Thursday, 26 March 2009

Training: day fifteen

The same old song

The two sessions since I last posted both went extremely well. I'm now up to five minutes jogging and one minutes rest repeated five times. It didn't feel particularly hard work at the time and I recovered very quickly.

Because I'm hauling my 37 BMI bulk around for 30 minutes which I've hitherto mostly alowed to remain in a prone position, my muscles and bones complain long and loud after a session. So I need to take it steady and train slightly within my current capacity to ensure I can complete three runs a week.

Further proof of my improved fitness came on Sunday when my wife and I took Lulu out for a walk in the woods. Its quite a hilly route which would usually have me breathing heavily, but this time I managed it with ease.

Since then however, a minor disaster has struck my schedule in the form of a developing cold/flu. My son was bedridden with it last week and I've been feeling progressively worse since Tuesday night when I crawled into bed, shivering and feverish. It hasn't broken yet, so I'm hoping it may pass but I've missed one run already and won't be out today.

Training has hit rather a boring period of consolidation and I seem to be singing the same old song, so until things get a bit more interesting (my first race in May for example)I intend to simply post a summary of my sessions in the following format e.g. 5 x 5 minute running, 1 minute rest and then blog about more interesting things.

Friday, 20 March 2009

Training: day fourteen

Second hand daylight

I consolidated my progress on Wednesday by repeating my success of Monday with another series of eight, three minute jogs. I was able to "sprint" the final 100m and now feel like I'm working well within my capabilities so its probably time to step things up a bit. Four minute jogs from now on?

I'm getting bored running under the tyranny of the second hand of the stop watch, checking every few strides to see how much longer I've got to carry on for. The sooner I can just get out and run, the more enjoyable the sessions will become. However, it is proving a highly effective way of building up my fitness so maybe I should be patient and stick to the plan. I don't want to risk over doing it and injuring myself.

Yesterday in London eating at The Wolseley (vanilla millefuille highly recommended) and Tamarai (beef satay highly recommended) punctuated by 90 minutes of wandering the streets searching unsuccessfully for preserved lemons (in shops you understand; I'm not labouring under the misapprehension that the streets of London are paved with Moroccan-style salted citrus fruits) and topped off by a late night has probably set my training back a bit. I was feeling very tired today and have consequently deferred my final session of the week until Saturday when I fully intend to put in some hard work.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Training: day thirteen

The Changing Man

Another small milestone on my journey to fitness on Monday. I managed eight, three minute jogs with a minute's rest between each one. Just three weeks ago, that would have been unthinkable. I feel like a changed man. For the first time, I'm beginning to believe that I'll be fit enough by June to actually finish the race.

I keep on seeing articles in the press about running, so it seems as though I'm following some sort of trend which I never like to knowingly do. I suppose its the perfect credit crunch (that's another pound in the swear box) exercise - not much special equipment required (apart from shoes) and no gym fees.

There was one in The Times and there's one in this month's Sainsbury's magazine too. It features a plan for building up to running for 20 minutes, which I would have followed if I'd seen it earlier. I'm quite well into my 30 minute plan so I'd feel as though I was copping out if I switched now.

I picked up Michel Roux Jnr's book The Marathon Chef:Food for Getting Fit for a song on Amazon recently. The recipes are delicious and I'm cooking quite a bit from it this week. An unexpected bonus is the excellent section on breads; I made the soft rye buns on Sunday and served them toasted for breakfast with spinach, poached eggs and bacon (another recipe from the book).

In order to cut down on calories, I've pretty much stopped eating sandwiches entirely but I have been baking quite a lot of bread. Its extremely rewarding and surprisingly easy. Ferran Adria's innovative molecular gastronomy is all very well but there's nothing more amazing in the whole of cookery than combining a bit of flour, water and yeast, knocking it about, putting it in the oven and thirty minutes later producing a warm loaf.

Monday, 16 March 2009

Training: day twelve

Walking the dog

The local youth football team had occupied my usual training ground on Saturday (I must have a word with them about that) so I was reduced to running up and down the flat bit of the adjoining recreation ground. In fact, its not flat at all and I've noticed that any uneveness is magnified by ten when I'm out jogging. All I want to do is put one foot in front of the other, and I really object to expending extra effort getting up an incline or avoiding pot holes.

