitchen, Recipes from La Cacciata, about what, to him, makes excellent food. There is much with which we agree, that are also principles of our own, and have hopefully applied at the bakery in one way or more. Of course, we disagree that patrons should not take any notice of the menu and only listen to the waiter (should the waiter not represent the menu, and the menu the kitchen’s aims?). Nor do we agree that the cheapest food is usually the best food on the menu – a dish of steamed langoustines has got to be better, and more expensive, than many other things on the same menu. However, the chief moral expressed below by Little is indubitably a true one: making food that is expensive, complicated and exotic is no guarantee that it is good; it often indicates exactly the opposite.

“There is no real Italian food outside of Italy. Sure, there is trendy Italianate food, at best a delicious pastiche, and there are occasional flashes of brilliance from neighbourhood Marios or Francos, but on the whole the thing has become a bit of a performance, a production of fashion and wishful thinking. In Italy it all happens rather more easily; good food, be it at home or in restaurants, is an everyday occurrence: common place, familiar and, exactly as expected, delicious. This cooking is done with whatever produce is seasonally available to a repertoire of orally transmitted recipes, largely of local origin. The importance of this locality cannot be stressed enough. It is almost fatuous to discuss Italian food as a whole when you bear in mind that the country is still imperfectly unified, and anything from another region is always referred to straniero, foreign. The only common denominator between the various regional kitchens is a fondness for pasta.

In restaurants the best food is often the cheapest. You would be wise to ignore the menu, particularly if it is translated into four languages, and accept the waiter’s advice. Indeed he may wish to settle your pasta order before you have sat down. The posher the restaurant the more the simplicity of the food disappears, except in a few exalted cases where the concept of elegant restraint is carried to extremes. Less definitely becomes more when you get your bill.

Italians wouldn’t dream of buying food in supermarkets – they use them for toothpaste, nappies and bleach, that’s about it. Markets thrive, speciality shops still prosper, and their customers await with relish the seasonal arrival of locally produced food, the canon of fruit and vegetables from spring to summer, unfolding into autumn with game, mushrooms and truffles then rounding off in winter with the new pulses and olive oil. You can be certain that everyone knows exactly what to do with this stuff as it arrives.

This is not a Utopian view. One can and frequently does eat badly is Italy, but that is due to sloppy cooking and most often found in areas over-infested with tourists. On a day-to-day basis the Italians eat better than any nation I know. The underlying bone structure of the food is so fabulous that misapplied cosmetic touches or familiarity cannot completely mask it. Prosaic excellence is the quality that has entranced me for twenty years, and what this book hopes to communicate.”

Bernadette and Shakespeare

When Bernadette was half way through the reading of ‘Nothing like the Sun’, her veneration for Burgess had reached near fever pitch. Mr Burgess writes a story about Shakespeare’s writing, written as if Shakespeare had written it himself, but in the third person. It was as if the mind of William Shakespeare had duplicated itself and was now his most faithful witness, providing its most accurate testimony. All in the sounds, sights, aromas and perpetual inebriation of Elizabethan England.

And there she found WS awash in a writer’s envy, a husband’s hopelessness and a young man’s lust. Bernadette, with her heart swollen towards the frailties of this poet, watched in horror as he warred, with nothing but rhymes and characters, against the creeping grasp of an underclass. She exalted in how material victories came through sentences and couplets. She despaired, with him, when gold encrusted lords commissioned his talents to fill their empty lives. She hated the compromise of his life and writing but, with him, loved the imperfection of being human.

Bernadette, being herself of a poetic spirit and artistic temperament, would often sup on the bitter gall of commissioned words. The half truths of over boiled characters and sourly pickled plots. She understood the debasement of being loved for a talent, but always being asked to do something another way. She sighed deeply, pondering her artist’s lot, and dropped a large warm tear upon her freshly written couplet. Her mother, the personified acerbic wit of Dorothy Parker, always warned her against excelling in anything but being a socialite. Only inherently false things can never be corrupted, she used to say. Bernadette could never work out how a claim could be so true and so false at the same time. She knew this ought not to be possible.

