Monday, 31 October 2016

Cookbook review: Salt is Essential by Shaun Hill

published by Kyle Books, £25

We are living in gastronomic end times. Culinary Armageddon is upon us. A chef with seven heads, ten horns, and ten crowns on his horns emerged from the sea and turned the air into carrot. Then, a chef emerged from the earth having two horns, a head like a lamb, his body as a sheep, a tail like a wolf and feet like a goat, speaking with the voice of a dragon, directed his peers to make an image in homage to the Beast of the Sea on the plates before them, wrought from the very memories of their childhood.

And behold, a white horse: and he that sat on him had some oysters and some pearls, though never would he taste them, and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer. And there went out another horse that was red: and he that sat upon him carried moss and lichen, and there was given unto him a great sword. And lo, a black horse; and he that sat on him had a citrus based confection that tumbled from his grip. Whoops. And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was The Death of Gustatory Ambition, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth to cook over open fire the beasts of the earth. And the sun turned black, the moon to blood. The sky receded like a rolled blind and the stars fell to the earth.

But there was a voice of hope.  And I turned to see the voice that spoke to me, his head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire. And I saw in the right hand of him a book, 'Salt is Essential'.

It's been 12 long years since Shaun Hill's last book, the baldly titled How to Cook Better. In that time we've seen the weird excesses of molecular gastronomy (in Salt is Essential, Hill reveals he gave the keynote speech at a biennial workshop in Sicily organised by Nicolas Kurti, the Oxford physics professor who coined the term. Heston Blumenthal took Hill's spot the next time around and the rest is history) replaced by locavore fundamentalism which in turn has been usurped by a caveman-like obsession with fire and smoke. In the highest echelons of gastronomy, diners feast upon live insects and plankton.
Malfatti, cooked by Andy Lynes from recipe in Salt is Essential
While all this has been going on, Hill has remained aloof, continuing to cook, first at The Merchant House (click the link for my review from 2002) and then at The Walnut Tree Inn, the sort of food that the practical application of his craft for a mind-boggling 50 years has proved to him to be correct. And now he's distilled some of what he has learnt into the all-too-short 190 pages of Salt is Essential.

Thanks to Kit Chapman's excellent book Great British Chefs published in 1989, I discovered Hill (who was then cooking at Gidleigh Park) early on in my own personal gastronomic journey and have subsequently read virtually everything he's published. Over the years, his understated dry wit and pragmatic approach to his subject have wormed their way into my brain and profoundly influenced how I think, and write about food.

For those not familiar with Hill's take on the world of cooking (I would never accuse him of anything so crass as having a 'philosophy' about food), Salt is Essential provides the perfect primer. This is food writing with an iron back bone and as much attitude as Mark E Smith on an amphetamine jag.  Chapter titles such as 'Creative thinking is a bad idea if you know nothing', 'A well done fillet makes no more sense than an undercooked stew' and 'Soya beans are best left for cattle feed' are clear signals that we're not in Kansas anymore Toto.

In a series of essays and elucidating recipe introductions, Hill combines opinion with practical advice, historical fact with personal anecdote and common sense with hard-earned insight to provide a hugely entertaining and edifying read. So you learn that 'larger eggs have thinner shells and absorb air more quickly. This means that although fresh, they are more likely to lose shape when cooked and the yolks are fragile'; Worcestershire sauce is a cousin of both Thai fish sauce and the ancient Roman sauce garum, all three being made with fermented fish; and that Elizabeth David's ancient precursor was a chap called Archestratus from the fourth century BC who knew all about the best cuts of tuna and 'advised against allowing Italians near your sea bass a they had a tendency to cover the fish with cheese and pickle' (a scholar of Latin, Greek and ancient history, Hill has been an honorary research fellow at the University of Exeter and has written several books on ancient food with Professor John Wilkins, including Archestratus: Fragments from the Life of Luxury about the man himself).