Lulu the pointer is quite a pain to take running. I'll have to stop mid-jog at least once to pick up her poo, and I have to put up with her barking madly as she races after the local wildlife in an attempt to kill it (unsuccessfully so far). On Saturday she found a ball in the bushes and ran ahead of me, dropping the ball at my feet wanting me to throw it for her. I managed to kick it once or twice as I jogged past, but she was mostly disappointed.

Although I love to go out unencumbered, leaving her at home is not an option. She gets extremely excited when she sees me putting on my running shoes, and starts pacing and whining in anticipation of a walk; the idea of disappointing her doesn't even enter my head.

Despite the doggy distractions, it was another good session incorporating several 3 minute bursts of jogging. My legs still feel very tight, but at least they only hurt while I'm running so there's no damage done. I'm still slowly losing weight and the exercise seems to be having a positive effect on my appetite. I'm not missing the sweet stuff, and I appreciate it much more when I do have a biscuit or a cake.

Friday, 13 March 2009

Recipe: shallot and bay roasted pork with potato and turnip gratin

serves 4

for the pork

1.3 kg rolled boneless leg joint of pork
450g of shallots, ends trimmed and sliced in half across the middle
6 bay leaves
salt and pepper

for the gratin

4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
200ml double cream
100ml full cream milk
50g butter
250g turnips (peeled weight) thinly sliced
250g potatoes (peeled weight) thinly sliced
salt and pepper
100g grated cheddar cheese

for the French peas

25g butter
5 spring onions, finely sliced
half a head of cos lettuce, shredded
250g frozen peas
125ml hot chicken stock
salt and pepper
juice of half a lemon

Pre-heat the oven to 160 C. Line the bottom of a roasting tin just large enough to hold the pork with the shallots (cut side down) and bay leaves and add enough water to just cover the shallots. Sit the pork on top and roast in the oven for two and a half hours. Check for doneness after two hours.

In a saucepan, bring the garlic, cream and milk to the boil then turn off the heat and allow to infuse for 30 minutes. Butter the bottom of a baking dish then pile in the turnips and potato slices, season with salt and pepper and toss to ensure they are evenly seasoned and distributed. Pour over the cream mixture, dot with the remaining butter and scatter over the cheese. Bake in the oven with the pork for 1 hour or until tender. Allow to sit for 10 minutes before serving.

For the peas, melt the butter in a pan and cook the spring onions until tender. Add the lettuce, peas and stock, season with salt and pepper and simmer gently until the peas are cooked though. Add lemon juice a little at a time; you want to just lift the flavours rather than taste the lemon in the finished dish.

Remove the pork, bay and shallots from the roasting pan and strain the liquid in to a pan and reduce to concentrate the flavours. Divide the peas between four plates and serve two thick slices of pork per person with some of the reduced cooking liqour spooned over. Serve the gratin on the side.

Training: day eleven

I can't go to sleep

Another really good session yesterday, the two day break did me a lot of good. I not only managed the full 10 reps of 2 minutes running, but topped it off with a 3 minute "sprint" finish. When I say sprint, I mean I increased my speed from a plod to a jog, but it was something of a breakthrough for me nevertheless.

I only got out of breath towards the end of the session and recovered quickly between the runs. The only thing stopping me from pushing myself harder was my aching calf muscles which felt very tight and quite painful. There doesn't seem to be much I can do about the problem apart from ensuring I'm properly hydrated and keep stretching in the correct way. I plan to increase to 3 minutes running to every 1 of walking from tomorrow to see how that goes.

With the exercise progressing quite well and diet much improved with a big reduction in alcohol, chocolate and crisps and an increase in fresh fruit, veggies and fish, the last piece of the puzzle is getting a good night's sleep to ensure I'm in the best condition to train.

With the increased physical activity, I had anticipated that I'd be out like a light but not a bit of it. My comment in an earlier post about getting a better night's sleep was a little premature. Instead of feeling tired, I've got extra energy which is exacerbating the usual difficulty I have in trying to nod off. I find it very hard to shut my brain up, which insists on entertaining itself when it really ought to be resting. There are some good tips for a good nights sleep here which might just do the job, but maybe all I need is a nice cup of cocoa and some relaxing music.