But Bernadette was of a kindred spirit with both Burgess and Shakespeare. Undaunted by piffling conundrums, she must chip away at the dead wood which obscures her better work; her best thinking. Not being deterred by the muddledness of the artist’s life, she solved with metre, rhyme and alliteration the seeming impossibility of her mother’s wisdom.

If true be the aptness of a claim
And false be the inaptness of the same
Then it must be either, it cannot be both
It stands married to only one, under logical oath
But if true be the aptness of a claim
And false be the wickedness of the same
Then it could be both, with no threat to reason
As the love of a false queen, is an act of true treason

So what is it about coffee?

There is undoubtedly a resurgent enthusiasm for coffee and coffee houses. Much media space and many dinner party conversations are filled with analysis of coffee and support for that roaster over this or that barista over this.

There have been and are other gustatory fads – cocktails (and the terrible flaring competitions), estate olive oils, single varietal chocolate, bread, smoking, ageing meat etc. They come and go ad nauseam, ad vomitarium and are always accompanied by the same pretension, ego filled attempts at connoisseurship and pseudo expertise. These crazes are not without worth or purpose, though. Hopefully, as they pass, they leave behind a greater awareness of the food we eat, an appreciation of the aesthetic and some knowledge.

Coffee seems to be the craze that has taken hold in Durban. I don’t see many cocktail bars or wine bars and maybe a smattering of artisanal beer brewers. Few talk to me of the ageing of their steaks or the virtues of pig chitterlings in this meat crazed country. But every day I am congratulated, regaled, threatened, ‘educated’ and otherwise beset upon by coffee experts. We even have a rather good Durban grown magazine devoted to coffee. But why coffee? There is the obvious religious influence of a large and vibrant Muslim community that foreswear the intoxication of alcohol but embrace the intoxication of caffeine. Nevertheless why coffee?

Coffee and the drinking thereof seems to have hailed from Ethiopia in about the 11th Century, spread to the Yemen and thence the rest of Gulf. As always the Europeans were late in the act, though again as always, it hasn’t stopped them claiming the drink as their own. It has been banned by both Islam and Christendom at various times - sometimes for health reason, sometimes for economic and often as a symbol of political agitation. Apparently coffee houses worldwide have been hot beds of revolution (this latter tradition we would like revive).
There are more than a few stimulants that we are all (or maybe not all) familiar with – sugar, amphetamine, MDMA, tobacco, cocaine, chocolate, ephedrine and caffeine. My personal favourite is definitely caffeine and has been for more than a few decades. Its current legality is most convenient.

It is without doubt physically and mentally addictive. My personal experience of rare mornings (or even whole days, heaven forfend) deprived of a cup of coffee are evidence enough without the voluminous writing on the subject. Why do I happily submit to this yoke of physical addiction – uniquely so in my life?

What does caffeine do to us? Apparently all it does is block something called adenosine (the thing that makes you sleepy) being absorbed (for a while only). And the side effects are increased dopamine and adrenaline production. So you get happy and stimulated (for a while only). So all this cafe talk of revolution, plotting and general conviviality seems to be a result of an excess of joy.
As the by-line in the Coffee Magazine has it, ‘coffee makes everything better’.

Finally, I would like to relate a story of a controlled tasting that we held at The Bakery a couple of years ago. We invited three local roasters and a few of our cognoscenti customers to a blind tasting. The three roasters bought their chosen blend and we blind tasted and rated them in espresso, cappuccino and plunger form. This tasting was run by Mel of The Coffee Magazine. No one, not even the roasters could identify the different coffees accurately. The only taster who got close was our then manager and barista Toko Cele.