As one of the prime movers of the late 80's modern British cooking movement that took inspiration from across the globe, it's no surprise that Hill's recipes cover everything from risotto bianco to  twice baked Lancashire cheese souffl├ęs. Hill is widely travelled with a particular fondness for the Indian subcontinent and his tandoori marinade, made with lots of cumin, black peppercorns, cardamom and cloves is worth the cover price alone.

He also has a particularly good nose for dishes from northern, central and eastern Europe (one of his first jobs was at the Gay Hussar, the famous Hungarian restaurant beloved of politicos in London; his wife Anja is Finnish and has written several books on the food of Finland) such as karjalan piirakka, a rye pastry snack from Eastern Finland, and turos placsinta, sweet cream cheese pancakes from Hungary.

Although a few of the recipes demand a commitment in terms of time, money or concentration (you'll need 3 kilos of veal bones, a kilo of diced beef shin and 12 hours of your life that you'll never get back to make a classic demi glace sauce and just the odd five hours to make Hill's extremely delicious version of baked beans), the vast majority are straightforward yet still likely to expand your culinary repertoire in ways other books might well fail to do. I may not rush to make the Maksalaatikko Finnish pig's liver pudding with lingonberries, but lamb's sweetbread pies; malfatti (ricotta and spinach dumplings) or puntarelle salad with anchovy and garlic dressing? Just try and stop me.

While Salt is Essential is aimed primarily at the home cook, I would implore every young professional cook, dazzled by the glittering parade of over-hyped superstar chefs and their weighty art-wank tomes, to read it. For therein lies your, and the dining public's salvation. Amen.  

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

The critical point: Tom Sellers vs Fay Maschler

When I read Fay Maschler's 1 (out of 5) star review of restaurant Ours in the Evening Standard last week, I asked myself a few questions. When you say them out loud, actually how different are the words 'ours' and 'arse'? Is it likely that a restaurant that features a 30 foot catwalk as it's entrance ever going to be anything else other than a magnet for reality TV stars, minor league footballers and low-rent royals? And how the fuck can anyone justify charging 12 quid for one scallop?

I might have been a one man Question Time, but one thing I knew for absolute certain was that Ours's consulting chef Tom Sellers of Michelin-starred Restaurant Story wasn't going to be happy when he'd finished reading the review. And I knew for sure that the one thing I didn't need to see was a smugly passive aggressive 1000 word 'review of the review' by Sellers. Call me a psychic mentalist mind reader with mad telepathic skillz, but when you see phrases like 'weirdly slithery', 'tasteless' and 'mouth-puckering saltiness' used about food, you know the person responsible for cooking it won't be jumping up and down with glee.

Nevertheless, within hours of Maschler's 'Tricky sequel for Sellers' review came Sellers's essay 'Faymous'. Unless Sellers was given a preview of the review, it seems unfair to parse his writing style given that the piece must have been bashed out in a matter of minutes. Whatever the issues with the prose, Sellers's raw emotions come through loud and clear as he picks over Maschler's review like food returned uneaten to a restaurant kitchen.

He regrets that a salmon dish, which he claims was tasted by the critic and which the chef is obviously proud of, is not mentioned. He quibbles over just exactly how a table was assigned to Maschler (she:' I have been recognised. Suddenly there is a table ready'; he: 'the table reserved for your pseudonym was always your table and the delay was due to the staff re-laying it'). He complains that his CV is referred to in the review, even though he has a version of ratatouille by Thomas Keller (one of Sellers's famous mentors, along with Rene Redzepi and, unmentioned by Maschler, Tom Aikens) on his menu, and at a whopping £17 a portion.

On closer examination, there is little of substance in the piece, underlined by the fact that his main bone of contention is that the critic has failed to correctly identify some of the ingredients in an eschabeche of red mullet. Maschler guesses beetroot and red cabbage, Sellers says onion, fennel and purple carrot. Although I did wonder why Maschler didn't check with the kitchen on the ingredients either on the day or by phone later on, Sellers might be better off considering why the flavour of his food can't be detected by a critic of more than 40 years standing and if he needs to do anything to make them more distinct, than pondering whether she had 'eaten out too many times that week, or that day even, and become confused'.