Recipe: generic ragu sauce

Everytime I make a ragu sauce, it turns out slightly differently. Last night's version was a real cracker, so I wanted to save the recipe here for future reference. Those in search of the authentic taste of Italy, look away now; if you want a quick and very tasty sauce to serve with any sort of pasta (its very nice with rigatoni) then you're in for a treat. The secrect's in the double dose of umami from the stock cube and Worcestershire sauce.

serves 4

1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 onion finely chopped
2 sticks of celelry, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely choopped
1 small leek, white only finely chopped
1 clove of garlic
500g minced beef
400g tinned tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 beef stock cube
2 tablespoons tomato ketchup
1 dessertspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 teapsoons dried oregano
1 bay leaf

Sweat the onion, celery, carrot, leek and garlic in the olive oil until soft. Do not allow to colour. In a seperate pan, fry the mince until brown, then drain in a colander capturing the fat and juices in a bowl. Allow to settle, then spoon off most of the fat. Add the mince and meat juices to the vegetables, along with all the remaining ingredients. Add water if necessary to cover the meat and vegetables. Bring to the boil then simmer gently for an hour. Serve over pasta with chilli flakes and grated hard cheese of your choice.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Food Style Icon #3

(Picture: Copyright 2009 Wilton Products, Inc.)

Mario Batali The Italian Kitchen 7.5 Qt. Cioppino and Stew Pot
Persimmon Orange
porcelain enamel on cast iron
Copco design team and Mario Batali, 2007

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Training: day ten

The Weight

So I drove all the way from Brighton to Blackheath to borrow my brother's running machine -thinking how great it would be to have a flat surface I could run on in all weathers while listening to The Fall on the stereo - only to find that when I got there I wouldn't be able to use it afterall. Neither of us had considered that I would exceed the treadmill's upper weight limit of 100kg.

I had wasted an afternoon, not too mention a few quids worth of petrol, and ended up feeling depressed about my weight to boot. And what did I do to cheer myself up? I bought a pair of electronic bathroom scales to find out exactly how much weight I'd put on, down to the last gram.

The good news was that I'd lost a few pounds since being weighed at the doctors surgery a week or so ago, but I've still got a long way to go. Running up stairs takes twice the amount of calories as running on the flat so I really need to shift as much weight as possible before raceday to give myself a good chance of at least finishing. The fewer kilo's I have to haul up those 475 stairs the better.

I gave myself the day off training today, a mistake I know but I'm still feeling the after effects of Monday's run and was not motivated to add to my aches and pains. I will however make up for it tomorrow and also run on Saturday to get back on track.

Recipe: Prawn and pork egg fried rice

This is my take on the classic Indonesian rice dish nasi goreng. This isn't authentic by any stretch of the imagination, but it does taste good. You could substitute chicken for the pork and add peas or chinese cabbage. Rather than stock up on ingredients such as sambal oelek, ketjap manis and shrimp paste that I'm only likely to use occasionally, I took the easy route and bought a ready made nasi goreng mix for 88p from See Woo in Lisle Street, London.

serves 4

2 cups of brown basmati rice, cooked, drained and cooled
200g of broccolini, blanched for one minute in boiling salted water, drained, refreshed and chopped into bite-sized pieces
2 dessertspoons plus 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil
4 eggs, whisked
thumb sized piece of ginger, grated
2 cloves of garlic, grated
5 spring onions, finely sliced
1 green chilli, finely diced
3 tablespoons of nasi goreng spice paste
350g diced pork
330g prawns, cooked and peeled
2 large shallots finely sliced and shallow fried until crispy

Heat the teaspoon of oil in a wok, pour in the eggs scramble until just cooked (they should be still be very moist). Remove to a bowl and set aside. Heat a dessertspoon of the remaining oil until smoking and add the pork. Stir fry for a few moments until nearly cooked, then remove to a bowl and set aside. Add the last of the oil, then stir fry the ginger, garlic, spring onions and chilli. Add the paste and fry until fragrent. Add the rice and stir fry. Add the pork and prawns and fry until heated through, then fold in the eggs. Serve sprinkled with the shallots.