Despite all this, The Glenwood Bakery proudly takes part and encourages this craze. We are now offering cold brew coffee from a Colombo blend especially developed for cold brew. We have also bought a second grinder in preparation for a supply of premium beans from the new roaster on the block in Morrison St, Dan Erasmus of Firebird Roastery. So we look forward to all kinds of caffeine fueled conversations filled with pretension, ego, knowledge and at least some revolution.

The Physiology of Taste; apology to Brillat Savarin

Okay, let’s get technical for a moment (if for no other reason than to convince you that I know what I’m talking about, though whether I do is debatable).

Taste is gustation and takes place in the mouth. It is now made up of five factors – salt, bitter, sour, sweet and umami (the latter has only recently been accepted in the West but has been accepted in Japan since the beginning of the 20th century). I am also convinced there are others, specific bitter taste receptors and those for different salts. And no one will convince me that part of the unique taste of artichokes takes place anywhere other than the mouth.

There is chemethesis – the burning of chillis, the cooling of menthol.

We also have ‘mouth feel’ which is the active manipulation of the food stuff in the mouth by the tongue and palate. Much as one feels by pushing objects with one’s finger. This is known as active taste or somatosensory stimulation.

Then, and most importantly, we have smell, or olfaction. There are two types of olfaction – orthonasal and retronasal. Orthonasal is the obvious one and is when one inhales or sniffs in smells. Retronasal is what happens when we think we are tasting foods. This is when the odours travel from the mouth and throat to the nose in breathing out. The last is most important when ingesting and is the reason why food is bland when our noses are blocked.

What is most interesting about this, though, is that the two types of olfaction have different receptors that are linked to two different parts of the brain.

Food odours seem to have a more a pronounced effect on the retronasal parts of the brain than non-food/chemical odours. In other words, it is during exhalation that food is ‘tasted’.

Retronasal olfaction (tasting when breathing out) is linked to more complex parts of the brain and the memory centres, particularly the long term and emotional memory centres. Is this to retain the experience of pleasant tastes or is it to do with the interpretation of the taste by our memory and mental constructions? No doubt both. Our childhood food was remembered and then feeds back in to our adult experiences to categorize them.

Mum’s cakes always were and always will be the best. I don’t actually buy in to this last sentence but it works as a metaphor!

Holidays

It turns out that people need holidays. To Mr Robinson’s considerable surprise, Sbu, a disturbingly indispensable part of the baking at the The Glenwood Bakery, recently needed one. After Sbu had been forgiven for his most unusual request, Robinson acquiesced to doing three consecutive weeks of baking, relinquishing the usual nonsense of trying to rest over Mondays and Tuesdays. Good heavens! Weekends are for the overly pampered and faint hearted, he told himself. Sbu, to his enormous credit, decided to go to the Cape to present his magnificent self to various famous Cape bakers. There he did some interesting work with people like Trevor Daly. He returned, in the nick of time, we assure our Beloved Readers and Patrons, bolstered by widened horizons and positively glowing from happiness at returning to the coal face of baking in Glenwood. Robinson would have cried from the relief of seeing Sbu’s lovely face, were it not that he is English.

The release from baking for twenty one consecutive days, naturally, in itself invited a trip to the Cape Winelands. There the Robinsons planned to again eat at some of the much famed Cape restaurants, drink wine, sleep and read. A small self-catering cottage on a wine farm, with a ‘fully equipped’ kitchen also enabled the expression of some culinary fantasies at home. Staying home is an important part of rest and recuperation, the doctor said. Something like convalescence to some Victorians; absolutely necessary.