By concentrating on the apparent error, Sellers allows himself to brush aside the actual criticism, that the ingredients, whatever they may have been, were 'dissing what should be a delicate flavour' as Maschler put it, and unbalancing the dish. And by letting a bad review get under his skin, Sellers has also missed two crucial wider points. He might have received plenty of support on Twitter for the piece (just check out his feed at @tomsstory, he's re-tweeted most of it) but 'Faymous' ultimately has brought a great deal more attention to a bad review than it might otherwise have received and his defensive tone has only served to lend weight to Maschler's carps.

The greatest irony however is that Ours is the kind of restaurant that is mostly immune to reviews. The sort of people likely to head to South Kensington for an £8 kale salad or a £10 side order of asparagus have probably never heard of Fay Maschler. Or Tom Sellers. Better that the chef kept a dignified silence or at least appear to take the review on board rather then dismissing it out of hand. 

Although Maschler's visits were both in the first week of trading, the restaurant was charging full price and it would be unlikely that Sellers would have refuted a positive review on the basis that they had only be opened a few days. 'Give us time we are working extremely hard to reach the level we desire' pleaded Sellers in response to a tweet from a paying punter who agreed with Maschler's assessment. But the only way new restaurants can buy time from reviewers and customers alike is with free family and friends nights and reduced price soft opening weeks. That's when mistakes can be legitimately made and compensated for, otherwise chefs and restaurateurs have to accept they are fair game as soon as they start charging full whack.

What is most disturbing about Sellers's riposte is the implication that critics are something the restaurant industry has to endure, like rat infestations or immigration raids, that the award of just one star was somehow invalid because Sellers chose not to accept it. If he's unwilling to accept the judgement, based on two visits, of one of the country's most experienced diners, it makes you wonder how seriously he takes customer complaints. Sellers should be delighted to have been given what is in effect free consultancy (Maschler has been know to charge for the service through the now defunct Private View company she set up in 2008), the pay off being that it was conducted in the full glare of publicity of course.

Does Sellers take no notice of reviews when he's deciding where to dine? Does he never talk critically about meals he's eaten in other chef's restaurants? The truth is that everyone who eats out on a regular basis and cares about food is a critic, whether they are paid for it or not, whether they have a column in a newspaper or just tweet.

Restaurant critics (and critics of any stripe, be it opera, theatre or cinema etc) are not parasites, living off the work of others, taking and not giving anything back. They are part of an essential dialectical relationship that improves the restaurant scene for everyone. You only have to look at London compared to the rest of the UK to see how important that relationship is. There are of course many other factors at play, but I firmly believe that strong critical voices have at the very least speeded up the evolution of the London scene, and that their absence elsewhere in the country is sorely felt.

Although Sellers accuses Maschler of being 'confused', infers that she's weak on detail and lacks passion and quotes cartoon restaurant critic Anton Ego saying that 'the work of critic is easy' (sic), he also claims that his respect for Maschler 'goes beyond description' and hopes to one day enjoy dinner with her. If he isn't being hugely disingenuous and is simply suffering from a little cognitive dissonance (he is, after all, 'just the guy that cooks the food' as it says on his website) , then a Sellers/Maschler summit might not be a bad thing. 

Because there is a real risk that the growing lack of patience displayed by chefs in general with criticism received through sites like Tripadvisor is spilling over to reviews in general and that is a dangerously blinkered attitude to adopt. It's something recently recognised by James Lewis creative director at Gauthier Group who told a Caterer magazine summit that negative reviews provided 'incredible data' that operators should 'relish'

Perhaps a meeting between Sellers and Maschler might begin to mend this apparently broken relationship. Maybe they can work out their differences over a dish of red mullet served with beetroot and red cabbage. And onions, fennel and purple carrot.  

