Wednesday 30 March 2011

V&A Connects - The Past and Future of Food and Experimentation

Chanel Pop: Pop Bakery

V&A Connects is billed as "an exciting new programme for practitioners and professionals  working in the Creative Sector", an opportunity for inspiration, networking and discussion. Under the lofty auspices of the Lydia and Manfred Gorvy Lecture Theatre, the mood was set for some serious debating on "The Past and Future of Food and Experimentation" as presented by the Experimental Food Society.

Lots of branding so far. Layers of reference through association - surface highly glossed reflecting back on the audience their own cultural capital. The speakers would cover the history of food since 9,000 BC to the future, which is apparently, according to food futurologist Dr Morgaine Gaye and her crystal ball (yes really), about eighteen months from now.

Our obsessive compulsion with fashion and trends makes the British highly suggestible in their capacity for food experimentation, especially in comparison to our more traditional European neighbours. Professor Roland Rotherham's double act with Simon Smith, butter sculptor and Master Chef, was more a live illustration of their collaborative book Simmering through the Ages, than an historical tour de force. Rotherham, although knowledgeable, lampooned himself as well as every other racial, social and national stereotype you would care to think of and in so doing detracted the focus from expertise to farce.

The recipes prepared by Smith lacked any real surprises and considering they were meant to demonstrate the diversity and modernity of ancient cuisine they failed to thrill. Limp parsley, coriander and pine nut salad and cold poached chicken with orange, lemon, capers and marinated anchovies. Admittedly Smith was limited by the health and safety regulations of the V&A but nonetheless, in such an arena one expects the food being prepared to at least look fresh and appetising.

Following on from them was Morgaine Gaye, food futurologist and senior lecturer at Nottingham Trent University. Her talk concentrated less upon the future of food and more upon the development of branded products and marketing. Food as commercial consumption as opposed to sustenance and pleasure, with a dose of Big Society ideology thrown in. Communal farming projects were seen as a reflection of our need for some form of ceremony in a deeply isolated and alienated world, this may be true but what about the genuine desire for provenance and authenticity spurred on by the suspicion of food manufacturing and its questionable processes?

By reducing her talk to a series of captions which appeared in a crystal ball on the video screen, the future Gaye predicted was more about trend forecasting, than any serious debate on the implications of future food security and sustaining levels of production for an ever increasing global population. Citing the demise of the cupcake with the imminent rise of the Alfajores, a processed biscuit from South America, could have been used as a metaphor for the demise in US global hegemony but economics and politics were the missing ingredients.

The speakers complimented each other and perhaps this is the remit of the Experimental Food Society, to keep it all content light, a ready meal of fast ideas intent on providing easily digestible entertainment as opposed to a slow, thought provoking, ideological critique of the past and future of food experimentation.

By ignoring the wider cultural and social implications of food history past and future - food remains, like fashion which it is so often compared to, ephemeral, superficial, and subject to the vagaries of our neomaniacal desires - that is our seemingly insatiable appetite for commodified novelty. The consumer is rendered as little more than a passive dupe, seduced by the powers of capitalism and unable to initiate any individual thought or action. 

The paying audience at the V&A were no dupes but articulate thinkers with an avid interest in food - this was a wasted opportunity to tantalise their thoughts and stimulate debate. Ideology may be unappetising but over statement just as over sweetening leaves one feeling unfulfilled.

Tuesday 29 March 2011


Is it umami or just weird? 
My sister introduced me to this curious combination many moons ago - few have been converted.
Take a piece of buttered toast, spread with a thin layer of Marmite and then top off with marmalade.
It satisfies that need for both sweet and savoury in one neat hit.
Try it...if you dare.

Saucy Sicilian

I made this sauce to go with the homemade pasta. The Sicilian influence is strong - with the agrodolce, sweet and sour of the sultanas, capers, anchovies and pine nuts giving a three dimensional flavour to the sauce.

Slice 4 cloves of garlic gently fry in olive oil with 4 anchovy fillets 
Add 4 small dried, crushed chillies (as hot as you like)
Add a heaped tablespoon of golden sultanas + capers - chopped
Add a tablespoon of pine nuts - toast lightly
Add 2 cans of plum tomatoes - chop them up, simmer down until thick and tasty -

Meanwhile whilst the sauce is cooking...
Cut 1 large aubergine into 10mm slices
Place on a foil covered grill pan, brush aubergine with olive oil and put under the hot grill, turn when brown and cook other side.