Despite having had two good meals, one at a very established tapas restaurant in Long Street, named Fork, and another on the Jordan Wine Estate near Stellenbosch, one of the best meals over the three days was cooked at home. Surprisingly, it was not made by the One Who Was Trained to Cook in France. It was made by the South African who, whilst sipping deeply on a glass of chardonnay and dreaming of the green, green hills of Natal, made the simplest of dishes; fresh green asparagus and butter sauce. Here the recipe is formalised, as under ideal conditions, by the real cook:

Asparagus with beurre fondue

Pick and cook them as if it was one operation. You cut the stalks with a small serrated knife on or just below the ground. If you have cut them young enough there shouldn’t be too much of a woody base. Bring them into the kitchen and snap off what woody base there is, if any. Throw your grass into a capacious pan of boiling, salted water.

While they are boiling, take a tablespoon of their water and put it into a small pan. Whisk cold, unsalted butter into the water piece by piece. This is an emulsified sauce, not the classical English greasy condiment of unseasoned drawn butter.

As one piece of the butter is whisked into the water add another. Then season with salt, pepper and lemon juice. Pour over the cooked, drained asparagus.

You can tell when asparagus is cooked by pressing at the base of the stalk. If it is easily squashable, it is done. No al dente, half cooked asparagus please. At least 12 good spears per portion and 50 gms of butter.

Paternity

A true story, in the form of an argument.

Not everyone will agree, but let us start by assuming that no one should wield additional power over another because they have a physical advantage and can, therefore, do so.

Excluding cases of rape, excluding a man or woman’s refusal to, or preference to not, use contraception and excluding men or women lying about their fertility, unwanted pregnancies can still happen. It is only the unwanted pregnancies which fall outside of the aforementioned scope with which we are here concerned. There are many of them. Furthermore, pregnancies might be the result of having casual sex with a consenting adult or it might be the result of sex within a more stable and fixed relationship, falling somewhere within the very large range of what exactly this means. Anywhere in this range is good for this argument. The question here: Should it be the case that the termination of such pregnancies be the sole choice of the mother? The answer is, no.

Let us assume that there are three lives involved. At minimum, two of them are persons. We are happy to concede, for the purposes of this argument, that the foetus is not a person. Some will disagree, of course. But this argument is worked out so that if the foetus does turn out to be a person the argument just becomes stronger (assuming most persons – before the disillusionment of life sets in – would choose to live). But the author of this argument does not want its persuasiveness to be premised the personhood of the foetus. So, we assume here that the foetus has no particular interest in being born.

The concern here is the irrationality of current feminist sentiments behind abortion; abortion being solely the pregnant woman’s choice. Current liberal thought about, and language around, the role of the father in the lives of his children has him now participating in every way as the mother has ‘traditionally’ been expected to. Both parents should be allowed to work, both should have equal responsibility in the direct care of children and strong cases are being made that the supposed privileged bonding mechanisms between mothers and babies are a figment of our societal imagination. It is simply a trap to keep women chained to their babies and at home. Thus, viva! the campaign towards the ever equalising and homogenising of the two genders, in terms of their roles as parents. We here assume this is all good and right.

But if an ‘unplanned father’ feels the, now thoroughly entrenched, stirrings of paternity, on learning of the pregnancy of his lover (casual or not), and genuinely wants to hold, care for and nurture his presently unborn child when it is born, what should society offer him? What should the objective voice of the law offer him? If he is willing to take full responsibility for his child, if he were allowed to have it, to support the mother in any way she needs and chooses to be throughout her pregnancy, and will relieve her utterly of the burden of care as soon as the child and her are physically liberated from each other, what is the most rational extension of the present feminist campaign?

Should the now seemingly accidental fact that it is the female part of the species which carries the foetus for nine months be the deciding factor in a choice which has much longer and much more enduring implications for the other part of the species? A part which is purportedly in all ways equal in terms of paternity. An accidental advantage has long not been a reason to wield power over the other sex. Husbands are not permitted to beget children with fertile, younger women when their wives have been through menopause, or simply choose not to have any more children – just because they are able to. They are expected, quite rightly, to let other civilising and rational factors dictate their behaviour. So, given that there are no supposed special bonds between mothers and babies, that liberal society insists that pregnancies do not interfere with careers and that men are equally well equipped emotionally and physically to care for children, the law should place constraints on the unmitigated irrationality of liberal feminist rhetoric (often championed by men, of course). With responsibilities there should be rights; and, as with so many other gender related issues, the right to fatherhood should not be subject to the seemingly arbitrary whims of nature.