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Sunday, 1 November 2015

The Eternal Lunchtime by Addled Palate

Time has passed since I broke fast this morning. Hours, made up of minutes, they themselves created by seconds, seconds forged by milliseconds, milliseconds a mere procession of yoctoseconds. Each unit occupied by but a single thought; what foodstuff would my body envelop when the sun hangs highest in the sky? What victuals would vie for my visceral attentions as the day begins it long, slow but inevitable descent into night? Or, put another way, what's for lunch, I'm bloody starving.

Impossible though it seems, it was but a blink of an eye since I allowed opaque liquid harvested from a cow - cooled by the chill kiss of the gently humming silver box in the corner of the room in my apartment where culinary alchemy occurs - to cascade over a receptacle filled with corn fashioned into tiny crisp wafers. Dusted with crystals of sweetness, I devoured them, masticating while musing on the nature of sustenance. I felt their energy merge with my own as they became a part of me, until later (about 11.00am to be specific) when they no longer were.

The midday repast is a special thing. It is when we reward ourselves for time spent not eating, even though we have not stopped ingesting with our minds. Lunch should not be onerous, but a joyous thing, it should ease the passage to afternoon, not jar it. No one wants a jar in their passage. And yet it is a meal to linger over, to celebrate with friends and at which to make new friends (I recall the look of pleasant surprise on the face of the plumber, who had come to fix a dripping tap, when I offered him a roll).

Yet lunch must not dominate the day, I ask only of it that it leave room for afternoon tea, some street food perhaps on the way to the artisan deli, a fucking enormous great dinner and Madeira cake and sherry before bed. Lunch must lurk in the margins of its sister meals, like a heroin addict in a shadowy alleyway, waiting for the next drunk to mug.

There is only one thing that can satisfy all these conditions. It is a meeting of carbohydrate and protein, a culinary conclave as ancient as an Italian granny. The cured flesh of the swine environed by milled wheat, water, yeast and salt that has been transformed into the staff of life by the magic of heat. Yes, a ham fucking sandwich.

Bring the ham whole to the table, along with a pristine loaf and allow your guests to rip away at flesh, crust and crumb with their bare hands. In that way, the meal becomes an energy vibrator that touches your guests in a very deep and real way. And you haven't had to go to the bother of making a load of sarnies for your freeloading mates.

Too soon, the meal has ended and friends drift away, leaving the gift of their memory in the form of the literal bare bones of the feast. I may use the ham bones for stock, or sharpen them and carry them as weapons (the alleyways around here are full of malevolent heroin addicts). To have offered food to your friends is to commit an act of love. And when you feed others, you feed your own needs too. You are saying 'I love you' but also 'I really love myself'. And no one's going to argue with that.

Addled Palate is categorically not related to Tamar Adler, and The Eternal Lunchtime in no way resembles her book and Guardian column Everlasting Meals.  

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

The Kitchen Person ultimate cheese guide

Danish Blue - like licking a mouldy fridge, this Panzer attack of savouriness is the black hole into which most of the earth's salt reserves have been poured. Stick to the pastries and TV dramas. 

Ready grated Parmesan - perfect for cheese lovers who are unable to figure out exactly how a grater works. Buy in a cardboard tub for that authentic two-day-old-dried-vomit-on-a-dirty-carpet aroma.

Dairylea - an emulsion of water, skimmed milk (and some cheese) all magically held together by sheer force of profit motive. Any child of the 70's will instantly recognise the unmistakeable flavour of parental neglect. Pairs perfectly with brown floral wallpaper and G-plan furniture.

Philadelphia with Cadbury's - you're a real go-getter, you're clawing your way to the top. You're juggling work, play and family life with a career on the side as an international assassin. You don't have the time, or frankly inclination to eat chocolate and cheese separately. You want it all, all of the time. You want medium fat soft cheese, you want fat-reduced cocoa powder and you want locust bean gum in your face-hole now!

