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Tim Hayward

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Everything posted by Tim Hayward

  1. I've done it - it works. I've also pretended to be my own PA - it works. But it feels wrong. Stupid bloody adolescent lying is lowering myself to the same level as the restaurant. There is some behaviour - asking for confirmation calls or credit card details in advance on big tables - that's an obvious and arguably legitimate response to poor behaviour by customers (actually, let's just analyse that for a second. What other business has the unmitigated cods to punish its customers like children for poor behaviour). But as far as double sittings and deprioritising couples, that's entirely started and perpetuated by the restaurants. That's responding to nothing more than commercial pressure. Now you can argue that that's all that matters in a business but I'd have to respond that things are not so cut and dried in a business based on the hospitable treatment of guests. The thing is, surely the restaurant industry of any metropolis must be disproportionately dependent on couples dining. If couples get treated badly and it becomes apparent that going to a restaurant is a pointless thing to try on a date then surely people are going to find other ways to entertain themselves. So in fact, it's not responding to commercial pressure, it's the ultimately self-destructive influence of pure greed. Actually, there's a far more unpleasant future developing. Yesterday I tried to book lunch for two at the River Cafe. They apologised and said there was no hope on Thurs or Fri because they'd be dealing with a special offer the Guardian was running. A cut price special menu for readers. Couple this with the fact that restaurants are already booked up for Valentines night, some are offering 'Valentine's Week' bookings and all are offering shite set menus and restricted sittings. I reckon London restaurants are only going to bother opening to the general public on designated days. They'll offer a restricted prole menu, canteen style, mop the place out once hoi polloi have gone their smelly way and reopen to the discerning and rich for the rest of the year.
  2. Interestingly, when I finally did get a table at the Wolsely it was absolutely full of bored, lost looking tourist couples who'd obviously been booked in by their hotel concierges. I reckon there's a hierarchy on the bookings desk. I reckon they shunt civilians into sittings as far out as they're stupid enough to book. Bookings originating from businesses will spend more and probably represent more repeat business. Bookings from an individual concierge similar. Bookings from PR co's and slebs constitute a positive commercial benefit and are prioritised top. In terms of numbers, by far the majority of two-tops wanting a reservation in a name, West End restaurant are going to be out-out-of town, one time visitors - probably ordering the second cheapest bottle on the menu and anice salad for the lady to push round her plate. In strictly commercial terms it makes sense to treat two tops badly. The problem is that there's no way of communicating that you're serious about food, are going to spend a few bob and are likely to reward decent treatment by returning. For me it's a clear misrepresentation to refer to this sort of behaviour as a 'hospitality' industry.
  3. Granted. Yet I never seem to get this problem with an old school French or Italian neighbourhood restaurant. There are red sauce tratts all over London, groaning at he seams every night - you'll have tables packed and a 22 person hen night whooping it up in the corner - yet you can walk in of the street and the staff will build a bloody table rather than turn money away. Admittedly we're talking about a different level of dining experience but the maths are the same. I've worked kitchens and greet and seat and I know the tensions between the needs of front and back of the pass and I know what can and can't be done. The point is, because of that experience I know that the only reason a bookings person needs to behave that way is if they don't want a certain type of customer or if they want them less than another type. No-one benefits when the kitchen gets slammed by incompetent FOH but that's not my point here. What's really pissing me off is organised rudeness to certain sectors of the audience and a policy of inequity.