Another excerpt: Les Freres Troisgros

As a young, not so young and late middle aged student, I have done many ‘stages’. This is where you apprentice at the feet of a master for no pay. At its best you are handsomely paid for your labour by a learning experience that you will never get from books, colleges or eating. I have done many fruitful stages, notably with the Roux brothers in their restaurants and butchery and more recently with Trevor Daly at his bakery in the Western Cape. At its worst, it is a modern form of slavery.

Usually it is a mix. And so was my experience at the TroisGros restaurant in Roanne. Roanne has to be one of the ugliest towns in France. Its raison d’etre seems to be the manufacture of tanks. The fact that it supported and continues to support a centre of such culinary excellence, for me, speaks volumes about French culture. I was very fortunate in 1984 to be able to organize a stage there through the machinations of a wine merchant. Apparently, I was the first Englishman they had accepted. In those distant days we were, of course, beyond the Pale, in all ways, to the French.

There were a number of staggieres there. Mostly French, a couple of Belgians and a Japanese. The latter seemed to be the friendliest of that large, sober and sullen brigade. He spoke little English and less French. I managed to elicit that he had been there a year and had only worked on one section – the amuse bouches. I began to realise what might be in store for me.

I joined another staggiere on the pastry section and we set about peeling boxes of oranges, preparing trillions (it seemed) of miniature and unspeakably delicate biscuits. Churning wonderful ice creams twice daily and observing the discipline, organisation and attention to detail it takes to produce such food in such numbers; 120 every lunch and 150 every dinner plus private dining rooms plus the first ever chefs table in the kitchen plus a continual stream of new ideas. I remain impressed to this day and see it as a benchmark of excellence.

The restaurant was closed for 3 shifts – Sunday evening and all day Monday. All of us worked the other shifts. That is you got in at 8 am and worked until 10 pm without break. Reasonably, I started doing the more menial tasks in the pastry section. I wasn’t that competent, but improved. After a bit I asked the head pastry chef if I could learn some of his pates or make a crème or two. A gallic shrug spoke volumes. I dared to question why he used certain techniques. This elicited a lecture on his experience, his awards, his status worldwide. I think he was a touch sensitive. Not to be cowed I continued to press my case. Eventually he agreed that, if I came in on my only day off, I could help him do some mis-en-place for the week.

So I did. And I learnt. A lot.

But pastry work was not where I wanted to be, so I started asking if I could be moved to a hot section. This was obviously an extreme example of English arrogance. To worsen a bad situation, this was the time, the very week of the Heysel stadium disaster. The very week when the word ‘hooligan’ entered into the French language.

While I was there, the kitchen was being taken over by the son of one of the brothers, Michel Troisgros. He seemed to want define the phrase ‘a nasty short French bully’ in his person.
The kitchen would work in silence, other than orders being shouted from the floor. Save for the occasional piece of load sarcasm concerning ‘l’hooligan’ from Chef.
Luckily there was an organized basketball game on Sunday evenings after our week, where little Michel fancied himself. My basketball skills are low but I know how to stand in the way quite effectively. One of the greatest pleasures of my mixed sporting career was to feel a short French bully bounce off me on a weekly basis
This went on for a few months. My requests to be transferred were ignored often with the gallic shrug.

For those of you happily ignorant of this piece of body language, it is the most common ‘word’ in the French language and is often accompanied with a reply in the negative and a disdainful curl of the lip.

I was working to be the best of my ability and my only payment was to be taught. I wasn’t being paid so I left. And when I left, that meant that I got on my bicycle and pedaled towards England. Between Roanne and London there was a short and hazy interlude in Paris with my brother that had something to do with a trip to the Louvre and some hallucinogenics. But that is another story.

