Monday, June 27, 2011


Have you been keeping your eye on the revival of Duane Eddy’s career?  I have, largely because he owes it all to Sheffield, and specifically to Richard Hawley, singer/songwriter, guitarist, former sideman in Pulp, and connoisseur of all things Sheffield, especially Henderson’s Relish.  More of that later.

The story goes that Hawley (above), a great fan of retro guitar twang decided it was time for Eddy to come out of retirement, got him to Sheffield, made an album with him, had him play at the Glastonbury Festival, and so on, and along the way turned Eddy into a fan of Sheffield and the Peak District.

I can’t find much foodie reference in the Eddie oeuvre.  There are tracks titled “Giddy Goose,” and “Soda Fountain Girl” one titled “Shuckin” which I guess is a reference to oysters, and there’s one called “Tiger Love and Turnip Greens” but I’m not sure what that’s about.  Still, what’s in a title, especially when you’re a non-singing, guitar instrumentalist?

However, now that Eddy’s been to Sheffield it appears he’s found his inner foodie, and he’s a locavore too.  Here he is interviewed on the Quietus website:
“There's a pub called the Strines Inn, up on the moors above a reservoir with peacocks running about the place. We had a great meal there and they had a huge Yorkshire pudding, so I ordered that with the home-made chilli in it, like it was a big bowl. The chilli was amazing, as good as any I've had in Texas or anywhere else.”
       The Strines Inn: I know it well.  Everybody who’s ever lived in Sheffield knows it, though I don't remember any peacocks.

“We also went to Bakewell,” Eddy continues, “because we'd had a Bakewell tart, with custard. That was just heaven, one of the most delicious things I have ever had in my whole mouth, that's an old corny joke, but I'm not joking about the deliciousness.”
I love his enthusiasm, but having grown up eating my mother’s Bakewell tarts, I really don’t see what’s so great about them.  Maybe a tart is always without honor in its own county, although we were in Yorkshire and Bakewell's in Derbyshire, but nah, I'm trying too hard.

Now, I’m not sure how much of a foodie Richard Hawley is either, but he seems to like food.  The cover of his early album Late Night Final had a picture of him in a café in the Sheffield Castle Market, mentioned before in this blog.

He did an interview about food last year with The Financial Times (of all people) and revealed that Pomegranates remind him of childhood, that he doesn’t like pineapple, and that he finds Guinness irresistible.  But above all he’s a fan of Henderson’s Relish

I stand to be corrected, but I think Henderson’s relish is Sheffield’s only indigenous food invention.  I grew up splashing it on stew, meat pies and mushie peas, much like everyone else in Sheffield.  It’s a kind of Worcestershire sauce, but it doesn’t contain anchovies so it can claim to be vegetarian.  It's interesting that we used so much of this stuff in my family, because it contains all sorts of ingredients that my mother otherwise wouldn’t have had in the house: garlic, turmeric, tamarind.  Tamarind, for Pete’s sake.

Hawley played a gig at the Henderson’s factory to promote that first album and there’s been back a “limited edition” Hawley Henderson’s Relish, though I think it was just the label that was limited.  The stuff inside was classic Henderson’s.

And now I discover two things, first that there are  Henderson's flavor crisps available in the UK, and secondly, as I look around my kitchen I see that my own supply of Henderson’s is getting low (see below).  Maybe it’s time to visit Sheffield.  Maybe I’ll run into Duane Eddy.

Thursday, June 23, 2011


Sad to hear of the passing of Clarence Clemons, he of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, universally known as The Big Man.  That's him above on the left.  He was one of those people and presences you somehow thought would always be there, but given his size and his weight, his problems with his knees and his back, he did heroically well to last to 69. 

I haven’t been able to find out much about his food appetites, though I assume they were prodigious.  And I’ve been thinking what an advantage it is to be thought of as The Big Man, so much better than being known as The Fat Man or The Pudgy Man or The Morbidly Obese Man.

His quasi-autobiography, written with Don Reo is, titled Big Man (no “the”): Real Life and Tall Tales.  Some sections are in Clemons’s voice, some in Reo’s.  In one of the latter Reo writes, “If I’m in a crowded restaurant with Clarence, I believe I could pick up my knife and stab our waiter in the neck and nobody, including the waiter, would be able to give an accurate description of me.  I would appear in all reports as ‘some guy with Clarence Clemons’.”  Given some of the waiters I’ve met, it must have been tempting to put it to the test.

