Tuesday, 26 November 2013

A tribute to the wise words of Joost van der Westhuizen

For those of you who aren't keen rugby fans the name Joost van der Westhuizen might not mean very much, but for me he is a truly inspirational man. In his youth he played rugby union for South Africa however in 2011 he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis which is a form of motor neuron disease. With this he was told that he had 2 to 5 years left to live. 
Joost van der Westhuizen
Much can be said for the assets you gain off the pitch from being a competitive sports man or woman. You find it easier to be focused and determined, you have an intrinsic desire to do well and succeed. There is a fight which exists inside you and Joost van der Westhuizen is a prime example of this. Before the England vs New Zealand game last week an interview with him was shown which honestly brought me to tears. He spoke so calmly about how he was fighting his disease and how he knew he would never beat it but he wanted it to be a good fight while it lasted. His illness is clear to see as he is bound to a wheel chair and although he can still talk it is more of a whisper which had to be subtitled on the television. Yet when he uttered one particular sentence it was obvious that he was thinking more clearly and profoundly than some of us ever will. He said there are two things which we take for granted in life and it is that of time and health. He said, I have neither but I am appreciating the time and health that is left. 
For me these words hit home very hard as at times I am very guilty of worrying about things which essentially are so trivial. There are many things in life I should be thankful for but these are the things you forget. 
It also made me think about ways in which you can enhance your life while you still have time and health. Of course you cannot go on holidays constantly, or enjoy the finer things in life in pursuit of enjoying every second of everyday. But you can make the most of what you have. Every day you must eat, you must stop what you are doing and refuel yourself. So why not share the occasion with friends? Use it as a way to sit with your family and really talk to each other. Give a loved one the gift of cooking for them and doing the washing up too so they can enjoy some of their time when they usually aren't able to. I think Joost would be so happy to hear that even in the smallest ways his words had inspired others to make the most of their time. Food is so much more than just the ingredients and meal times are about so much more than just eating. Use your time wisely and enjoy your meal times, after all you couldn't live without them!

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Don't let your happiness be undervalued...

For the last 6 months I have been working as a chef in one of the best restaurants in Birmingham. I have learnt a lot about the industry and even more about myself. For example, working 14 hour days are awful but somehow I managed it. I also learnt that burning yourself is pretty awful but again not the end of the world and I have now got to the point where it hardly even bothers me! I realised that in my life I always want to be working with food and going to cookery school was the best decision I ever made.

At times I had very strong feelings towards giving up, although not a desirable trait, I think that it is common amongst most of us and it all comes down to whether you listen to those feelings and act upon them. I did not give up when the going got tough and this surprised my friends and myself as my true toughness was revealed.

The thing is, when you are at school and university and you do well and everyone gives you a pat on the back they forget to tell you what it will be like when you leave. The real world is really hard. Whatever job you have some of the people you work with will be horrid and rude, you will be expected to make sacrifices you don’t want to make, and there will always be a day when you just feel miserable. When I came across these things I thought to myself, why did I not just go and get a graduate job so at least I would be being paid a lot more to feel like this! But then my philosophical brain reengaged and reminded me that everything we do should be in pursuit of quality of life.

My goal in life has changed slightly, I think one day I would love my own shop and cafe type place so that everyone that visits can be made to feel happy and forget about the stresses of real life. Food is extraordinary because it is a neccessity and a luxury at the same time. I think that whilst my friends and I all strive to find a good job and earn good money we should remember to be happy and find a way to have high quality of life as well. I still feel like a child lost in the large supermarket aisles of real life with no idea where I am going and where all the friendly faces have gone. But working hard and coming out the other side mostly unscathed gives me optimism for what life will hold for us all.

The last six months were the best and the worst all at the same time but it has given me a determination that I did not know I had inside me. I will be happy in my work life as well as home life because life is too short not to be! I also really hope that through my food I can spread the happiness to lots of other people. Eat, live and be happy!

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Embrace your inner caveman!

Now the sun has shown its shining face we are once again swept with summertime fever. With the sun come images of BBQs and picnics, and my taste buds start tingling at the thought of it! BBQs and picnics are wonderful ways of sharing food and experiences with friends and family better than many other eating events.

I am keen on BBQs and picnics because of the link they have with the origins of cooking and eating. If we imagine our distant ancestors, the cave men, all they did were eat BBQs and picnics. It seems not to be a coincidence that the men of the family are always drawn to manning the fire and cooking the meat. BBQs especially are the epitome of simple but wonderful food. Most comprise meat, salad, bread and beer- a perfect combination for the modern day caveman. There is nothing fancy about a BBQ even if the host has tried to make it that way. Usually because of the fact at least one sausage has fallen into the charcoal, the Great British breeze will have blown something onto the floor to be snuffled up by the dog, and finally because of the constant threat of wasps chasing you and your food! I think it is important to remember our origins and keep in mind the first chefs who walked the earth.