Dentelles

One of their unspeakably delicate biscuits.

Bring together with a wooden spoon, 430gms softened butter, 800gms sugar, 800gms nibbed almonds, 380gms freshly squeezed orange juice, 180gms flour, the grated zest of 3 oranges and 200gms grand marnier.

Put a lump the size of a swallow egg on a buttered baking tray, or preferably a silicone sheet. Bake at 180C until a light brown. Remove the tray from the oven and lay the biscuits over a think rolling pin to curve.

Store in an airtight container. They will remain crisp from 90 minutes to 3 days (in the humid subtropics).

Bernadette’s Dirty Linen

When it was brought to Bernadette’s attention that, contrary to the claim in the The New York Times and other esteemed publications, the man on the train in France was not an Islamic terrorist, but a desperado with a found and broken gun, she resolved to retire to the countryside. That the man’s villainous actions on the train were motivated by personal survival and that he had, after his arrest and questioning, never heard of Isis, as was assumed, was reason enough to thereto forth forgo her subscriptions to the world’s leading newspapers. That the American soldiers, holidaying in France, who had gamely interrupted this aged, gun wielding thief had been given medals of honour for saving citizens from a purportedly terrorist attack, was enough reason to relinquish, what people describe as, an interest in ‘worldly states of affairs’. Bernadette had always known that it was pointless to keep abreast of things. There simply was no way of telling what to believe.

It was for this reason that, after many hours of train travel, Bernadette got into bed with Tom Stoppard and Dirty Linen (Tom Stoppard’s play, Dirty Linen). There she had time to ponder the sexual exploits of English politicians and their underdressed secretaries. It was there, in between her high quality cotton sheets, with the velvet curtains drawn against the insidious fiction of the outside world, that she once again discovered that stories could be relied on. It was in that coddled world, smoking a cigar, drinking vodka and wearing a deep red beret that Bernadette could, along with the characters at her fingertips, become cynical once again. She read:

“Cocklebury-Smythe: So you are going to be our clerk.

Maddy: Yes.

Cocklebury- Smythe: May I be the first to welcome you to Room 3b. You will find the working conditions primitive, the hours antisocial, the amenities non-existent and the catering beneath contempt. On top of that the people are for the most part very very very boring, with interests either so generalized as to mimic wholesale ignorance or so particular as to be lunatic obsessions. Their level of conversation would pass without comment in the lavatory of a mixed comprehensive and the lavatories, by the way, are few and far between.

Maddy: It has always been my ambition to work in the House of Commons.” (T.S. Dirty Linen)

Only well after the sun had set, and had again started rising (she knew this was due to the rotation of the Earth on its own axis and that speaking of ‘setting’ and ‘rising’ was just a confusion of language), she turned off her light, held tight her gilt framed photograph of Jeremy Corbyn and turned her back on the world, to enter further into slumber. He was one excellent reason to believe democratic systems, she sighed through a haze of Cuban smoke and Russian vapour.

Memorable eatings.

Soupe de tilleuls au cretes de coq

It is not often that I have been so moved by a taste that I have practically slid off my chair on to the floor (three times that I recall). One was in the iconic Hotel Negresco in Nice. At the time, the kitchen was headed by the once brilliant, Jaques Maximin.
This is essentially a simple dish following old precepts of classic French cuisine. It is a fine chicken stock, liaised and enriched with egg yolks and a touch of cream. The soup had been flavoured with lime blossom (as in linden, not the fruit) and garnished with cock crests that had probably been poached in the chicken stock along with the rest of the cock.
Simple and sublime. Brilliant in the conception borne of the wisdom of ages and in the execution of a highly skilled kitchen brigade.