 Now, in the way that opening a book at random so often provides a moment of wonderful synchronicity, I opened Boswell’s Life of Johnson, the section for Spring 1766. Boswell describes how he and Oliver Goldsmith  dropped in at Johnson’s house intending to take Johnson down to one of the local pubs, the Mitre Tavern.  It turned out, however, that Johnson was ill and not in a drinking mood, at which Goldsmith says, “Come then, we will not go to the Mitre to-night, since we cannot have the big man with us.”  They order in a bottle of port instead.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


I’ve been watching the latest Gordon Ramsay Masterchef on Fox.  It’s annoyingly compelling.  I remember the ancestor of the show, which was on British TV in the 1990s when it was introduced by Loyd Grossman, a man with a bizarre, and easily imitated, Anglo-American accent, which somehow was always part of his appeal.  I thought he’d have foundered on the rocks of minor television celebrity by now, but nah, he’s still a figure in the UK, where he markets a range of sauces, which I suppose somebody must buy.

In the late 1980s Grossman and his brother opened a restaurant in London called Columbus.  Craig Brown gave it the worst review I’ve ever seen, so elegantly abusive that I have, of course, kept it in the Nicholson archive.  It’s full of good lines, but the highlight is when Brown is served blinis with sour cream and salsa verde.  He writes, “… it looked as if somebody had been sick over a passing plate.  The taste, too, was not dissimilar.”  That's Craig Brown below.

I always used to watch that early Masterchef with my mum when I used to go visit her in Sheffield, and yes, it was annoyingly compelling too, and no we could never take it quite seriously.  There were just three contestants per show, and the problem was that it became incredibly formulaic incredibly quickly.  I’m sure this isn’t literally true, but as I recall in every show one contestant always cooked medallions of venison, and another cooked monkfish.  Coulis and kiwi fruit were generally involved too.  And then there was a Junior Masterchef where unsettlingly precocious children would come and also cook venison and monkfish.  Watching that show was a bit like picking a scab, yes it kind of hurt but you couldn’t stop yourself going back to it.  Apparently there's been an incredibly successful Australian version.

In the spirit of irony I did once get the application forms to become a contestant on British Masterchef, not the junior version.  I’m not sure I’d actually have applied, but in any case I wouldn’t have been allowed to. It was strictly a competition for home chefs, and if you’d cooked professionally at any time in any capacity you were ineligible.  Those months working at the Bath Hotel in Cambridge ruled me out.

No such restrictions apply to the US version: I checked out their application form too.  I guess they reckon that in this day and age every damn fool has cooked professionally at some time or other.  The form however is a good deal more probing than the British one. “Have you ever hit somebody in anger or self-defense?”  it asks.  “If so provide details.” “Have you ever had a restraining placed against you?”  “Have you ever been treated for mental illness?” There’s no suggestion that any of these things is a deal breaker.

But by far the most curious thing on the form is the section that invites you to “Describe your feelings about Gordon Ramsay.” Interesting word that “feelings.”  They don’t care about thoughts or opinions or well-founded analysis, just feelings.  Ah, we owe so much to Oprah.

I was too late to apply for  Masterchef this year, and if I’d know that one of the early challenges involved slicing apples for a couple of hours, I’d have been pretty reluctant anyway.  On the other hand, looking at some of the nightmare dishes that even those in the last 18 are serving up, I don’t think I’d have completely humiliated myself.  Easy enough to say that from the couch, I know.

Anyway, my current feeling about Gordon Ramsay is that he’s being edged out of the spotlight by one of the other judges - Joe Bastianich (that's him above), a man for whom the culinary world is still full of surprises.  In the first few episodes of the new show he revealed that he’d never eaten haggis, never had a sausage roll, and never tasted alligator.  You have to think he should get out more.

Bastianich, it turns out, used to be a jolly fat man (above), but now he’s lean and mean, and looks as though he spends many an hour in front of his bathroom mirror practicing the stink eye, and he’s got pretty good at it.  However, it does look like a bit of an act.  At least Gordon’s casual bile seems to come straight from the heart.  My money’s on Gordon eventually regaining the lead in the venom stakes.

There was one thing on the new Masterchef that would never have been seen in the old British version, and certainly not on the junior version, and that was a semi-naked woman covered in sushi and rose petals, the latter not to be eaten, I think.  Of course the contestant who presented this silliness didn’t get through to the next round, and I’m sure nobody, least of all the producers of the show, ever thought he would. 