Recipe: Fresh tuna salad with anchoiade toast

This is a version of salad nicoise, but adapated to what was in my fridge. I used a jar of anchoiade which I picked up from the gourmet shop at L'Hospitalet when I was in the Languedoc last year, but if you need a recipe there's one here. Use yellowfin tuna as bluefin is on the endangered list.

serves 4

125g green beans, cooked in boiling water until tender, drained and cooled
6 tomatoes, peeled, deseeded and cut into strips
1 head of cos lettuce, washed and torn into bitesized pieces
1 large shallot, finely sliced
half a cucumber, deseeded and roughly chopped
handful of black olives, pitted and chopped
juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
4 x 170g yellowfin tuna steaks
salt and pepper
1 tablespoon of olive oil
16 small new potatoes, cleaned and boiled
4 eggs, hard boiled and cut into quarters
4 slices of toasted wholemeal or sourdough bread
jar of anchoiade paste

Put the green beans, tomatoes, lettuce, shallot, cucumber and olives in a bowl, season with salt and pepper and dress with the lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil.

Season the tuna steaks with salt and black pepper. Heat the olive oil in a pan and sear the tuna steaks until cooked to your liking (I prefer mine medium rare).

Arrange 4 egg quarters and 4 potatoes on each plate and top with a quarter of the salad. Rest a tuna steak on the salad and serve with a slice of toast thinly spread with the anchoidae paste. A glass or two of Limoux Chardonnay would go down a treat with this.

Monday, 9 March 2009

Recipe: Potato and leek soup

This is potato and leek rather than the more classic leek and potato (or Vichyssoise) simply because I had more potatoes than leeks in the fridge. That the result was so good just goes to show how adaptable a recipe this is. I served this with homemade bread made with Waitrose's excellent malted grain bread flour.

1 onion, finely sliced
2 sticks celery, peeled and finely diced
1 leek, sliced, washed and dried
25g unsalted butter
500g floury potatoes (peeled weight), finely sliced, washed and drained
500ml chicken stock or water
125-150ml double cream
white pepper
bunch of chives, finely chopped

Sweat the onion, celery and leek in the butter until soft. Add the potatoes and the stock and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the potatoes are completely cooked through. Allow to cool, then blend until smooth. Reheat in a clean pan and stir in 125ml of the cream. Season with salt and pepper and check the flavour, adding the remainder of the cream if necessary to achieve a smooth and creamy consistency. Serve garnished with the chives.

Galvin's Chance tower race training: day nine


After Friday's disastrous session, I replaced Saturday's run with a long walk on Brighton's pebble beach. Although it was still exercise, I felt like the wheels were starting to come off my training schedule so today I was determined to do well. For the first time since starting the training, I knew from the moment I put on my running gear that I was going to be able to complete the session. I felt rested and full of energy so wasn't surprised when I completed the 10 reps of two minutes running and one walking. It was something of a breakthrough for me and proof that my fitness is improving already

However, before I get too excited, its worth putting this apparent triumph into context. When I say “running” what I actually mean is two minutes of plodding round a field accompanied by a great deal of huffing and puffing. The casual observer would probably find it difficult to determine the difference between my walking and running pace.

I'm also hopelessly behind in my running schedule. According to Sunbird, I should be running for five minutes and walking for one by now. I'm unlikely to catch up with it, so have decided to follow my own regime. The Runner's World schedule may be for beginners, but its a bridge too far for this 44 year old beginner with a BMI of 37 and a bit of a drinking problem.

Instead, I'm going to run three times a week Monday, Wednesday and Friday rather than their suggested four, thereby giving myself the whole of the weekend off to recover. I'll still be building up my running time but more gradually, increasing on a weekly basis rather than from session to session. That means I've got two more sessions of two minutes running and one walking to complete this week and I'll only increase to three minutes of running to one of walking next week.

If I feel I can do more, then I will but I'll listen to my body rather than try and stick to a strict regime for the sake of it. I may also leave my first 5k run until May when I should be able to finish in something like a respectable time, rather than attempt the April event and have to walk half of it.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Recipe: Rosemary, garlic and lemon chicken with lentils

I came up with this dish as a more healthier alternative to the traditional Sunday roast. It's just as delicious, but much quicker and easier to prepare and creates far less washing up. It also produces its own gravy. I happened to use organic green lentils from the Camargue but any old green lentils will do. Don't use brown or red lentils as they'll break down and you want them to hold their shape and texture. Serve with roasted parsnips.