Ris de veau pane a l’oseille

This was another of my chair sliding experiences.
I had been an apprentice cook for about 9 months and was taken to one of only three Michelin starred establishments in London (how times and standards have changed).
This was a tiny 38 seater restaurant called Ma Cuisine (after Escoffier’s book) with a massive waiting list – massive for those days of no interest in food. I can’t remember what I had for a starter or what my companion ate, but I vividly remember my melting, unctuous calve’s sweetbreads with a crisp breadcrumb crust. The gland was sitting on a delicious pond of the lightest, most savoury of white wine cream sauces. The all cut with the subtle lemonyness of wilted sorrel.
I had never eaten anything like it. Near maybe - as Kashmir is near Everest - but never like it. My fate as a cook had been sealed. It might be obvious but the next week I knocked on their door and asked for a job. For some reason, and I have never quite understood why, Guy Mouilleron the chef/patron took on this too old middle class English boy as an apprentice. And I learnt how to make others slide – a bit at least.

Vegemite and lettuce sandwich with REAL butter

I had been languishing in some English institution (whose details will be omitted) for 6 months. In this august place, we entertained ourselves royally in many ways except for the prandial. The morning porridge came in bulk and was labelled as ‘1st rate pig swill’, the sausages weren’t described as vegetarian but were undoubtedly meatless and the butter-substitute was a grease that clung to top of ones palate like mutton fat but had the flavour of rancid oil
There were many highlights on my exit from this home, but the one that sticks was my first food. A vegemite and lettuce sandwich on indifferent brown bread with butter. Real, unsalted butter. I shall never, never take butter for granted. The person who made me that sandwich no longer wants to talk to me but I will always have to love her for the great pleasure she unwittingly gave me.

Three large Cornish pasties with three pints of beer

Unlike my aforemetioned previous experiences, this was a solo adventure, and, though no misanthrope, maybe sweeter for that. I was a somewhat obsessive road cyclist. At one stage I cycled for 5 days from London to Southern France for lunch. I took a great and puerile pleasure in locking my never clean bicycle outside the entrances of posh eating establishments. The snootiest and most unwelcoming being, without doubt, Michel Roux’s Waterside Inn. They weren’t much better when a year or so later, I arrived in greater splendor in my partner’s battered 2CV.
I digress. I was cycling to Cornwall and having covered my requisite distance over the mountains(!) of Dorset and Devon, I decided to stop. I found a pub. Nothing special or pre-planned; just a West Country pub. I clattered to the bar, sat down on a stool and requested a pint of bitter and a Cornish pastie. Was it my hunger, my fatigue, the pleasure in rest? Or was it the pub, the beer (I forget which brewery now – St Austells maybe), or the pastie – a complete meal and plate in one? I sat there transported and sighing the suspiration of relief and satisfaction. Too soon it ended. I asked for another. Unusually the second was as satisfying as the first. And on to a third I marched. Here I discovered the law of diminishing returns. After a quick three pints of beer I was more than a bit unsteady on my feet so retired from the pub, found a discreet ditch, rolled out my sleeping bag and slept the sleep of righteous giants.

M. F. K. Fisher

In terms of language, beauty, a bohemian life and confidence in her own opinions she is the American equivalent of the English Elizabeth David. She is a bewitching and entertaining read, but skip the recipes; somewhat dated.

A small passage from ‘With Bold Knife and Fork’ originally written for the New Yorker. She is discussing green salad and starts off, typically, with Brillat Savarin and then…………….

‘I much prefer it {eating green salad after the main course} to a custom that is rapidly spreading into American culture from the West Coast, where I suspect it was a stepchild, spawned by homesick refugees, of the Italian way of eating a few fresh raw things before the pasta; the ubiquitous “tossed green salad” served automatically at the beginning of many restaurant meals, and perhaps more private ones. I suppose it is better to eat something from the overfilled bowls of chopped lettuces and radishes and so on, which are put before the diners while they wait for the rare grilled steak with stuffed baked potato to be slapped down, than it is to plunge right into that mechanical blast of proteins. At least it prepares the stomach, if not the taste buds, for what will soon come sizzling from the infrared grill………….