  4. Fucking, fucking, fucking restaurant booking policies. Four weeks out, on a fucking Tuesday and the River cafe will only offer a two top from 1900-2100 or 2100-2300. Seven O'clock is too bloody early to eat in London. Half the bloody table will still be at work. Similarly, 9-00 is too bloody late for civilised humans to eat, enjoy the meal and still get home before midnight on a schoolnight. The economics of two sitting dining are brutally bloody apparent but why do we put up with this irritating shite? The thing that really pisses me off is that I suspect that these rules apply only to poor bloody civilian punters. Every time I try to book a half decent restaurant these days they try to shunt me into a 7 or 9 slot even when booking months ahead. Yet, when I used my PA to book restaurants I could always get a table for a bunch of grinning fucking corporate wolverines any damn time I liked and at 4 minutes notice. They should change the irritating fucking "How do you get a table...?" section in the OFM and just for once have three ordinary, unnamed, non-corporate foodlovers try to get a bastard 8.30 two top anywhere in the fucking Metropolis... any time.... ever. I once asked the bookings drone at the Wolesley when, exactly, I could get a mid-evening two top any time in the next year. They said they could only do 7 or 10 at for the next three months which was as far out as they were prepared to take bookings. I'd rather stay at home and cook - but is this really the way the London restaurant industry wants to go - like NY or LA, a pointless fucking grubby buck scrabbling extension of corporate entertaining or organised Sleb fellating?
  5. We do it specifically to piss off all of you. ← I'm staying right out of this one
  6. Where do I start? Here's an example. Like every other hack in the country I've been asked to do stuff on the CITES caviar restrictions and the foie gras bans. In the middle of the last century, foie gras was a weird local speciality in rural France, caviar was eaten by fishermen on the Caspian and any peasant who managed to pull a sturgeon out of the river and was hungry enough to eat the eggs. Both commodities caught on with wealthy diners. They were sold on a sort of quasi-lucullan image of scarcity and, in the case of foie gras, fully embracing the cruelty of its production - something which at the time put no-one off, rather adding to the appeal. Both spawned huge industries and have remained the ne plus ultra of luxury food to this day - in spite of the fact that distribution and the comparative wealth of diners have now removed any scarcity. Cockscombs and testicles, both of which enjoyed similar popularity at the time are now forgotten. For me that puts a really interesting spin on our present moral 'problems' with foie gras and caviar. Now you can argue that foie gras tastes damn good (I agree) and that random cock bits taste like crap (I also agree). But I reckon it's vital to know all the reasons we feel the way we do about these foods - and for writers, it's aduty to inform where we can. And here's why. Researching a piece on the CITES ban I got to interview the biggest (legal) importer of caviar to the UK. I was looking at tins of the stuff, some costing thousands of pounds and I asked him who his customers were. He told me it was now just hotels who bought it in 'garnish quantities' and airlines - who bought in bulk. "Foodies know it doesn't really taste that good, rich people are too smart to waste their money on it. It's just idiots flying first class on company expenses - other people's money. I can't shift this stuff in delis anymore but if some executive, flying first-class on the company dollar doesn't get his symbol of luxury, he'll fly another airline next time". As a (retired) marketeer I recognise that as a 'created need'. It's irrelevant out of its original context. It should be debunked
  7. So there's a network of restaurant sites with parking, distributed all over our national road system. There's a brand with ironic charm. We have a national dish in the form of the fried breakfast that even celebrity chefs love. All across America, roadside diners managed to crank out great food designed around the simple griddle and deep fryer combination. When people pull off the motorway, they have always been a captive audience, prepared to pay over the odds for simple, recogniseable food. Someone should snap up the chain, buy decent quality ingredients and start turning out.... oooh, I don't know, fry-ups, burgers, bangers and chips for the kids, entirely without irony. And outside we could erect a gibbet on which would swing the rook pecked corpse of any droning, Volvo driving knobscrape who whined about how 'the service stations in France are just wonderful.
