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11 posts from November 2006

30 November 2006

Masa London?

Rumour has it that Masa Takayama, chef patron of Masa in New York is scoping out sites in London. Masa is regarded as one of the best sushi restaurants in New York and is renowned for the exceptional quality of its fish. It is also one of the most expensive sushi restaurants around, charging in the region of $400 per person, plus drinks and service.

I have not eaten there but supposedly Masa should be compared with Kuruma Zushi and Urasawa. These restaurants get away with extortionate bills because the fish is exceptional. Customers understand that if they want the highest quality, they are going to have pay through the nose for it. Even Sushi Yasuda, which is closer to $150 per head for its omakase, is much more expensive than what we in the UK regard as our very best sushi restaurants.

The most well regarded British sushi places tend to be relatively low key, suburban restaurants like Sushi Say or Cafe Japan. Nobu and Zuma are exceptions, because they are expensive, but they trade on their celebrity status as much as their food. As far as I am aware, there are no examples of the 10-seat sushi bar, overseen by a sushi-master, obsessive about the quality of his fish.

Since eating at Yasuda, Kuruma and Urasawa, I have been sorely disappointed by sushi in London. The quality and therefore flavour, of the fish is incomparable this side of the pond. If he does open in London, one of the hurdles Chef Takayama will have is sourcing his fish. I assume he will have to fly it in from Japan, as he does with some of his fish in New York.

Before we get too excited about the prospect of Masa London, we need to remember that this is only a rumour. Masa might have just been here on holiday - we do get a lot of American and Japanese tourists you know. Additionally, he has made very clear that he frowns on the idea of chefs with multiple restaurants, let alone chefs with multiple restaurants on multiple continents. He shut Ginza Sushi-ko in Los Angeles, before opening in New York, because he felt it was impossible to run both to his self-imposed high standards. In Michael Ruhlman's latest book The Reach of a Chef, Masa is crystal clear that the success of the restaurant is predicated on him and his interaction with the food. So, for example, if Masa is unwell, the restaurant is closed.

This therefore begs the question whether he really would contemplate opening in the UK. It seems unlikely, it also seems unlikely he would repeat his previous trick of shutting his existing restaurant to re-open thousands of miles away. More likely is that he was on holiday or he was acting as consultant to someone looking to open up a Masa-a-like. If it was the former I hope he enjoyed himself, if it was the latter, it would be very good news. It would raise the game of UK sushi restaurants, unfortunately it would also raise prices.

Hat-tip: Snack

23 November 2006

Giorgio Locatelli podcast

Giorgio Locatelli

From everything I have read and seen of Giorgio Locatelli, I got the impression he was a nice guy.  My chat with him has confirmed that.  We talked about a number of issues, ranging from the relative influences of his grandmother and Anton Edelman to Aprilia motorbikes.  We spoke at some length about how London is a great place to live, even if it doesn't have the culinary heritage of some other cities.

He also mentioned that Locanda Locatelli will be shut for most of January while they do some work to the kitchen.  Being a bad interviewer I didn't ask what was being done.

Click below to listen.

22 November 2006

Forthcoming podcast: Giorgio Locatelli

I will be doing a podcast with Chef Giorgio Locatelli tomorrow.

As regular readers will know, he has recently published Made in Italy, Food & Stories, a book that I loveLocanda Locatelli, where he is chef patron, is a restaurant I love.  So frankly, however cool and aloof I would like to come across, I am very chuffed that he has agreed to do this.

To give you an idea of the esteem with which Giorgio is held, let me use the words of the UK's enfant terrible de cuisine, Marco Pierre White:

...when I was cooking I looked terrible. Actually, I think that's a telling sign of whether a chef is actually in the kitchen. When I look at Giorgio Locatelli, I know he cooks. It shows on his face. Locatelli is like an artist: his food is an extension of his personality and he keeps it simple and doesn't interfere.

As ever, I am keen to receive any questions from readers, either by email or in the comments below.