As one looks around the dining room, and if one can see through the deliberately tactful gloom, it is as if above almost every head, at least of the males, a little banner floats, saying bravely: MIGHT AS WELL EAT SOME RABBIT FOOD WHILE THAT T-BONE-TENDERLOIN-FILET-MIGNON GETS CHARRED ON THE OUTSIDE AND BLUE-RARE ON THE INSIDE, GOD DAMN IT. And the salads are badly concocted, badly mixed, and decorated with tasteless olives, rounds of overdeveloped radish, now and then a quarter of hard-boiled egg, or a scallion stuck almost sheepishly on one side……

In general this silly business called ‘tossed green salad’ constitutes in France what is called a hunger-killer, an abat-faim, to keep the customer sober enough to see the steak he has ordered, something in place of a couple more vodka martinis from the bar. The dreadful bowls can be assembled hours ahead of time, and pulled out of the salad reefer as needed by the waitresses, who will then douse them with “Russian-Thousand-Island-Roquefort” according to the customer’s wish. (It is generally disastrous to say no to this rattle of choices and ask for plain vinegar and olive oil…)

In other words, I deplore the whole caper……………….

Not much changes. Maybe the food has improved slightly but the prose has definitely deteriorated and we live a duller, more sober life.

One has to fall in love with her.

Tradition vs. Originality

“God sends meat but the devil sends cooks.”

Wherein lies excellence in the culinary arts? The above proverb, if taken literally, which I chose to do, seems to point to a long tradition of a distrust of cooks and the culinary craft in general.

Cooking is a received craft and it is in millennia of the experience of eating that the true wisdom and excellence of cooking is surely found. While it is undoubted that there are individuals that can make some contribution or new discovery, their small advances are undoubtedly much less than their hubris would have them believe. Even, and maybe particularly, the unusually talented cooks. History will look on them and see their contributions as vital, maybe, but certainly small.

What about new technologies that give rise to new techniques. It is indisputable that, for instance the fridge and refrigerated transport has revolutionized food distribution and access. But has it changed the nature of a good roast chicken? Doubtful. The movement from spits in front of a fire to ovens has made cooking cleaner and, again more accessible, but is an oven roast (baked) leg of lamb better than a true roast (on a spit)? Does an easily cleaned stove in your house necessarily produce a better navarin of lamb than a cast iron pot on coals?

What about new methods? The blast freezing and re-heating in a microwave is a new technique born from new technologies, but who would argue that it is an improvement? Sous vide cookery in controlled temperature water baths has something new to it, but is it really qualitatively different from a gigot a sept heures or a baked dish in a falling baker’s oven or a ham baked in a hay box? I think not.

There is no question in my mind that the finest cooking that I have experienced has been from a master craftsman whose originality comes from a slight tweak of a tradition or a re-discovery of a lost dish. And even then the originality is less important than the execution.
As Ferdinand Point, the godfather of a much abused revolution in French haute cuisine of the 70’s, known as Nouvelle Cuisine, famously said ‘Perfection is lots of little things done well’. And as any student of cooking should be able to tell you, the precepts of Nouvelle Cuisine were clearly spelt out 50 years prior to Point in Escoffier’s book ‘Ma Cuisine’, written to counter the excesses of Edwardian dining habits.
I also harbour little doubt that the worst meals I have been subjected to – worse than sloppy craft – are those where the cook, professional or otherwise, takes it into his or her head to try something new. Please rather just improve. Only in incremental improvement will you find excellence.

I am not competing with Ferrian Adria as either a cook, a man of unusual talent or dedication to his craft, but when he opined that ‘originality is not copying’ and put culinary creativity on some kind of pedestal, for me he misunderstood what cooks should be doing.