Another summer tradition is that of picnics. They share links with ancient eating as well, mainly from the image of everyone sitting on the floor sharing the food that has been gathered together. When thinking philosophically about these summertime treats, I am drawn to the fact that they all come hand in hand with the thought of sharing and that they keep us tied to our distant relatives. Food has always brought people together and in summer it allows you to enjoy the great outdoors at the same time. I once studied a philosopher who believed happiness was brought by nature and an appreciation of nature. I believe enjoying food and nature whilst feeling connecting to the first men who walked the earth, doing activities that they could have done themselves, is extremely good for the soul. Although cavemen would not have sat around on gingham blankets with wicker baskets I am sure they would have liked a scotch egg or two!

Embrace your inner cave man, light a fire and enjoy some great food with friends and family! Welcome to the summer!     

Monday, 8 April 2013

Battle of the bloggers!

My boyfriend loves food just as much as me, perhaps even more because his appetite is bigger than mine! We both entered a competition to write a restaurant review and we both chose to write about Le Gavroche because it is the best restaurant we have even eaten at! The same meal, described in two very different ways, proving that a great meal is personal to the one eating it. Enjoy!

In Le Gavroche!

Restaurant review by Harriet-
As a birthday present I was taken to Le Gavroche and it is something I will remember for the rest of my life. As soon as you are greeted at the door you are made to feel like royalty. You venture downstairs and are met by an atmosphere which just tells you, you are about to have something extraordinary happen to you. I was lucky enough to experience the tasting menu where my personal highlights included the cheese soufflé in a cream sauce- the best soufflé I will definitely ever eat, and the snails and langoustine gratin. 
They may sound simple for a two Michelin star restaurant but the way that such simple combinations and ingredients were used and cooked to perfection made them even more fantastic than any flamboyant dish you may eat somewhere else. 
The dishes spoke for themselves but the staff and the restaurant brought the theatre to your dining experience. The main courses all were revealed by the lifting of giant, perfectly polished cloches; and the way the waitress produced a perfect quenelle of ice cream at the table just could not stop any guest who was dining from having a massive smile on their face. I would recommend anyone who likes food and understands good cooking to go to Le Gavroche. It is understated yet brilliant. I hope it will not be long until I am there again.  

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Snail and Langoustine gratin

Restaurant review by Jamie-
We strolled by Le Gavroche, too embarrassed to go in because we were unfashionably early! But before we knew it the door was opened and we were guided down into a restaurant that was like the most prestigious London gentlemen’s club combined with a peaceful retreat from the bustling hubbub of the big smoke. We ordered their Menu Exceptional, as this was my birthday treat for the Mrs, and a more perfect treat for two greedy foodys you could not find! The cheese soufflé that started the gastronomic symphony we were about to enjoy was like a candyfloss cloud of melt- in-the- mouth cheesey deliciousness. The foie- gras terrine that followed was so perfect that any ethical dilemmas anyone may have had with eating it would have been forgotten the moment it touched their lips. Gazing around at my fellow diners gave one that feeling that all great restaurants should give you; feeling like you’ve really made it, just by eating there, and fearing that at any minute you will be found out for the charlatan-Mcdonald’s eating peasants that you are! Langoustines and snails, black pudding and crumbled egg, loin of venison all followed in this French feast. But the desert, the beautiful baba, soaked at the table in Le Gavroche’s own calvados, oh wow! Had that small, brandy-drenched cake been the last thing I had ever eaten, my stomach would have died content! Should anyone be writing a restaurant bucket list, Le Gavroche should be top of their list!

Apple and calvados baba

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

You are only as good as your last dish

The thing about food and whether you like it or not, is that it is subjective. I believe this is something people forget when dining out at restaurants which have reputations of serving excellent food. Although a massive cliché, a restaurant is only as good as the last plate of food it has served.  The best chef in the world could cook a dish but if the waiting staff deliver it to the wrong table or wait too long before taking it out of the kitchen then it will no longer be as perfect as how the chef wanted it. I believe people need to be braver when eating out and form their own opinions of the restaurant itself along with the food they are served. Just because it has received good reviews does not mean you are obliged to say how wonderful it is without thinking about the experience you yourself received.
                This leads on to the point I am keen to make, that the power lies in the hands of the guest of the restaurant, not the chef. If you compare the world’s greatest chef to the world’s greatest artist then there is a massive difference. A painting could be created and never seen for hundreds of years yet when it is found it could still be credited as the best work of art there has ever been. Yet if the greatest chef has no one to eat his food at the exact point it is put on the plate then he is no greater than me or you. The chef depends so much more greatly on his audience than any other form of artist. The only way his greatness can last longer than the time it takes to eat a main course, is in the minds and hearts of those lucky enough to eat his food.
                I know lots of people who are put off by Michelin starred restaurants or they just do not understand what all the fuss is about when eating there, so are reluctant to visit. I am urging them to think about it more deeply and see that by you going there, you are in control; you do not have to like every dish just because someone who is paid to eat for a living tells you that you should. Going out to eat is a very personal experience, it is different for everyone. Even if everyone likes the food, it will be for different reasons and when reminiscing later about the restaurant different people will remember different things.
                I love going to dinner, mostly because of the food but also because of the theatre of the whole evening and the memories that are created. It should not be an overwhelming experience. You must remember without the guests, the chefs are nothing. They are desperate for you to come and eat their food so they can express their creativity and skills and leave an impression that lasts longer than just that evening. The power is in your hands as the eater. Go out and fill your stomachs, and decide for yourself whether these chefs deserve the accolades they work so hard for- with everything in life, you shouldn’t just take someone’s word for it.

