Whenever I watch cooking shows, which is quite often given I am a self-confessed cooking show addict, I am seriously impressed by the chefs’ abilities to cook and talk at the same time. I can cook reasonably well and I can talk extremely well, but together? Nope, no can do. When I’m in the kitchen, I’m focused on one thing only and woe betide anyone who comes to hover or even worse, ask questions…
So as I was saying, the talking and cooking thing impresses me, even more so when I am seeing it unfold in the flesh, or in real life… in case you filthy-minded foodies needed me to clarify. On the telly, it’s pretty cool but I figured they can practise a few times and film a few takes which some production whizz will seamlessly stitch together later on. But live, there are no retakes… and when chefs like Jeremy Lee just do it all so effortlessly, I’m torn between being wide-eyed in awe and plain green with envy. Why can’t I do that?!
If you’re planning a trip to old London-town, especially for the first time, you’ll have no doubt turned to trusty Tripadvisor or Lonely Planet just to get some ideas on what to do and see. And, if you’re anything like me on my first visit, you were more than a little overwhelmed with what popped up. There are well over a thousand ‘things to do’ listed on Tripadvisor, with over five hundred being ‘sights and landmarks’ while around three hundred are museums. Woah. I know I shouldn’t be stunned by those numbers as I know there is an almost neverending array of things to do here but still, woah.
With so many options, I was left scratching my head a little when Travelex asked me to come up with my ultimate ‘day out in London’. They gave me a handy Multi-Currency Cash Passport, $150 of my home currency (or the currency of our twangier neighbours) which converted to around £80, and told me to go wild!
If you share the cooking duties with a flatmate who vehemently dislikes seafood, you seize any opportunity within reach to enjoy all things delicious from the sea. Trust me, I’ve been there. When I went home for family dinners I would always demand, I mean politely request, something fishy… sambal prawns or whole steamed snapper with soy and ginger were among the usual orders! I even resorted to implementing ‘the seafood rule’ where the fish dish at any restaurant was given the first right of refusal before I even looked at anything else on the menu. No exceptions.
These measures worked quite well and seafood-hating-flatmate and I lived otherwise harmoniously together for several years, but I must admit, it’s quite nice to now share the cooking duties with someone who loves seafood as much as I do. The bonus for me is that a certain someone came to the party with some fish cooking skills, whereas I had barely cooked any seafood before, unless you consider tossing tuna through a salad cooking? I’m getting better though and we now have fish on the cooking menu at least once a week, but my old habits die hard and I find myself employing ‘the seafood rule’ without even knowing it.
It dawned on me the other day that I am an avid consumer of tomatoes. In our house they’re a salad staple (a certain someone even made a multi-coloured tomato-only salad the other day), I obsessively stockpile the tinned ones because you never know when you’ll need to rustle up the go-to pasta dish, and I’ve been known to squirt T-sauce on a lot of things. This epiphany came to me as I was sitting in the dimly lit downstairs dining room of Obica, listening to someone talk about tomatoes and actually getting excited. Hand on my heart, I don’t even care how lame that made me sound because these tomatoes are worth that cringey look you’re giving me now.
Every month Obica select a slow food product to showcase, this month (and next actually, probably because they’re so good) tomatoes are in the spotlight. Piennolo Cherry Tomatoes, to be exact, which are grown organically in Mount Vesuvius National Park. That makes them sound just that little bit fancy doesn’t it? Obica combined the tomatoes with their Italian partners in crime, mozzarella and salami, then invited Luxardo to the party to mix up some cocktails; the result?! A very happy tomato lover in the room.
I would class myself as a bit of a slap-dash, taste and tweak as you go kind of cook. My parents are exceptionally good cooks so I guess I picked up basic skills by diffusion as I never made a meal until I moved out of home at the start of university. Our family home has shelves of cookbooks but I doubt my parents meticulously follow the recipes, only really using them to get ideas for dishes and flavour combinations. In most cases when I ask my mother how much of this or that she puts into a certain dish of hers I’m trying to recreate, she unhelpfully tells me it’s ‘angga-angga’, which is her Malay version of saying ‘approximately’. Like I said, unhelpful!
So how she manages to turn out amazing cakes and Malaysian kuih I’ll never know, perhaps after years of practice she’s perfected her own imperfect precision? I, on the other hand, do not have years of experience on my side and still lack the discipline of precision so most of my baking and desserts are basic affairs. This must explain why I almost always order a dessert at the end of the meal and didn’t have to think twice about heading along to Basement Sate for a dessert degustation then a pastry masterclass! I get to eat something and learn to make something – no brainer really.
After a year in London, there are a couple of things that irk me about eating out in this exciting behemoth of a city. Size is one of the more minor issues but sometimes I do find myself longing for the easy little stretch of Wellington’s restaurant zone. The fact that people happily queue for over an hour for a table anywhere still bemuses me, and I also have a love/hate relationship with the trend driven nature of things. I’m over the London markup but still not quite over how easily I’ve accepted that if dinner for two is under £100 we’ve got ourselves a bargain.
But, and it’s a very big but, all is forgiven for the simple pleasure of having so much choice. What are you craving? Where do you feel like faux-travelling to? Pick your cuisine, pick your price range and there’ll be something for whatever mood you’re in. It won’t all be good- how can it be, but at least you can choose something else next time!
I don’t watch much tv these days. I could blame it on a certain someone hogging the screen with a constant stream of football, golf, NFL, snooker, darts even but the truth is there’s not much that manages to grab hold of my pea-sized attention span. The only exceptions are the occasion crime drama (really got into True Detective and Broadchurch) and, drum roll please… food shows. That didn’t come as a surprise to anyone did it?
All it takes is an episode or two and I’m already hooked on those cooking competitions, my favourites are quickly found and I’ve decided who the villains are. I could easily spend an afternoon putting up with Jamie Oliver enthusiastically talk me through a 15 minute meal I know will take twice as long, and if there’s a marathon of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations on? Well that’s me for the night.
So it seems I like to watch people cook. It’s my inherent nosiness that needs to know how someone turned a celeriac, pigs ears and blueberries into something edible, or how chefs meticulously plate the most pretty dishes. I’ve noticed that more restaurants seem to be opening up their kitchens and making them visible to the dining room- this is a trend I welcome. A well-oiled kitchen shouldn’t have anything to hide during service, and I can get dinner with a show.