New York Times on food forums

The New York Times has a story today on Jim Leff, one of the founders of Chowhound, the original but least useful food forum.  The article also goes into a bit of detail about the growth of other food forums thanks to Leff's tricky character.  I appreciate this is not a riveting subject for everyone, but I love this stuff.

The very insular world of food forums is like a microcosm of wider political society.  Schisms open up, people defect, new sites start, schisms open up and so the story continues.  In the end it all becomes political, in so far as there is always someone keen to take ownership, get some power and exert influence so the board reflects their values.  Food is obviously ripe for such arguments because taste is so subjective and personal.

I am convinced that the history of the development of some of the largest food forums (Chowhound, eGullet, Opinionated About and Mouthfuls) and the ongoing conflicts between them, would be a perfect subject for a sociology PhD.

Hat-tip: Opinionated About (registration req'd & strongly recommended)

16 November 2006


Next week is Thanksgiving in America and quite a lot of the food blogs have been writing about it. These posts got me thinking about holidays in general and the warm fuzzy feeling you get from all the food, family and festivities. That in turn got me thinking about what I could write about as a Brit which in turn reminded me that shit, I was more than a couple of months late in writing up my pot-au-feu recipe that I cooked for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.

Pot-au-feu is not a traditional Ashkenazi dish. However, slow cooked meat is an important element of traditional Ashkenazi cooking. Cholent is the most widely known example. It is a stew, some argue is a cousin of cassoulet, which is eaten in Ashkenazi homes on Shabbat. It is a perfect meal because it does not contravene any of the laws about what can and cannot be done during the Sabbath. It is prepared on the Friday, before Shabbat starts, stuck in the oven for twenty odd hours until it is needed for lunch on Saturday and in theory, comes out of the oven moist, succulent and beautifully cooked.

The rules for cooking on Rosh Hashanah are somewhat laxer. Nonetheless, I wanted to cook something that was going to be easy. We had a lot of entertaining over the two days of Rosh Hashanah, largely because my in-laws were staying, and on the second day my whole family were coming over. We were cooking for fifteen people. Silverbrowess was tearing her hair out at the prospect. In pursuit of a peaceful life, I promised her I would do all the cooking and cleaning and therefore would make things as easy as possible. In return, this meant I could run rampant in the kitchen. I figured pot-au-feu was the way forward. It allowed me to have all the fun in the kitchen with the preparation, but in the end make it look oh so easy. The plan worked a dream.

Another reason for the pot-au-feu was that I really wanted to get my teeth into my copy of French Provincial Cooking (p156) by Elizabeth David. I also used Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's Meat as a guide as well (p284). I used both because that is what Hugh recommends. He provides a more straightforward recipe than Elizabeth, he also misses out the history and semantics that she is famed for. The recipe and process below are my interpretations of Elizabeth's and Hugh's, although reading back through theirs, mine owes more to her than it does to him.

  • 3kg brisket, unpickled
  • 2kg veal on the bone
  • 2kg ox tongue, unpickled
  • 8 pieces marrow bone approx 5cms thick
  • 6 chicken giblets
  • 5 leeks, trimmed
  • 5 carrots, scrubbed
  • 6 onions
  • 1 small turnip, peeled
  • 1 parsnip, peeled
  • 2 stalks of celery w/leaves
  • 2 large tomatoes, halved
  • bouquet garni (2 bay leaves (use 1 if dried) | 2/3 springs fresh parsley | 2/3 sprigs thyme, wrapped in muslin or tied together)
  • optional - or at least I didn't include: 4-6 pea pods dried in the oven. According to ED, they're used for colour
  • optional - you can serve the marrow on toast, with a bit of flat leaf parsley and pinch of good salt. If you want to, buy a baguette or similar.

To serve

  • capers
  • cornichons
  • horseradish
  • mustard
  • salad

First off, if you are cooking for 15 and using the proportions above, you will need a bloody big pot to put it all in. I used a 28cm round Le Creuset casserole, which I was surprised held it all in, but with some pushing and shoving did the trick.

Tie the brisket. I used Leith's Techniques Bible as guide, but frankly all you want to do is tie up the meat into a neat parcel.