Chop a generous handful of flat leaf parsley + fresh basil, cut up grilled aubergine into bite size pieces and add to cooked sauce.

Friday 25 March 2011

The heart of Italy - homemade pasta

Homemade pasta is a slow food process. The making of it is methodical and time consuming. But like most repetitive actions it allows the mind the luxury of unfettered imagineering. From kneading the dough into a smooth, fragrant mass to the seven stages of rolling, each of which tempers and softens to create a silky, gossamer pasta - to the final cutting and laying out to dry. Homemade pasta is the embodiment of a labour of love, and a fitting gift for those who are hardest of all to please - parents.

5 eggs
500g grano tenero - literally "tender grain" meaning very finely ground flour 00 grade
pinch of salt

Tuesday 22 March 2011

Shortbread - meltingly yours

Slightly salty and utterly buttery, thin and meltingly light, sprinkled with demerara sugar.
Shortbread is a delight and homemade biscuits are a well kept secret.
No one could be disappointed to be served one of these with a nice cup of tea.
The recipe is a version of Felicity Cloake's in the Guardian but taste is definitely aided by a really good quality butter and sea salt.

115g of room temperature butter beaten with a wooden spoon until really creamy.
Add 55g of caster sugar and a good pinch of sea salt, beat in.
Sieve in 130g of plain flour and 40g of ground rice.
Draw together with the spoon and then dive in a make into a lovely smooth ball of dough.
Roll out to about 5mm and cut. Lay on a greased tray lined with baking parchment. Cook at 150 celsius for 25-30 minutes - turning the tray half way through.

Cool slightly, sprinkle with demerara, transfer to a cake rack, leave to cool and then store in a biscuit tin.

Tool box

There is no irony in Karen Price's work. For her the question of form and use of designed objects is one that can be played out with domestic tools. Objects need not be restricted to what they were orginally designed or intended. The performativity of a tool is not fixed but alters according to the time and space it is used in, thereby rendering users as authors/designers, function is fluid - repositioned by a particular use. Tools that sit redundant can be reappropriated and thus consumption curtailed.

Thursday 17 March 2011

Love in a lunch box

Making packed lunch every day and keeping it interesting, healthy and hearty requires a little forethought.

Lentil, cumin, carrot and coconut milk soup is a welcome addition to any lunch box and helps spice up a sandwich no end.

Toast 2 teaspoons of cumin and a pinch of chilli flakes in a dry pan until they become aromatic.
Add 500g of grated carrots, 150g of dry red lentils, 1 litre of vegetable stock, 1 can of coconut milk.
Bring to the boil and simmer gently until lentils are cooked.
Whizz in a blender, season.
Makes about 1.8 litres - divide into servings for your thermos - this chap takes 250ml, cool and freeze.

Wednesday 16 March 2011

Drink pink

Something pink to drink?
The cooking juices from rhubarb, sanguinello and sugar, 
a dash of elderflower cordial and top up with cold water.
Think pink, drink pink. 

See previous blog: rhubarb fresh but no fool

Tuesday 15 March 2011


Visual Athletics Club: S.H. Ferrell & Son,  St Ives, Cornwall, 2011

Edward Barber: E. T. Baker, Islington, London, 1985

Berenice Abbott: Greenwich Village 10, Brotladen, 259 Bleecker Street, 1937
Berenice Abbott Changing New York, Schirmer/Mosel, 1997

It is no accident that bakers choose to stuff their windows to brimming point - ostentatiously displaying the variety and abundance of their product. Such bountifulness is fleeting and the window becomes little more than a spectre with a disembodied hand removing yet another tasty morsel. As the hungry look on, wise in the knowledge that with further procrastination, that particular bun, cake, or loaf that has been singled out, will be lost forever.