  8. "That sweet enemy, the French" is a quote from Sir Philip Sidney and in fairly common use in England where we never miss an opportunity to bash our neighbours "Paying for French tricks" refers to the quote in the original piece Thanks for asking
  9. It would be unwise to take the French globalizing approach of "French cuisine" at face value. Now or then, French defenders using that term before the rest of the world quite possibly did/do not know what they are talking about. If they did, they would use a plural (French cuisines), or make it quite clear that they were/are only referring to a certain type of French cuisine (the ex-aristocratic/haute/international one) — and they never do. I certainly feel that way in the presence of anyone who serves me the "French cooking/cuisine is the best in the world" mythology. If there is any such thing as French cuisine, it can only be understood as an astounding millefeuille of many layers. As for when the term of "French cuisine" began to be used in a globalizing manner, I have no precise idea, but it is not likely to be earlier than the French Revolution and is certainly a 19th-century thing. One word of caution about my use of French cooking/cuisine indistinctly: in French, there is only one word and it is "cuisine". The distinction doesn't exist in French so I'm not adopting it here. ← Having taken a short thinking break to do the school run (amazingly productive time for homeworkers ) it strikes me that this line of thinking leads to one inevitable point: for people who care to examine cookery in any depth, the idea of a 'national cuisine/cookery' can only ever be a generalisation. Such generalisations will always be subject to assault from single examples which leaves the question of how useful the generalisation is to us. I guess we have to make certain generalisations if we're to discuss international food at anything other than the level of strict personal experience, but this discussion (for which, many thanks BTW) has brought up some really interesting questions for me - some specific, some frighteningly large. 1. Brits often point to the presence of UK born chefs of international stature as an indication that the UK is 'back on the culinary map'. I wonder if Ramsey and Blumethal say any more about British food than say, Adria does about Spanish or Keller about American. To me they just prove that we too can conform to a kind of 3* internationalism. Doesn't globalisation of chef's personal 'brands' inevitably lead towards a higher quality version of the 'International Cuisine' that polluted hotels and airports in the 70s? 2. How does something get to be French? Take something as utterly 'French' as Careme's four mother sauces. Surely liaison, thickened meat stock, roux and milk have all occurred or would have come into being elsewhere. In fact Careme's genius was to restrict the variations rather than to invent new ones. 3. In some way or other doesn't 'National cuisine/cookery' owe as much to the preconceptions of foreigners as it does to the foodways of the population? 4. Our preconceptions about food history, which we imagine stretch unbroken into prehistory don't stand up to much scrutiny. A lot of it is more recent in conception, attributable to a few points in media and comes via a class of interlocutor which narrows as it goes back. Is any of it useful to literate foodies in 2007? We're a self defining group of appreciators with access to a world's worth of ingredients and knowhow. Food is still not taken seriously as a topic for historical or scientific study and as a result we cling to the preconceptions of Victorian 'thinkers' who could never have imagined the access we have. Isn't it time to question harder? Is it not time, like art historians before us, to tip a few sacred cows?
  10. (I will admit to not having the time to reasearch this - I have to make some school lunches. ) But Le Guide did not spring forth from the brow of Escoffier; it was specific enough to composition and technique that the techniques and compositions must have existed a long time prior. I think Taillevant was the first attempt at codifying french cuisine for the upper classes in the 13th century - the cuisine described is very different but the intent is the same. And what about La Varenne? ← All, granted, wrote in a similar tradition, and, as their books have survived until today, we can see a connection. But each of these was a small circulation handbook for aristocratic cooks and, though they stole from each other and from previous sources, one can only really call it a national cuisine in the sense that all the authors were French*. It was Escoffier who created a systematic model for cooking (who else needs concordance like 'Le Repertoire' for Chrissake?), who had a large enough circulation to affect public eating across France and was translated widely enough during his own lifetime that he came to represent 'French' cookery outside his own country. I wonder, as a matter of interest, when the French started referring to 'French Cuisine'. *I don't mean this to sound like a circular argument but, in the same way as it's daft to talk about 'Italian' cooking when Italy was a mess of City states, it's equally fair to point out that 'haute cuisine' was more a product of Paris and the aristocracy than it was of France as a whole.
  11. I suspected as much. In Nicola Humble's book 'Culinary Pleasures' she covers the same period in the UK in some detail. Hilda Leyel's 'Gentle Art of Cooking' - supposedly St David's favourite book - was part of this movement as was the wonderful Florence White who actually founded the British Folk Cookery Association and wrote 'Good Things in England' and 'Good English Food'. We tend to conveniently forget in the UK that Dorothy Hartley's 'Food in England' - which drew on White's writing plus a great deal of original research - outsold ED's first three books* in the year of its publication (1954). David's writing only really gained broad popularity in the 60s - whereupon it pretty much eclipsed what was left of the unfashionably sandal wearing, beardy-wierdy 'folk-food' squad. * Mediterranean Food (1950), French Country Cooking (1951), Italian Food (1954).
