My dear departed mother – she left a few days ago for a holiday in Malaga – has always been something of a, shall we say, traditional British cook. She won’t mind me saying this, not least because so long as she hasn’t confused the Malaga flight with a Malaysia one she won’t find out. But even if she did, she would not disagree that there is little chance of her cuisine ever being awarded a Michelin star.
Vegetables are cooked until further cooking is more of a philosophical concept than a realistic possibility. Meats are roasted with a vengeance, but still get off lightly compared to the Christmas turkey, which is usually placed on a low heat some time in late October. Suet, lard and other congealed oleaginous substances have a more prominent place in the ingredients than can conceivably be deemed healthy. And the Yorkshire pudding … now that’s where Michelin might take an interest, if they want to get back into Formula 1. To be fair, though, you never leave the table hungry.
A few years ago, none of this would have seemed unusual, since, traditionally, British food was not supposed to be delicate, or particularly tasty, or, well, good. Indeed, some people still think that is the norm. Quite recently, English food was described as “terrible” by none other than the CEO of Burger King, and let’s face it, he should know. He has, though, since claimed he was talking of times past, when he attended Warwick University, and presumably skipped the lectures on tact and glass houses.
Things certainly have changed in the world of British cuisine. This year we have 140 restaurants with Michelin stars, including four with the highest 3-star accolade. That isn’t as many as France, but it’s better than the days when you would have serious reservations about making reservations.
The celebrity chef Gary Rhodes even wants to open a restaurant in Paris with nothing but British cuisine on the menu, and he knows a thing or two about food. He doesn’t know much about French people, apparently, but good luck to him. One thing about Gary, though; he puts his reputation where his mouth is, maintaining his rating with undisputedly British fare. His menus have words like gravy, pie, bread and butter pudding. Many of the other award-winners have jus, parfait, velouté. Now I’m no linguist, but that sounds suspiciously like cross-Channel talk to me, and I can’t help thinking that perhaps we have tried to outdo the French at their own game rather than playing our own. Plus, with many of these places it would, at the end of the meal, be less a case of not being able to eat another thing as not being able to afford one without a successful mortgage application.
Some other people, much more gastronomically clued-up than me, are thinking the same thing, it seems. Underground restaurants have been around for a while, I understand, but it seems they are beginning to take off here. Those seeking something a bit different pay a reasonable price to visit someone’s private residence and eat a meal prepared by the host. It is, say an increasing number of tourists, a good way of meeting real, down-to-earth Britons and tasting the authentic food of the country. Those who provide the meal can indulge their love of cooking, meet real, down-to-earth tourists, and, with the outlay restricted only to the ingredients, even turn a tidy profit.
Profit, eh? Well, that got the old entrepreneurial juices flowing, and the ingredients of an idea popped into my head, just a few inches above a rising soufflé of a smile. Sadly, my presentation of this latest recipe for financial success received a deflating review from Mrs J in the form of a pithy two-word comment – and it wasn’t ‘half-baked’ – so I find myself in search of an alternative willing chef. Hence thoughts of my mother. And when I say ‘willing’ I mean, of course, ‘unaware’, because if she thinks the guests are my personal friends, she will only too happily cook for them, without recompense. And surely no-one would give my game away by demanding a refund. After all, English food is supposed to taste like that!