serves 4

for the chicken

4 chicken legs
1 head of garlic seperated into cloves and lightly crushed
4 sprigs of rosemary
1 chicken stock cube
juice of one lemon
2 tablespoons olive oil

for the lentils

1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
2 sticks of celery, finely chopped
160g Camargue lentils
500ml water
1 bay leaf
4 peppercorns
25g unsalted butter

Pre-heat the oven to 180 C. Scatter the rosemary and garlic in a roasting pan just large enough to hold the chicken and place the legs on top. Mix the stock cube, olive oil and juice of the lemon into a paste and spoon over the chicken. Add the two halves of the juiced lemon to the pan and roast for around 45 minutes or until tender, basting the meat every 10 minutes.

Sweat the onion, carrot and celery in the oil until softened, add the lentils and cover with the water. Bring to the boil, skim then add the bay leaf and peppercorns and simmer uncovered until the lentils are cooked and the liquid has mostly been absorbed or evaporated. Season with salt.

Once the chicken is cooked, set it aside and deglaze the pan with a little water or stock, making sure you scrape up all the residue and squeeze out the roasted garlic flesh into the sauce. Pass through a sieve into a clean pan and taste. Reduce to intensify the flavour if necessary. Whisk in the butter to enrich the sauce and add body.

Serve the chicken on a bed of lentils and spoon over the sauce.

Recipe: Prawn, chickpea and avocado salad

Here's the recipe for the dish I mentioned in an earlier post . I ended up cooking the chickpeas exactly as per Richard Corrigan's Langoustines with Chickpeas and Cumin as it appears in his book The Clatter of Forks and Spoons . That recipe isn't online and I don't have permission to post it here so you'll just have to buy the book, but its a simple thing to do and involves cooking dried chickpeas with onion, garlic and cumin seeds.

The ingredients are quite healthy - low fat prawns, cholesterol-lowering high fibre chickpeas and potassium-rich avocados that can help regulate blood pressure.

serves 2 as a generous main course or 4 as a light lunch

for the salad

170g cooked and peeled prawns
250g chickpeas (dried weight) soaked overnight and boiled until tender
2 avocados, peeled and diced
4 tomatoes, chopped
half a cucumber, deseeded and diced
1 red chilli, deseeded and finely diced
1 red onion, diced
juice of one lime
bunch of coriander, finely chopped

to serve

cos lettuce leaves, torn
red wine vinegar
extra virgin olive oil
wholemeal pittas

Combine all the salad ingredients in a bowl and toss to combine. Season with a little salt. Arrange the lettuce leaves on a plate and dress with the vinegar and oil. Pile on the prawn salad and serve with the pittas.

Friday, 6 March 2009

Galvin's Chance tower race training:day eight

It's a beautiful day

A poor show today. Was out for around 40 minutes but only managed about 6 minutes of running. That goes to prove what I knew already that spending the day in London, lunching at Corrigan's restaurant in Mayfair (review to follow at soon) and a private preview dinner of Bjorn and Justine van der Horst's forthcoming Eastside Inn is not the best way to prepare for a training session. In my defence, I did walk for well over an hour in London yesterday and was crossing Hyde Park just as the sun was setting over the Serpentine. Despite the chill in the air, it felt very much as though spring had sprung.

If I'm travelling up to London from Brighton, I like to try and pack in as much as possible, so I'd rather do lunch and dinner in one day that make two seperate trips as it saves on time and money. However, if that's going to put my training into jeopardy, I may have to rethink.

I'll also have to schedule in runs during my forthcoming "research trip" (i.e. three days of non-stop eating and drinking) for a foodie travel feature on Cologne. As I'm travelling alone, it will be pretty easy to do so, but group press trips where the itinerary tends to be packed with very little free time will be more problematic.

All clear from the doctor today. Overall, I'm in the low risk catagory for heart disease and incredibly (given all the rich food i eat) my cholesterol at 4.7 is fine. I just need to shift a couple of stones and my blood pressure should reduce. You could make foie gras from my fatty liver, but there's no unreversable damage done and that will recover as I continue to cut down on the booze. For someone of my weight, age and lifestyle, its about as good a result as I could have hoped for.