My first ever restaurant dish!

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Why I love Easter so much!

With the easter bunny on its way I cannot contain my excitement! Although in the last few years Easter holidays have always meant revising and essay writing it has still held its place as one of my favourite celebrations of the whole year. A time to be with the family, eat well and most importantly- eat lots of chocolate.
Although I am 22 I am certain I am not alone in loving the traditional easter egg hunt which I hope happens up and down the country in everyone’s gardens, whatever the weather. When I came to uni I was shocked that one of my best friends had never experienced an easter egg hunt and so I quickly changed that for her! If thought about bluntly there seems nothing more pointless than hiding chocolate around in a garden, but to me there is nothing more thrilling than waiting inside the house resisting the temptation to peek out of the window to see where my parents were hiding the eggs.

Another thing I love about easter is the chocolate. I have only met one person in my life that doesn’t eat chocolate and even she could not resist a mini egg!! There is definitely something about egg shaped chocolate that makes it taste better. I also believe that it is the only time of the year you should eat chocolate straight out of the fridge. The way the chocolate rustles out of the foil and cracks spectacularly when you break a piece off is like nothing else. I really hope that this easter the chocolate you eat is really appreciated.
Easter is a good advert for the versatility of chocolate. Firstly for those people brave enough to give up chocolate over lent it highlights how many things have chocolate in them. Secondly, easter is a chance to eat as many treats as you can with not as much guilt as usual. Make sure you take advantage of this!

This is my favourite of all the easter treats I recommend making up a batch and eating them the same day as they are so yummy!!

Easter Nests:
-          200g of your favourite chocolate (mine is always Green and Blacks!)
-          5 shredded wheat biscuits
-          1 packet of mini eggs

1.       Melt the chocolate either in a microwave being very careful not to burn it, or place in a bowl over a pan of simmering water and melt slowly.
2.       Bash up the shredded wheat with a rolling pin until all the strands are separated.
3.       Mix the two together so that the chocolate completely coats the shredded wheat.
4.       Fill cupcake cases with the mixture and then top with mini eggs, making them look as much like nests as possible.
5.       Refrigerate until the chocolate has set solid again and then gobble them up!

So at this lovely time of the year where you should be remembering what you should be thankful for; be thankful that we are lucky enough to be able to eat what we want and we can have luxuries like chocolate eggs.  I hope everyone has a wonderful Sunday roast on Easter day and shares it with special people.  

Monday, 11 March 2013

Is a women's place really in the kitchen?

I am sure everyone has heard someone utter the phrase ‘A women’s place is in the kitchen’. I expect that those who said it were attempting to be funny rather than really believing it but I do think it is a common view that women are expected to cook more at home than men. So why in the professional world of cookery are there hundreds of male chefs and only a handful of female ones?

It was recently International women’s day and in light of this I began thinking about why professional chefs all seem to be men whilst cooking is associated with women. I think the common suggestions may be that the atmosphere is too hostile and aggressive for women to hold their own, or that the hours expected of the chefs are too taxing. However I do not think these reasons apply to just women. In fact in my experience women are welcomed into professional kitchens as they have a reputation of being more organised and better at planning than their male counterparts. One of my chef tutors once told me that head chefs look to employ women as they change the atmosphere within the kitchen and make it a calmer place to work. Although it makes extremely good television it has been realised that screaming, shouting and swearing at chefs working for you does not make them work any better or serve food at a higher standard.

So could it be that women just do not want to pursue careers as chefs however much they like cooking? I hope this is not the case. From what I have learnt so far, to be a great chef you need to have an ability to pay attention to detail, be organised and have a clear head when under pressure. Not only are women capable of all these things, from the women I know I think we excel at these things!

In every job I am sure there is someone who likes to shout to get there point across, or someone who has a limited vocabulary so chooses to swear often. I am extremely sure that at least once a day the topic of football will come up within the office. But these do not deter you from working there.

I am arguing that more women should follow their passion of baking and cooking for family and friends and make it a career for themselves. There has to be the next Mary Berry out there who will take cooking and make it a ‘cool’ profession and inspire another generation of chefs to come.

So in response to the next person who says a women’s place is in the kitchen, I say, yes it is! More women chefs would be great and our men should be encouraging us if only for the reason that their Sunday roasts will become even more tastier than before.