Primula with ham - comes in a handy tube, perfect for squeezing directly into the mouth at 3.00am after downing a crate of Stella while binge-watching an entire season of Entourage. Can also be used as a substitute for toothpaste, grouting and spot cream. 

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Kingdom of Cooks

New e-book Lifts the Lid on the UK Restaurant Scene

Andy Lynes, the well-known food, drink and travel writer, has published his first e-book, Kingdom of Cooks: Conversations with Britain's New Wave Chefs. In a series of in-depth interviews with some of the most exciting, acclaimed and innovative UK chefs, including Simon Rogan (L'Enclume, Cartmel, and Fera at Claridge’s, London), Mary-Ellen McTague (Aumbry, Manchester), Neil Rankin (The Smokehouse, London) and Gary Usher (Sticky Walnut, Chester), the book details the harsh realities of being a chef, the astonishing hard work it takes to make it to the top, and reveals the secrets of creating delicious restaurant dishes.

Kingdom of Cooks is a must-read for foodies, professional chefs and anyone who has ever dined in a restaurant and wondered just what goes on behind the kitchen door. The interviews take the reader behind the scenes of some of the most famous kitchens in the country to show what it's really like paying your dues working for chefs such as Gordon Ramsay, Heston Blumenthal and Jamie Oliver.

The book also documents an important moment in the history of British restaurant cooking where the eclecticism first mooted by the modern British movement of the late 80's meets the locavore imperative of the 21st century to create a truly distinctive style of British food for the mid-2010's.

“I've been passionately interested in food and drink for more than 30 years and writing about it for a decade. In my experience, there has never been a more exciting time to eat out in this country,” says Lynes, who embarked on a journey of more than 2,000km and criss-crossed the UK in order to speak to 14 chefs in 13 restaurants, and consumed over 80 courses of restaurant food in the name of research. “Although London is the accepted capital of food in the UK, I've literally gone out of my way to prove there is something gastronomically exciting happening in every corner of the country.”

The chefs talk about their careers, their cooking styles and the techniques and ingredients that help set them apart from the crowd. Individual signature dishes, such as Chris Harrod of The Crown at Whitebrook's suckling pig with celeriac, pear and woodland sorrel, are discussed in detail, and you'll learn everything from how to make the perfect pork crackling to how to use every last scrap of a fish, literally down to the last scale.

Each chef has contributed a recipe – these include partridge, burnt heather, celeriac, watercress and chanterelles by Ben Radford of Timberyard in Edinburgh; Neil Rankin's Smokehouse short rib Bourguignon; and salt-baked beetroot, smoked eel, lettuce and chicken skin by Stepehen Toman of OX in Belfast.

Contact details for all 13 establishments are included in the book, covering England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, making the book a short restaurant guide for readers to follow in the author's footsteps. Numerous other chefs and restaurants, both in the UK and abroad, are mentioned in passing, making Kingdom of Cooks an instant primer to the current restaurant scene.

There is nothing I like better than a good old chin wag about food and drink, and I realised that my work as a journalist afforded me privileged access to talented chefs,” added Lynes. “By documenting some of those unexpurgated conversations in print I've allowed readers in on some fascinating conversations they might otherwise not be party to.”

Kingdom of Cooks: Conversations with Britain's New Wave Chefs by Andy Lynes is now available from Amazon's Kindle store, priced £2.99.

Andy Lynes is an author and freelance food, drink and travel writer. His work appears in The Times, The Telegraph and The Independent.  He has reviewed restaurants for the Metro and the Guardian, and is currently a member of the team. Andy is also a contributing editor to Seasoned by Chef's magazine, and food and drink editor of Zuri magazine. He writes regularly for Host, the pub and bar magazine, and The Caterer. As well, he has contributed to a number of books, including two editions of Where Chefs Eat and the Oxford Companion to Food. His second book, How to be a Chilli Head, will be published by Portico in May 2015. 

Chef/restaurateur Simon Rogan commented: “Andy is a true professional. He cares about food, and likes to dig deep into the creative side of the whole cooking process in order to understand chefs and restaurants.”