That means I can commit to the training programme with no health concerns. On today's showing, the idea of me over doing it are slim, but I still need to take things steady, if only to avoid injury.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Galvin's Chance tower race training: day seven

Give blood

I don't have very good veins apparently. I gave the medical assistant three stabs at getting a sample from me today, but luckily she drew blood first go. I am generally speaking a physical coward but for whatever reason needles don't bother me at all. I was far more worried about removing my T shirt for my ECG and exposing a vast expanse of hairy flesh. I was mortified when the assistant said she have to shave my chest in order to ensure the monitors would stick. Luckily it was just a few very small areas; I had visions of emerging from the procedure looking like an overweight Chippendale.

Blood pressure was a slightly more reassuring 166/103 but still way too high, (although I believe my reading may be a little distorted due to white coat hypertension - i.e. I find being in the clinic stressful). The bottom figure, indicating distolic or resting pressure, needs to be around 80 so I've still got some way to go, but I'd like to think that my efforts so far have had some effect even in just a few days. Nothing awful on the ECG, but the GP will need to take a closer look. I'm going back Friday to discuss all the results.

I'm glad I've got a handle on my health now before it got too late, but I can't say I'm relishing the visits the medical centre; they're making me feel like an old, ill person and I'll have plenty of time for that in a few decades time.

It was another hard and quite scrappy training session, but for over half the 30 minutes I managed two minutes of running for every one of walking which is an improvement over Wednesday. Hopefully Friday I will manage that for the full 30 minutes, although I'll still be behind schedule as by then I ought to be running four minutes and walking one.

But I'm going to take it easy on myself. A week ago was out of breath from tying my shoelaces or putting my socks on so I'm delighted with my progress so far.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Heston Blumenthal and me

Phased flavours: an idea too far?

In the early part of this decade, I enjoyed a short correspondence with Heston Blumenthal of The Fat Duck. I'd met him through a rather negative review of the Fat Duck I'd posted in March of 2001 on the food website I ran at the time called The Food Store, a forerunner of the countless amateur restaurant review websites that are around today.

There was quite a debate on at the time about the restaurant and Blumenthal posted on the forum to invite anyone who wanted to eat at The Fat Duck as his guest to try and change their minds. I was the only person to accept and had a fantastic meal followed by a pint with Blumenthal at the Hinds Head.

We kept in touch by e mail and the odd phone call. I was still working for BT at the time and spent an awful lot of time when I should have been auditing daydreaming about food. In February 2004, I came up with the idea of Phased Flavours which I thought would be perfect for the Fat Duck and sent Blumenthal the following proposal:

Phased Flavours – Development Proposal

The Theory

Phased flavours is a theoretical proposition which suggests that foods or extracted or synthesised flavours could be presented to the diner in a series of carefully assembled combinations, regulated by the degree to which their flavour profiles match, thereby producing a “phasing” effect on the palate. The combinations would be designed to move in and out of synchronisation in order to short circuit the diner's expectations and create a disorienting effect, quite dissimilar to the usual dining experience.

The Inspiration

The inspiration for this idea comes from the minimalist or serialist music of Philip Glass and specifically his use of circular rhythms. A technique borrowed from classical Indian music, circular rhythms are created by the interaction of two or more cells of different lengths being played and repeated at the same time. For example: pattern A consists of four eighth notes, whereas pattern B contains only three. When the two are played and repeated at once, the two patterns starting eighth notes will sound at the same time every twelve eighths. This produces a phasing effect which Glass describes as “wheels within wheels”, turning at different speeds, falling in and out of synchronisation or phase with each other.

On first hearing minimalist music, the average western listener may well find the experience bewildering, being used to hearing music in 4/4 or ¾ time. It is possible that, without a memory of music played outside of these standard time signatures, the listeners brain may struggle to make sense of the signals it receives from the ear.

It may be that the brain attempts to reconcile what is being heard to what it understands as music and this increases the dizzying effect of the circular rhythm. In a similar way, when a diner encounters Molecular Gastronomy for the first time, they may find the experience jolting and confusing as their usual reference points are taken away from them or manipulated or changed.

Phased flavours would therefore seek to replicate the experience of hearing minimalist music by “playing” combinations of flavours across the palate in order to stimulate the brain to taste in a new way.