Wrap and tie the marrow bones in muslin. This will stop the all important marrow from falling out into the stew.

Tie four leeks in a bundle with one stalk of celery.

Grill the tomatoes, get a decent char on the cut-side.

Wash three onions - don't peel, the skin adds colour.

Put the beef, veal, tongue and giblets into the pot and cover with cold water. Heat gently and skim religiously. After reading Thomas Keller I have had it drummed into me just how important this is when making stocks, soups or broths. Remember, Elizabeth David argues pot-au-feu is essentially two dishes, bouillon (the broth) and bouilli (the meat). She suggests they should be used at different times and for different meals. You want your broth as crystal clear and consomme like as possible.

Put in the vegetables prepared above, add a good portion of salt, approx 1 tbp and the bouquet garni.

Leave to simmer gently for five and a half hours. By gently, I mean only a light bubbling, not a raging boil. You might need to buy a heat diffuser to get sufficient control over your hob.

Put the tied marrow bones parcel into the pot for the last thirty minutes to 1 hour of cooking.

At the end of the cooking time, turn off the heat and lift out all solids. Put the beef into a covered dish and keep warm. Skim the broth again - you should have been skimming anyway, but there's always more skimming to do. You should think about passing the broth through one or two fine sieves, you could even pass it through muslin, if you want to be really anal (it is the sort of thing I do.)

Extract the marrow meat, put onto toast and serve with parsley and salt.

Elizabeth David suggests serving the broth with rice or pasta. A typical Ashkenazi interpretation would be to add kreplach. If you are going to do that, I would suggest the kreplach stuffing is liver or a well flavoured mince (maybe with a hint of paprika) to work through the complex flavours of the meaty broth. You would end up with a dish very similar to tortellini in brodo - one of the by-products of bollito misto, Italy's boiled meat dish. For the sake of my good health, I dare not compare bollito misto and pot-au-feu too closely, but there are undeniable similarities. If you are interested in bollito misto, I find Claudia Roden's book very good, or read Divina Cucina's recipe.

Back to pot-au-feu, serve the meat with cornichons, horseradish, capers, mustard and a green salad with a decent (read: homemade) vinaigrette.

Cook the remaining vegetables separately and serve with the pot-au-feu.

Personally, I found the leftovers just as tasty as the main meat dish.

13 November 2006

Serendipity, not irony

I have found that what I regard as ironic and many American's regard as ironic are not one and the same.  Alanis Morissette was a case in point.

It has happened again.  Chefs Aki and Alex, writers of the blog Ideas in Food, have announced they have been asked to leave Keyah Grande.  They describe their bosses' decision as ironic.  I am aware we only know one half of the story, but this smacks of stupidity or short-sightedness, not irony.  Why would you dismiss the people who put you on the map?  Especially, when they are producing food like this and when the map looks this sparse.

I know that I have not tasted their food, but I have been fascinated and inspired by the food they present on the blog.  I love the way they are so willing to be so open about their ideas and engage in conversations with their readers.  I also trust the taste buds of some of those that have eaten there and reported back so favourably.

I firmly agree with a number of the comments on their site, that this can only be good news for them as a creative team.  Hopefully it will provide the impetus for them to go and set-up on their own.  Something they have wanted to do for some time, as we discussed in the podcast.  They should have titled their post 'Serendipity Again', not 'Irony Again'.

10 November 2006

Salone del Gusto

I expected to see a bit more written about Salone del Gusto, Slow Food's biennial.  There was not as much blog coverage as I had expected (especially in English), nor was there much in the print media.  It is a shame because it looked like a great event that I would have loved to experience vicariously.  I had planned to go but life got in the way.

However, there is a piece in the Wall Street Journal today giving an overview of the event. It could be more detailed but there is interesting stuff about some of the appuntamenti a tavola - dinners organised with leading chefs.

Despite my acceptance of flying fish half way around the world for sushi, Slow Food has a philosophy I associate myself with  closely, especially when I'm doing the cooking.