But personally I’ve never understood why it has to be sushi that’s always served on a semi, or indeed entirely, naked woman.  Wouldn’t chicken curry be just as good?   Steak and kidney pie?  Tripe and onions?  Why not?  Maybe I’ll give that a whirl if I enter Masterchef next year.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


As some of you may know, I have another writing life in which I’m an enthusiastic, and occasionally obsessive, walker.  It seems to me that eating and walking go together pretty well.  Either you walk while you eat, or you walk to somewhere and eat when you get there.  In England, fish and chips work pretty well either way, though of course you have to be walking somewhere that has a fish and chip shop.  You can’t just stick some cod, chips and mushy peas in your back pack and dig them out when you get to a suitable peak.

The Germans and Austrians seem to do this rather better.  They have something called a “walking sausage,” more properly a landjaeger.  I first saw these on sale in the Pike Place market in Seattle and for some foolish reason didn’t buy one.

As it happens I’ve been reading some remarks about walking and food written by Grimod de la Reyniere, he of the Almanch Des Gourmands.  He has a couple of interesting things to say.  One, “It is a proven fact that all centenarians have been prodigious walkers,” about which I don’t feel qualified to comment.  And two, “A morning constitutional of four or five leagues is one of the best ways of seasoning the dinner that greets you on your arrival.  A similar walk back has a singular faculty of aiding the digestion.” Now this is very slightly confusing because a league has been different distances at different times in French history, but it was never less than 2 miles, and at the time Grimod was writing I believe a league was 2.66 miles.  So essentially he’s suggesting a 24 mile walk with dinner in the middle, which certainly makes a hole in the day. 

Grimod also says “a true gourmand never ventures abroad without an emetic about his person” which would surely make walking with him quite a performance.

I decided to consult Colin Fletcher’s The Complete Walker.  That's him above, and I imagine walking with him was quite a performance too.  The edition I have of The Complete Walker contains a 130 page chapter titled Kitchen, and within that about 40 pages are devoted to food; lots of stuff about freeze dried food, empty calories and something he calls “new wave eaters.”  Frankly not all of this is relevant to the kind of walking I do, which tends not to involve a night spend out in the wilds, and if you ask me he’s talking about camping rather than walking.  Still, I found it interesting that Fletcher says “I carry three small bags of herbs on each trip, ringing the changes on ground cumin seeds, oregano, thyme, sage and Italian herb mix.  Other bags may hold garlic powder, dried onion flakes and imitation bacon chips.”  Well, why not?

And then I went to and see the movie The Trip with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon.  That’s the poster above: for some reason they don’t have any wine in their glasses, and I assume there must be strange marketing reasons for that.  It’s a movie about two British men of a certain age who go on a slightly half-hearted gastronomic tour of parts of northern England.  They squabble a little, do competing impressions of Michael Caine and Sean Connery (among many others), and often they seem to be on the brink of discussing the meaning of life, but always manage to avoid it.

It’s a terrific film, and one indicator of its strength is that I’d been out of the theater for a couple of hours before I said to myself, “Wait a minute.  Isn’t this a bit like that movie Sideways?” 

Coogan and Brydon do a certain amount of walking over hills and dales, especially in the Lake District, but since they’re eating in fancy restaurants every night they don’t take three small bags of herbs with them, though one small joint does make an appearance.  And certainly there are no imitation bacon chips.

The actors play fictional versions of themselves, and the movie frequently makes you wonder what’s “real’ and what’s not.  So when they arrive at an improbable restaurant called L’enclume, in the middle of the English countryside, I was quite prepared to accept that this was some satirical invention by the filmmakers.  The guys are served by a waiter with a thick, creamy French accent who delivers martini glasses containing what he describes as a ”nice little appetizer.  You’ve got liquor made out of mallow leaves topped with a fizz made out of ginger beer, whisky as well as chili.” Steve Coogan says, though not to the waiter, “The consistency is a bit like … is a bit like snot, but it tastes great.”

                   Anyway a little light Googling reveals that L’enclume really exists, though I find it hard to believe that anybody who works there can keep a straight face.  Today between their three tasting menus you can have, “Carrot sacks with brawn and juniper, fried cake and cress,” “Salt and vinegar crispy rice, cod 'yolk', cream of egg and garlic,” “Vintage potatoes in onion ashes, whey sauce flavoured with lovage and wood sorrel” and “Hake with chicken skin.”