Proposed Methods

There are three initial, untested proposed methods of achieving phased flavours:

i) A “baseline” ingredient is combined in series with other ingredients whose flavour profiles match that of the baseline profile to a greater or lesser degree. For example, white chocolate might be paired with caviar, then olives, then capers, then chilli and so on in a series of small bites, with each combination becoming progressively less well matched. The series would then continue, with the combinations then moving closer together in terms of flavour profile match. The diner would work their way through the series in a defined order, thereby experiencing the phased effect on their palate.

ii) Flavours are combined within a single bite (in flavoured paper form perhaps in the manner of WD50’s lemon paper) and engineered to be revealed against the baseline flavour in turn, so that the phasing effect is produced in one hit, resulting in a dramatic impact.

iii) Flavours are suspended in liquids of varying density so that they can be layered. These are built up in a dual straw-like glass tube to mimic the structure of a phrase of minimalist music, for example four flavours repeated three times in one side of the tube and three flavours repeated four times in the other. A diner would then suck up the two columns of layered liquids simultaneously and experience different combinations of flavours in a phased sequence.

Potential Barriers

What we eat and drink can potentially effect and influence the flavours of what we eat next, therefore this may interfere with the desired phasing effect. It may not be possible to predict how the combination of flavours will taste to all diners and therefore the phased effect, should it be practically achievable, may not be experienced by all diners. It may not be economic to produce the required delivery systems/apparatus.

Potential Benefits

If successfully developed, phased flavours may constitute a genuine innovation in the presentation and delivery of flavour in the restaurant setting and could present the diner with a unique and memorable experience. The development of a purely hypothetical idea may move in previously unforeseen and potentially fruitful directions that could deliver results over and above or indeed quite different from those anticipated.


A practical methodology of identifying the most appropriate foods, extracted or synthesised flavours would need to be defined, and would probably involve an iterative process of trial and error initially based on known flavour profiles. It would be necessary to confirm that the theoretical phasing effect could in fact be detected by the palate and brain which might be determined from a combination of existing research on the subject and field trials. Finally, it may be necessary to design new delivery methods and systems if those existing are found to be inadequate.

© Andy Lynes 2004

Blumenthal was interested and sent me an e mail the following day (interestingly, his reply hints at the beginnings of the now famous hot and cold tea):

Hello Andy,

Thanks for that. I think that the main issue here will be to try and minimise or at least control the amount of variables and work on something as simple as possible to begin with.

I have forwarded this to three or four friends of mine, a flavourist who writes music (believe it or not), a professor of flavour technology, the head of research of the flavour company that we work with and an experimental psychologist in Oxford.

I will leave them with it for a few days and will think some more on this myself.

In the meantime, I am also trying to work on an adaptation of what is called synthetic heat.
This is when adjacent warm and warm and cold stimuli produce the sensation of heat.

If you want, you could try and have a look at this more on Taylor and Francis health sciences site.

I came across a paper on the desk of a friend of mine called Synthetic heat at mild temperatures (Somatosensory and motor research 2002; 19(2):130-138

I hope that this is enough info.

Basically I wondered whether it would be possible to taste two temps of an ingredient that would both, on their own be varying levels of cold-warm but when you ate them together, they would produce a mild burning sensation.

Speak to you soon



I was delighted that Blumenthal had taken the idea seriously and replied:


I'm thrilled that you like the idea enough to pass it on to others for further consideration, I'm really glad I didn't let this one slip away! I think that somewhere in all this there is a beautifully simple and elegent solution struggling to get out, but that complexity has a role to play. For instance I was thinking about the way a great wine reveals itself as you drink it, layers of flavour and aromas seems to appear one after the other, the same thing with a properly made civet. I dont know exactly how that could apply to this idea, but it might be useful to capture it anyway,


The final e mail I still have on record from Blumenthal on the subject, dated 22 February 2004 is as follows:

Hello Andy

Regarding the phased flavours, I do think that the answer to this if there is one will have to be quite simplistic.

There are so many factors and variables involved when looking at the interaction of foods that one could get totally tangled up in this whole idea.

It known that for example, a sip of water after a piece of lemon can make the water taste sweeter. Some residual salt in the mouth when eating or drinking something bitter can reduce this bitterness. A sip of a particular sherry taken just after eating a particular blue cheese on a particular piece of crusty bread will eat very differently when the order is changed around and even things like the type of crunch from the crust will have an effect.