  12. I'm interested in this notion of codification - it's come up several times in the discussion. It seems to me that the French had written cookbooks that dealt with catering for the aristocracy from an early stage, as did the Brits. There have been manuals - in extremely limited print runs - which have explained how an aristocrat should run his catering operation, in all languages and since fairly early on in the history of the written word (Apicius, Wynkin de Word etc). The first 'codification' - and by this I mean a structure and processes efficient and useful enough to be worthy of memehood - came late with Escoffier. Le Guide Culinaire was 1903. Admittedly he lifted from other cooks - this business was always rife with plagiarism - but up to that time I can't see how 'haute cuisine' could be said to be codified Yet by this point our aristocracy had already been obsessed with all things French for several centuries. (Bear in mind that the English have always regarded those descended from Norman families in the same way that North Easterners regard those who can trace descendancy from the pilgrims. <OUTOFMYDEPTH>I'm getting way out of my depth here with cookbook history - particularly French cookbook history - but as far as I remember, the attempts to 'codify' French regional, provincial and rural cooking also came much later. As a matter of fact, I think it ran parallel to the Europe wide interest in folk history which sprang up at the turn of the century.</OUTOFMYDEPTH> I agree that French cooking appears codified to us now but I'm not sure how much we can rely on this as the reason for the worldwide supremacy of the cuisine.
  13. I'd definitely give the Ambassador a pop. I'd also stagger as far as St John if the budget will take it.
  14. But does "desire to eat fugu off a geisha" really = "solving quadratic equations?" Does intellectual superiority goes along with an appreciation of food?. That seems to be an unspoken -and occasionally, spoken - subtext of some of the discussions here and elsewhere. The hoi polloi (like insipid food show presenters, eat at chain restaurant, scarf micro meals, don't like foie gras...) because of ignorance. ETA: That's not even getting onto class issues - high farmer's market prices, the lack of decent gorceries in poor neighborhoods, the disposable income required for food adventuring, etc. ← Gosh I'm really not expressing myself well am I? I never mentioned intellectual superiority. I very often find myself in a pub with half a dozen blokes talking about sport. They exchange opinions on something that's as opaque to me as Sumerian or astrophysics and I am invariably roundly chaffed for my ignorance - that is, of course, my ignorance of sport. My point was that any perceived 'elitism' of specialisation is not the same as the pernicious elitism of class or wealth. You're right, of course, that class and wealth have far too much impact on food appreciation... part of the point I was trying to raise in the original piece i.e. French is considered the Ur cuisine because of the influence of a class elite. ...and at this point I believe I may have achieved complete circularity. If my head goes any further up my fundament I'll need a miner's lamp
  15. Why so elitist? That's a really tough challenge. In fact I had to sleep on it As an old school Leftie I'm obviously appalled at the accusation. I love elite bashing. In fact the original piece was largely about how a political and social elite with disproportionate representation in media have managed to warp a national attitude to food. I'm uncomfortable with that kind of foodyism which, even on sites like this, revolves around conspicuous consumption of exclusive restaurants or ingredients - hence a desire to bring an aspect of social history to food appreciation. When I use the term 'elite' I mean a political or social group which defines itself by wealth, privilege or race and uses its position to control. It's elitism when the country club won't admit certain races or religions, only invite those of a certain income and includes among its members a majority of local politicians. But the accusation of 'elitism' has come to be applied - incorrectly, I believe - to groups who self define on knowledge. I'm sure physicists do get together, talk about string theory and bitch about people who think its something to do with Yoyos. I hope cellists get together, gossip about Bach and look with loathing on kids who pollute their earbuds with thrash metal. Perhaps that feels like elitism to those who are excluded from the conversation but for me this is the defensive geek elitism of the math club. "We're not cute, we're not on the team, we're not popular and we smell odd but we can solve quadratic equations and you can't". You could say that people who self-define as enthusiasts in a subject, gather to talk about it and occasionally pass comment on those who do not are elitist - but then you'd have to close down eGullet. As a grown up liberal, I guess I have to admit that I like to choose my elites. I'm cool with the abolition of the ruling class and the borgeouisie, I just get a bit squirrelly when they start rounding up the intellectuals - actually that's far too seriously political a metaphor. I don't like it when foodies online behave like the country club and I don't encounter many that do but I'm strangely comfortable with the notion of eG as a culinary math club. I'm not an elitist, I'm a food geek.