Sometimes life is very hard for the satirist.  The world, and especially the food world, just keeps getting ever more beyond parody.  On the other hand, I do discover that L'enclume is also the French name for a sexual position that allows maximum penetration, so maybe the guys at the restaurant have even more reason to smirk.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


Not like I’m obsessing about Gwyneth Paltrow or anything but a few weeks back there was a short piece in the New Yorker describing a launch party for her cookbook. Many a guest attested to Paltrow’s kitchen prowess, and then along came that famous bon viveur Michael Stipe, quoted as saying. “Once, a duck she was cooking caught fire, and she threw it in the pool.”  How we laughed. 

I, of course, wondered which poor minion got the job of removing the duck from the pool.  Somehow I imagine it wasn’t the divine Ms P. But hold on.  It appears that Gwyneth’s been telling the story herself on a British chat show, and it’s become considerably more baroque. On the Graham Norton Show it wasn’t just a duck, it was a whole “personal rotisserie.”  She described the event thus,  “I’ve been cooking for a long time now, so I’m pretty comfortable, but I actually had a horrible disaster last summer. I got this rotisserie and I wanted to rotisserie duck and it’s the perfect thing because all the fat renders off and you’re left with crispy duck … You have to put drip pans underneath the duck, but I’m such a moron that I didn’t realize one of the burners was on underneath the drip pans, so one of the pans caught fire. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen duck fat on fire, but it’s like a nuclear weapon and the whole thing exploded and we had to throw bits of it in the swimming pool. I had a fire extinguisher and I lost my eyebrows.” 

So now, it’s not the duck that’s on fire, but bits of the machine.  Even more crap.  Even more work for some poor bastard.

Anyway, of course I don’t know if any of this is actually true.  Nobody feels the need to tell the truth on chat shows or when New Yorker reporters are around.  Maybe it’s all just a joke.

But the composer Rossini (above), he of the Barber of Saville and William Tell,  and a more than adequate amateur chef, certainly wouldn’t have found it so funny.  According to unreliable history, Rossini wept only three times in his life: the first at the disaster of his first opera, the second when he heard Paganini play the violin, and finally, when he was at a picnic lunch on board a boat, and a turkey stuffed with truffles fell overboard.

Monday, June 6, 2011


And speaking of art and food, I see that the Andy Monument has been erected in New York’s Union Square.  It’s a statue of Andy Warhol, by Rob Pruitt, and as you see, it’s life-size and silvered (actually chrome, apparently).  That’s a Bloomingdale’s shopping in his hand, and there’s a Polaroid camera round his neck.

It seems that the human instinct to make altars and shrines instantly came into play in Union Square and empty soup cans and flowers were immediately arranged around the base of the statue.  Not exactly inventive, but given some of Warhol’s other works (I’m thinking of the “oxidation” paintings) this is definitely a blessing.

Of course, it’s impossible to think of Warhol without thinking of Campbell’s soup, and the more you think about it, the more of a foodie he seems.

He made the movie Eat (above) in 1963 or 4 (scholars differ), a 45 minute movie of Robert Indiana eating mushrooms (very slowly).

In homage (for want of a better word) to this, in the 1980s Warhol appeared in a Japanese TV commercial for Burger King, which lasts just under 4 and a half minutes and shows him eating a burger, at more or less natural speed, but it’s far less compelling than Eat. Warhol seems painfully ill at ease in front of the camera.  Equally he’s not the guy making the movie.  He also looks extremely thin, which I take it owes more to speed than to burgers.

I found myself browsing through the Warhol diaries and there’s quite a bit of fun stuff related to food in there.  He goes to the Four Seasons restaurant: the place is packed: the food is terrible.

Priscilla Presley comes by the office for an interview and reveals that she never ate caviar in all the years she spent with Elvis: he’d have thrown her out of the house if he’d ever seen her eating fish.

Warhol goes to the Stage Delicatessen for “good Jewish Celebrity sandwiches” and says, “The ‘Diana Ross’ was the worst, though – liver with jelly and peanut butter.”

And best of all he meets Famous Amos, he of chocolate chip cookie fame, and asks the brilliant, idiot-savant question of why the cookies look different on the pack than they do in reality.  Amos says it would take too long to cook them so they looked that way.  Warhol raised no objection.  He understands perfectly that there need be no consistency between form and content.

I like the Andy Monument well enough but actually I think I prefer this one, in Bratislava. 
Call me naïve, but somehow it just looks more like him.