This really is scratching the surface so we will have to wait and see but I reckon that this could prove to be a pretty tricky job.

Anyway, if everything was that easy then we would all be doing it!

Speak to you soon


In the end, Blumenthal considered the idea too complicated to persue. I had intentions of approaching other cutting edge chefs, but then my personal circumstances changed and in April 2004 I was working hard on my new career as a freelance food writer and didn't have time to follow the idea up further.

I'm still not sure if the idea was utterly ridiculous or is the one that got away. It will be interesting to see if the sort of techniques Blumenthal applies during his new Channel 4 series Feasts that starts tonight will be quite as out there as Phased Flavours. I'm sure he'll have outdone himself as usual.

Galvin's Chance tower race training: day six

Dry county

Out goes the chocolate biscuits and crisps, in come fruit, nuts and seeds. The shopping basket does look different this week, what with all the brown rice and peppermint tea. I'm turning into Neil off of the Young Ones. I think I'll go and hide those Joni Mitchell and Van Morrison albums.

This week's menu includes a few old favourites such as roasted veg with cous cous and grilled chicken with lentils du puy, but I've also thought up a new dish: prawn, avocado, chickpea and chilli salad. It's inspired by Richard Corrigan's Langoustines with Spiced Chick Peas and Shaun Hill's Fish Soup with Garlic, Saffron and Chilli . I'll post the recipe once I've cooked it on Saturday, as I'm not exactly sure how it's all going to come together until then.

Absolutely no alcohol this week either, although I am out in London on Thursday for lunch and dinner so will need to watch what I drink then, but considering that I've greatly exceeded the recommended 21 units a week on a regular basis for years, anything is going to be an improvement.

A boring day today with just a walk and then fasting this evening in preperation for my blood tests tomorrow morning. Hopefully I'll get the results soon and can make firm plans for the future.

I'm already feeling the benefits from my new regime and am getting a better night's sleep, feeling a little fitter and a bit less fat (although I made the mistake of measuring my waist earlier this morning and made exactly the same sound as Homer Simpson when he weighs himself on the bathroom scales).

Having completely ignored my health and diet for many years, I'm now getting a bit obsessed with it which is just as bad. The sooner it becomes a routine part of my life, the sooner I'll be able to expend less time and energy thinking about it.

Monday, 2 March 2009

Galvin's Chance tower race training: day five

Running on Empty

I was hoping that yesterday's rest day would leave me brimming with energy and ready for another week's training. In fact, I can still feel last week's sessions in my legs and my back is aching a little after the stretching exercises. Not surprising given a decade of inactivity, but disappointing nevertheless.

I eased back on the training schedule, running for two minutes then walking for two minutes rather than the prescribed two running, one walking. I recovered from the run so quickly that I'm now regretting the decision, especially as Wednesday's run should be three running and one walking. Nevertheless, I have increased my time spent running from last week's 10 minutes spread over the 30 minute session to 16 minutes,which I'm pleased about.

I've been giving my diet more thought over the weekend, looking into what someone with high blood pressure should and shouldn't be eating. Because I cook from scratch for the family most nights, we eat quite well already. There are plenty of fresh vegetables in our diet, and we eat a wide variety of foods generally. I rarely deep fry food, although we do enjoy a traditional roast on a Sunday (although that was replaced by homemade lamb biryani with vegetable curry this week).

That means I'm avoiding the sort of high levels of salt that you find in pre-prepared foods, although I do like my food correctly seasoned. The advice to use herbs and spices to season food instead of salt is just wrong. They won't do the same job at all. No amount of parsley cam make up for an absence of salt, which enhances and amplifies the flavour of food. Herbs and spices add interest and complexity to a dish, but don't season in the same way as a pinch of Maldon will. That said, I'm up for monitoring my salt intake more closely.

We don't eat enough fruit, mainly because getting hold of ripe fruit that actually tastes of something is bloody impossible in this country. There are always crisps, biscuits and sweets in the house, so that's two areas that definately need looking at.

I also drink a lot of coffee and tea. The jury's still out on caffiene's effect on blood pressure. but to be safe, I'm planning on cutting back gradually by switching over to tisanes, although I'll still have the odd cup of java. It will be interesting to see how different the weekly shop looks from here on in.