  16. As it was to mine. I idolised her and still consider the most important influence we've had. It has become a personal and literary obsession of mine to prove, by both genealogical and genetic research, that ED once met Hunter S. Thompson and, under the influence of hallucinogens coupled to produce a bastard child who was handed over to the family of an ordinary Bristolian loss adjuster and grew up to be.... well... ...me. We all have our dreams
  17. Let me throw in one more thought. How often does this happen to you? You meet someone, they say something like "Hi, you're X aren't you? They tell me you're a real foodie..." Now here comes the moronic conversational gambit - you're probably ahead of me here... "...so what's your favourite kind of food?" And, like me, your reaction is probably a silent scream, followed by an internal rant which goes something like.... "Oh you poor fucking idiot. What a question. How could I, even if I cared to waste any of my brief span on this earth doing so, explain to you the breadth of enjoyment in food? How can I communicate to somebody - who probably pierces the film on his ready meal with a fag butt before miking it - how much pleasure I gain from food of all types; how I can be carried away by simple flavours, complexity, culinary technique, surprising combinations, subtlety, strength, the love with which it was prepared or the rich history of its making? How can I explain to you that my granny's unbearably dry seedcake is as important a part of the palette of my palate as my last pilgrimage to El Bulli? How can I tell you that, before I die I intend to have eaten bull testicles on the Pampas, fugu off a geisha and barbecue in a lamplit pit in a Tenessee hollow? How can I explain to you that the most expensive dish I've ever eaten might taste like ashes in your mouth while things you'd never allow to pass your lips would delight me? You really don't have the faintest notion what it means to love food do you? I would feel pity for you - like a blind man in a library - were I not incensed by your suggestion that I could sum all this up in a word". Could any foodie worthy of the name really answer ... "...French". (edited to remove supernumerary apostrophe)
  18. Yep. Only a couple of deadlines overhanging so I'm looking for displacement activity too Fair point. Early versions attempted a blow-by-blow analysis of the piece with full links but I ended up feeling that ... 1) It wasn't that interesting 2) Though the rant was triggered by the article, it ended up less about his writing than my feelings about food writing in general 3) It was probably actionable All absolutely true, but when the public discourse about food has been so heavily middle-class and Francophile for so long, it's hard to imagine how today's foodies can get a clear run at making judgment. I felt it was important to provoke discussion of exactly how pervasive, influential and corrupting that influence has been. Did I rumble or ramble? When eating food rather than writing about it, it's hard to imagine how one can judge if the food of one nation is better. It's like asking if the air is better in England or France. I live in London, cook well, buy excellent ingredients and eat out (at other's expense) in restaurants that are regarded as world class - my experience of eating is practically indistinguishable from a person of similar background and interest in Paris or NY. If I sat you in front of a coq au vin, a steak and ale pie (and, for variety, a plate of chili) all made by local experts with the best available ingredients you might express a preference but you'd be unable to pin it on any national characteristic. I have to fall back to the position that the culinary superiority of a nation is, at best, a 'widely held belief' and like most WHBs is largely propped up by unthinking media and can invariably be undermined by individual and personal experience See number 3. If people were taking food for a test drive (metaphor clash warning) none of this debate would be taking place. There has been, for example, mention in this thread of grey meat, ale and bitter, none of which feature in my diet or that of any of my friends or family. The last time I ate the sort of 'curry' that's been mentioned so often was when I was a student and too blind drunk to stand. The last time I made custard was for iles flottant. It's shorthand, it's preconception - it can even be funny, I love that people think we're all either sexually inept Hugh Grants or dentally challenged Austin Powers. I even laugh at jokes about our plumbing and poor personal hygeine. They are, though, jokes. The Phoenix article, like too much food writing, took itself far too seriously to be considered amusing. ...and poor critics trot out unthinking cliche the French are overrated and the English are underrated ...and right welcome Completely agreed - and if my piece came across that way, I failed
