Tag Archives: Cooking

Poutine

Last night my daughter and I were chatting about when when she mentioned a dish I’d never heard of: poutine. She told me that had eaten it several times when she had visited Montreal.

Poutine, she explained, was chips, gravy and cheese. ‘It might not sound much, but it’s absolutely delicious.’

Her description reminded me that when I was growing up in Derbyshire chips and gravy was a popular request at my local chippie.

I did a bit of research about poutine and, apparently, poutine translates from French-Canadian to either ‘pudding’ or ‘mess’. The dish has been a staple at Québecois greasy spoons since the 1950s, keeping French-Canadians going through unbearably cold winters. Now it can be found everywhere across the province from roadside truck stops and McDonald’s to high-end Montreal restaurants.

Poutine is usually made with cheese curds, the solid bits left from acidifying milk which have a chewy, squeaky texture halfway between mozzarella and halloumi. When combined with fries and a traditional Canadian brown gravy, they semi-melt, making for the perfect winter warmer, drunken dinner or hangover cure.

Some chefs in Canada and the US, have updated poutine with fancy toppings such as pulled pork, lobster or jerk chicken.

 

I gather there are several places in London serving poutine, so I intend to go and try it.

Watch my short film about London’s Spanish restaurants

This is a short film explaining what my book Ole! Ole! Passion on a Plate is about and how I started running pop-up kitchens at Beer Rebellion, a quirky bar in Sydenham, south-east London..

Meeting the Arzaks in San Sebastian

On my recent trip to San Sebastian in the Spanish Basque country, I met a legend of Spanish gastronomy, Juan Mari Arzak, regarded as one of the world’s top chefs. I called unannounced to present him with a copy of my new book Ole! Ole! Passion on a Plate: The Rise of Spanish Cuisine in London.

He’s seventy-four and he’s still cooking in the kitchen at his restaurant, which was awarded three Michelin stars in 1989, a time when Spanish cuisine was still struggling to make a name for itself. He has been at the forefront of what has been called the new Spanish cuisine, taking traditional ingredients and dishes and adapting them.

His daughter Elena, an equally talented chef, works in the kitchen with him, overseeing a team of 30, which includes 10 interns from various parts of the world.

Passion

I wanted to know if Juan Mari was still as passionate about cooking as when he began his career.

“Yes! When I can’t sleep I sometimes think up new recipes,” he said.

Laboratory

He has a laboratory at the restaurant, which has over 1,000 plastic containers, each with a different ingredient. It’s here that Juan Mari, Elena, and their team

Come up with ideas such as sardine and strawberry, squid with banana, and chistorra with beer and mango.

They might sound odd combinations, but having tried all of them I can say that they were absolutely delicious.

Fame

Elena has received many offers to do TV shows, but she isn’t interested in them.

“I don’t want to be on TV,” she said. “I don’t like it. I prefer to be cooking in the kitchen.”

She also receives many invitations to attend conferences. In the next few weeks she is off to New York, Istanbul, and Milan.

Tradition

What struck me about the Arzak restaurant is that it is a family business with a deep sense of tradition and views the team as part of the family. In one of the wine rooms is part of a tree and a bottle of wine dating back to 1897 when his grandparents opened the restaurant. Several of the kitchen staff have worked there over 30 years.  Two remarkable chefs and  a remarkable restaurant.

Putting passion on a plate

Omar Allibhoy tells his story in my new book

Madrid chef Omar Allibhoy putting passion on a plate at his Shoreditch tapas bar

One of the hardest things when you are writing a book is to come up with a catchy title. You can spend weeks, or even months, playing around with words, trying to find the right ones. After much doodling on A4 pads and going for long walks, I now have a title for my new book: Ole! Ole! Passion on a Plate: The Rise of Spanish Cuisine in London.

The book is scheduled for publication in June.

A chef in search of perfection

The film Burnt has received a panning by most of the critics, but I loved it. It’s the story of a chef who, having conquered the inner demons that destroyed his glittering career in Paris, comes to London, gets a job in a top restaurant, and is determined to win three Michelin stars.

The film opens with the central character Adam Jones, played by the excellent Bradley Cooper, shucking oysters in a restaurant kitchen in New Orleans and recording the number he in a notebook. When he reaches a million he walks out of the restaurant, his self-imposed penance for his drug and alcohol abuse completed.

When he arrives in London, Tony, his former maitre d’, played by Daniel Brühl, reluctantly takes him on as the head chef of his white table restaurant.

He assembles a hot team of chefs and sets out on his Michelin goal. If you’ve ever read Marco Pierre White’s Devil in the Kitchen or Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential, you’ll know what to expect in the kitchen. It’s all here: ego, shouting, plates being flung at kitchen walls, staff being publicly humiliated. “Speak to the turbot, not me!” he tells Helene, a talented chef, played by Sienna Miller, after she makes an error cooking her fish.

The film showed how some chefs can become obsessed with achieving three Michelin stars and be filled with jealousy and almost hatred for rival chefs who have already pulled this off. Cooking becomes not so much about making the customers happy but more about pleasing the restaurant critics and Michelin inspectors.

When Adam refuses to give Helene half a day off for her daughter’s birthday, she brings her to the restaurant and Tony looks after her. Tony comes into the kitchen and tells Adam to bake her a cake. Adam thinks he must be joking. He’s chasing Michelin stars. He can’t be bothered with making cakes for children. “You’re a chef, aren’t you? So bake her a cake,” orders Tony. Adam goes into the restaurant and presents the little girl with the cake, asking her what she thinks of it.  After taking a slice, she says, “I’ve tasted better.” She’s doesn’t care about Michelin stars, just a nice cake. Adam has been brought down to earth by a child.

With Gordon Ramsey, Marcus Wareing and Mario Batali all having a hand in the film we can be sure that what we see in the kitchen of a top restaurant is accurate.

Burnt might not get an Oscar nomination, but it was a gripping and fascinating portrayal of the life of a chef and the search for perfection. And I came away from the cinema wondering why it is that we haven’t had more films about chefs. If you want drama, then you’ll often find plenty of it in a professional kitchen.

 

Saturday Kitchen

James Martin manages to cook and talk at the same time

James Martin manages to cook and talk at the same time

Cookery programmes on TV are now ten a penny, but one stands head and shoulders above the rest: BBC 1’s Saturday Morning Kitchen. This is not just a brilliant programme about cooking, it’s a brilliant TV programme.  Presented by the down to earth James Martin, it not only manages to show you how to cook various dishes and what wine to serve with them, it also provides more humour than you will see in the entire BBC comedy schedule. How James Martin manages to cook and chat so interestingly to guests at the same time, I will never know.

As well as this, you get treated to film clips of Rick Stein, Keith Floyd, Antonio Carluccio and other inspiring cooks. What more could you want?

 

About Greg Watts

 

Passion on a Plate greg ms

Greg Watts is the author of award-winning Ole! Ole! Passion on a Plate: The Rise of Spanish Cuisine in London and a cook who runs pop-up kitchens in south-east London.

He has also written books about or with artists, popes, former gangsters, trade unionists, and undertakers. His 2015 memoir The Long Road Out of Town tells the story of how he escaped a small Midlands town and discovered his vocation to be a writer.

During his career in journalism he has written for numerous publications, including The Times, London’s Evening Standard, and British Journalism Review. He has also worked in TV and radio.