You can get the impression that the quality of food in Britain we eat has changed beyond recognition in the last twenty years or so. This is especially true if you live in London, with its dynamic restaurant scene and where farmers’ markets and posh butchers and delis have sprung up all over the place.
Yet if you travel beyond it’s a very different story. A couple of years ago I was with my wife and son in a popular tourist town in Derbyshire, and the choice of places to eat came down to dingy looking fish and chips shops, pubs with confused looking menus, and a solitary pizza restaurant. We opted for the pizza restaurant – it was awful.
Michelin star chef Angela Hartnett, a protégée of Gordon Ramsey and the former head chef at the Connaught, has come to a similar conclusion about the foodie culture in the country.
When people say we are a “foodie nation, we have a food culture, I genuinely don’t think we do”, Hartnett told BBC Radio’s Desert Island Discs.
“I don’t think we’re like the Italians or the Spanish, where everyone from the person who lives in one flat to the person who lives in a villa will go and buy a chicken and everyone can afford that chicken. Our food culture is about money. People who have money can afford good food in this country.”
Hartnett went on to say it was wrong to patronise people on low incomes about organic food.
“When you haven’t got any money and you’re living on a low income, to patronise and sit there and say, ‘You’ve got to have an organic chicken’ is wrong. We’ve lost home economics in a lot of schools. People aren’t taught to shop. People don’t have the time to shop and the time to cook.”
I think she is bang on. There are too many chefs and food bloggers who live in a culinary bubble. I recall Rick Stein once saying something to that effect.
The irony is that we have more cook books and TV cookery programmes than ever, yet for many people, despite Jamie Oliver’s best attempts, cooking still means sticking a supermarket ready means in the microwave.