  19. Blimey. You turn your back for a second and it's a learned debate A couple of points to reiterate though... I didn't want to make direct comparison between French and English cookery. My point was that such comparisons are idiotic. There have been some great French cooks, there are some great French dishes, the French may even be culturally more attuned to food. The French are great at closing down the town and having a festival to celebrate a local pastry. The English would clearly prefer to forget that hindle wakes or Bedfordshire clanger ever existed. The French codified haute cuisine and exported it to the willing upper classes of the civilised world. Post war the English speaking literary elites afforded particularly high status to Mediterranean and particularly French peasant cooking. As a result, French food could arguably be said to be 'better' than English but only when viewed through the filter of the last couple of generations of food writers. But asserting that 'French Cuisine' is 'better' than 'British cookery' is as pointless as trying to prove that Italians make better lovers than the Spanish. Who says? It's a lazy preconception. The stereotype of the smouldering Latin lover is the last resort of a third rate writer who lacks the imagination or skill to develop a realistic character. It wouldn't stand up in a serious work of literature so why should we accept such crapulous shortcuts from supposed foodwriters. I reckon someone who wastes 1000 words saying that French food is better than the stuff he gets in Phoenix has nothing valid left to say about food and should be run out of town on a rail by right-thinking foodies.
  20. 1. St John (still) 2. Fat Duck (hardly news, but this year was my first visit) 3. Honourable mentions to Hacienda Benazuza, Arbutus, The Bacchus and Ambassador Award for meal that's sent me shrieking into the night with utter joy. Santa Maria del Buen Ayre. Award for best food in weirdest place. Crab pasty at Cawes family longshoreman's hut, Ventnor. If years had names like the Chinese system, this, for me would be the year of the pig head and the oxcheek. I'm not sure my oven's been turned above 65 degrees all year. I think this may have been Heston's year though, pace the new (and excellent) OFM, more for the virus like spread of 'long, slow and low' than for foams and paints.
  21. Bollocks! I missed it. Now I'll have to go and beg at the corner shop in the hope they haven't returned them yet. Arse.
  22. It has been variously described, depending on how closely the speaker's involvement with it is. These descriptions range from "technique" to sinister cult. ← Very interesting - I must look into the subject a bit more closely. ← I found this a good place to start.
  23. Agreed, pretty much all the way. But I didn't realise that HB was quite such a Black Hat NLP wizard. It makes sense - it fits well with the self-made control freak type. I don't see NLP as anti-science though. I mean it's ludicrously unscientific but it's couched in pseudoscience terms. It's generally practiced by people with a simplistic belief that there's a mechanistic answer to everything and it invariably falls over for that reason. (ETA - For me it's bad-science not anti-science) It's really interesting to hear this though. When I spoke to him I probed a little into the more obvious modality and state stuff and he shot off into a whole range of mad Eriksonian sounding guff about implants and triggers. It would be a shame if his exploration of the wilder shores took him into that sort of half-baked voodoo. HB, the Paul McKenna of the kitchen I heard recently that HB has been presenting seminars arranged by one of the big management consultancies. Maybe this is his next step... out of the kitchen and into the world of corporate gurudom.
  24. Dear God, I wanted to barf! As his face looks more and more like a scrotum with each passing episode, what must his scrotum look like?
  25. A man after my own heart. I have a Rothenberger Multigas with a fishtail attachment. I saw a Kiwi plumber using it while he was doing my kitchen and I ended up buying it off him. I gave my 'chef's' one to my Dad for lighting his pipe on his boat. (ETA: Rothenberger)
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