Andy Lynes is available for interviews, or to write articles related to the book. A PDF version of the book is available for review on request. His contact details are: Email -, or Mobile - 07838-299 589.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Lynes & Co Pop Up Event, 6 Feb, Brighton

Book now for 'Generations'
Lynes & Co are delighted to announce their first pop up event in Brighton 

Brighton based restaurant critic, author and Masterchef semi-finalist Andy Lynes will be swapping his laptop for a stove top when he collaborates with his professional chef son George at a pop up dinner in central Brighton in February.
The event, titled 'Generations' will take place on 6 February at The Marwood Cafe in Brighton's Lanes in association with and see the father and son team collaborate on a four course menu that will draw on their diverse culinary experience with dishes such as ham hock, broad bean and Sussex curd served with scorched beer-pickled onions, warm bacon and mustard emulsion and parsley oil.
Although this is not the first time Andy has cooked at a pop up in Brighton (as founder of the Brighton Food Society, he has headed up the kitchens on several events since the society's inception in 2012), it is the first time he's put his name to an event. 'Cooking for up to 50 people at several sold out events over the past couple of years and getting great feedback has given me the confidence to do something for myself with my family. It's a great opportunity to get together with my son to cook, he works long hours so its a rare chance to get into the kitchen together. My wife Gill and daughter Alice will be there on the night too, running the front of house alongside The Marwood's staff.'
Andy is no stranger to professional kitchens, having staged in his spare time in numerous restaurants including Michelin-starred establishments in London and Belfast. He once ran the cold starter section for a night at the acclaimed Coohill's in Atlanta, Georgia serving 100 people during a hectic dinner service, and has worked part-time in the kitchens of Hotel du Vin Brighton where the head chef at the time was Graham Ball, formerly of the two Michelin-starred The Square in London.
As an amateur cook, he reached the semi finals of the BBC's Masterchef TV show in 1997 and was the only British contestant ever to take part in the prestigious Sofitel Amateur Cook of the Year competition in Lyon in 2000 with chef mentor Bruce Poole of the Michelin-starred Chez Bruce, competing against teams from all over Europe.
George, 21, began his career as an apprentice at Michelin Bib Gourmand-winning The Chilli Pickle in Brighton before taking a position as commis chef at The Coal Shed, also in Brighton. In his short career, George has managed to fit in stints at Maze and Chez Bruce, both in London and the Michelin-starred Curlew in Bodiam.
'I've never cooked with my dad in a professional kitchen, so its going to be an interesting challenge,' says George. 'I'm really excited to have this opportunity to present some of my own dishes under my own name for the first time.'
The event is being promoted by, the Brighton based company that provides an online platform for pop-up kitchens, supper clubs and 'food adventures'. ' is thrilled to be working with Andy Lynes and his son George on a rare pop up dining event,' says Andrew Fisher ,co-founder of Tabl Media. 'As a nationally renowned food critic, food writer, and accomplished chef in his own right, Andy is collaborating with his talented progeny to bring us a one-off culinary experience that fits with our mission to bring interesting people together for shared experiences around food. Tabl is going from strength to strength with big and exciting expansion plans for 2015.'
Andy, a regular contributor to the national press on all things food drink and travel, has written restaurant review columns for the Metro and the Guardian and is a member of the team. 'It's a bit scary being on the other side of fence for once and putting myself on the line like this, but I'm confident that we'll be able to deliver some fantastic food and that it will be a really great night.'
The menu is partly inspired by Andy's travels around the UK last year, researching his newly released eBook Kingdom of Cooks: Conversations with Britain's New Wave chefs. 'Speaking to a dozen young chefs, including Douglas McMaster at Silo in Brighton was truly inspiring. I picked up loads of ideas about ingredients, techniques and flavour combinations as well as how to present food in a modern way and all of that will be reflected on the menu.'
6 February 2015
The Marwood
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