Monday 14 March 2011

Now, I'm going to eat you

Image: Elena Inga

Hypnotised by your sweetness, the mesmeric appeal of ice cream enchants my mind and transports my soul. A delicacy for those who cannot afford the calories, that sweet, unctuous construct of sugar, fat, and colouring. A focused fantasy of subliminal delight. Rapture in a time before chaos, I gaze upon you and now I'm going to eat you.

Thursday 10 March 2011

Tea - apparently?

A gift from Paris - tea apparently?
A shame to break its integrity.
Sheathed and cocooned, knotted and lashed.
This cosseted concoction will stay intact.

Tuesday 8 March 2011

A non-box egg-box

Visual Athletics Club: Tom's box

With no egg box for my eggs Tom, in the Ginger Pig, with his usual ease and nonchalance set to the egg tray. He used his knife on card and twine just as he would on meat and bone.
The string was crisscrossed and knotted to secure the eggs. His fluid, confident gestures transmuted from butchery to this objet trouve. To observe instinct and the transference of skills create a thing of beauty is a moment to behold and share.

Sunday 6 March 2011

Cornish crab pots - artisan and artifact

Photo story: Edward Barber

Richard Ede knows when the willow season is drawing to a close - by the piercing scream of the first swifts - usually around the beginning of May. By then the willow, mature and hard, will need soaking but in March it is a compliant sapling. 

Green enough to cut one day and the next aided by marlin spike, long handled mallet, wooden stake, rope and former, Ede with his customised fingerless rubber gloves (this stops the ends getting pinched in the woven willow) - twists, turns, weaves and coaxes the willow into his desired form.

The diagram was fashioned by his teacher, a fisherman, who instructed him over 50 years ago in the art of making willow crab pots. Ede keen to emphasise his own adopted and adapted style drew special attention to the bottom of the pot where he had used thicker willow at the outer edge to give more strength.

The crab pots longevity is dependent upon the weather conditions out at sea. But the toils of Ede's labour, five hours to make at £130 is a small price to pay. His artisan skills have a value beyond the monetary and with no apprentice risk being lost in the sands of time.

For those who are keen to pay more than lip service to our cultural food heritage - Ede should be declared a Cornish food hero. For he provides a sustainable beautifully crafted natural product, made from locally sourced and readily available materials. To truly celebrate British food Ede, and his like with their rapidly disappearing skills, should be perpetuated not just in the photographs of passing tourists as some sort of spectacle of a bygone time but as a invaluable and irreplaceable source of knowledge with a true connection to their environment and the food produced  it.

If I was a crab I would be happy to wonder into one of his pots.

Thursday 3 March 2011

A bowl of brown shrimps

A complete delight - a bowl of brown shrimps.
As my fishmonger said - "Just pull off the head and pop it in your mouth".
Simple, tasty and delicious.

Wednesday 2 March 2011

Cornish pasty - by name or nurture?

Visual Athletics Club: Gull Friend

Last week the Cornish pasty received Protected Geographical Indication status - this mouthful means that it now sits alongside the likes of Champagne wine, Parma ham, and Melton Mowbray pork pies, all of which bear the "official mark of quality awarded to regional products with specific characteristics and taste produced with traditional methods". This in essence is a branding exercise but also an accreditation and recognition of the importance of locality. Some may call it nationalism or terroir, but for a fiercely proud nation, dignifying the pasty with its Cornish status, is significant.

However, even in Cornwall all pasties are not equal. The pursuit of an authentic and tasty Cornish pasty is, as with most things food orientated, the result of a mixture of tenacity and serendipity. The perfect pasty is a thing of beauty and delight - the browned pastry that literally melts in your mouth, yet remains strong enough to retain the integrity of the carefully seasoned meat, potato, swede and onion.

The synaesthesic experience of sitting on the harbour side, with ever watchful gulls flying overhead waiting for an opportunity to swoop and dive upon the unsuspecting and relinquish them of their carelessly brandished oggie. The more knowing keep their pasty safe and out of sight within its paper bag, taking surreptitious mouthfuls, relishing the warm and comforting combination of pastry, meat and veg.

The pasty belies its true complexity. Its constituent parts may be simple and unadorned but to truly credit the title of Cornish pasty requires the touch of a master baker and few are more deserving than S. H. Ferrell and Son on Fore Street, St Ives.