« August 2007 | Main | October 2007 »

8 posts from September 2007

23 September 2007

Alinea cookbook

Alinea is widely regarded as one of America's best restaurants and its chef patron Grant Achatz is at the forefront of developing modern culinary techniques. Some of those techniques may owe more to the lab than our mother's kitchen, but they should not be knocked because of that.

Next year, the restaurant's first cookbook will be published and it is now available to pre-order, wherever you live. Annoyingly, this is currently an option only open to those with a US billing and delivery address. If you pre-order you get lots of additional goodies, like a signed edition and additional recipes on a dedicated website.

The book isn't available until this time next year and that throws up an interesting prospect: that it will come out at roughly the time the first Fat Duck cookbook is due. I've heard a lot of gossip about Heston's inevitable tome but no-one seems to know too much. Nonetheless, the latest I heard was to expect it towards the end of next year.

We face the fantastic prospect therefore of two of the world's greatest chefs publishing the recipes of the dishes they make in their kitchens. If they live up to their hype, they will be seminal works that define their era and represent a culinary timestamp. They will be direct heirs to White Heat. They should also help to move some of the modern techniques used in the best restaurant kitchens into the mainstream and provide some education to those who still insist on sniggering.

Hat-tip: Ideas in Food

Gethumbwini and grinding

We all have our favourite words, at the moment, mine is Gethumbwini. It rolls off the tongue and conjours up something romantic and African.

Gethumbwini is the name of a Kenyan coffee estate that according to those in the know, is growing some of the best beans available. Since Silverbrowess bought me an espresso machine a couple of years ago, my love of coffee has grown exponentially. This has been further compounded by a new job which means a morning latte and afternoon espresso from Monmouth are now daily realities. As well as imbibing more coffee, I've been reading about it as well, particularly Jim Seven. So all in, my knowledge and love of the bean has increased significantly.

I had repeatedly heard about this fruity, full flavoured coffee from the mystical sounding Gethumbwini estate. After a bit of searching, I managed to buy some from Hasbean - a fantastic purveyor of all things coffee related. The coffee arrived in rather clever foil bags with ziploc seals, ensuring, I assume, freshness.

I'm not very good at describing how coffee tastes, other than to say I know when I like something and I love Gethumbwini. There is a definite fruitiness - black berries predominate - and subtleness to it, that frankly I find it tough to explain further, other than to say, this has introduced me to the joys of drinking coffee without milk. I have also learned that there is real difference between coffees. Not simply between whether there you're having instant (shouldn't be called coffee) or espresso, but the variations between a cup of Kenyan or something from Nicaragua. The taste profiles are as varied as between a cup of English breakfast tea or Early Grey.

The coffee bean is all very well, but what I have learned is almost as important, is how and when it is ground. For years I had happily been buying ground coffee and then making a brew a week or three later. But, I had been deeply frustrated by my inability to make coffee that tastes anything like a latte from my favourite coffee shops, initially not making the connection with when it was ground. However, on further reading it became clear that grinding just before brewing was the key and eventually gave in to the allure. On the recommendation of the nice people at Monmouth, I ended up going for the KitchenAidgrinder. At last, I'm able to make a cup of coffee that tastes as good as the stuff I buy and the beauty of the grinder is that I can vary how fine the grind is, depending on whether I'm making a cup using the espresso machine (very fine ground) or my Bialetti (medium ground, not quite sand-paper).

As with many things in life, a bit of experimentation can bring great pleasure.

20 September 2007

Campion on Bacchus vs Fat Duck

Drawing comparisons between Bacchus and The Fat Duck is not new. Charles Campion has written about his lunch-for-lunch comparison at the two establishments, from which he feels Bacchus compares very favourably.

I think the praise for Bacchus is well deserved and Campion's article raises some good points, even if he is wide of the mark a couple of times. His price comparison of the two is flawed. He is comparing Bacchus' 9 course tasting menu with the Fat Duck's a la carte. If he wants to do a like for like comparison, he should be using the Fat Duck's tasting menu which is £115 and he got the price of Bacchus' tasting menu wrong, it is £60 not £80 as he claims. Such a significant price difference between the two is right. They may use similar techniques but they are a long way from each other, reputationally and geographically. The other bit he got wrong was his suggestion that Bacchus is not targeted at fine dining. It clearly is, the prices, the wine lists, the interior design and the type of people eating there indicate it is. It may not be aiming for 3 Michelin stars, but nonetheless it is all about eating the best food perfectly, if uniquely, prepared, with an attention to detail on all aspects of how the front-of-house is run. This is no two-bit operation.

I am intrigued by how Bacchus is going to evolve. Blumenthal has received criticism for not changing his menu, he argues he is continually perfecting it. As a restaurant still developing and growing I don't think Bacchus can afford to rest on its laurels. I also think Nuno, chef at Bacchus has an itch to innovate. How that translates onto the plate is going to be interesting to watch.

Listen again to my interview with Phil Mossop and Nuno Mendes of Bacchus.

19 September 2007

Scoop's Day of Chocolate (Sat, 29 Sept)

Regular readers may have noticed I quite like Scoop, this gives the game away, as does this.

I am trying to be careful what I'm eating at the moment, so I have to be just as careful that I don't walk down Shorts Gardens and thus I can avoid the siren call of a couple of scoops of Amarena (sour cherry) or creamy cornetti.

I was slightly concerned Matteo, gelato king and owner of Scoop, might be upset by my abstinence because earlier in the summer I was such a frequent visitor, I must have been underwriting his profits.  My concerns dissipated when I received a phone call from him telling me of their day of chocolate.

Rather cunningly, Matteo has figured out that it is hard to go wrong when you combine chocolate with ice-cream or pastries.  So, if you like your chocolate I would recommend a trip to Covent Garden on Saturday 29 September, with festivities starting at 2pm and going on until early evening.  I understand from Matteo that they will be showcasing a whole host of different types of chocolate gelato, using various types of chocolate and numerous flavours.  Expect to indulge in Gianduia del Piemonte, Cioccolato Puro, Cioccolato al Latte and Riso Cioccolato among other gelato flavours, plus a whole host of sticky pastries.  I also understand that they'll be selling Amadei's hot-chocolate.  I've never tried it myself, but it's reputation precedes it and I fear it is yet another reason to visit the shop and sod the diet.

By the way, if you are concerned that I have given in to PR fluff, think again.  I never promote anyone or anything on this site solely because they have asked me to or offered me inducements.  I only write about products, people and topics that interest me - for better or worse.  Scoop deserves all the praise it can get (except for the coffee, but let's move on) because it is a food producer obsessed with using the best ingredients and the best people to ensure a fantastic product.   I find it quite disheartening that there are so few producers and shops that get me as excited as an ice-cream shop on a Covent Garden side street.

18 September 2007


Ratatouille is a great film, I loved it, but I am surprised it has been such a critical and box-office success. This film is about an environment that is not easily accessible or appreciated by a wide swathe of society. Yes, almost everyone loves nice food, but very few eat at the world's greatest restaurants. This is not about super-heroes, fast cars, the toy-box or monsters under the bed. This is about the very hautiest of haute cuisine. This is a film that gets its title from a dish that is widely known and usually pretty dull. But, the in-joke is that although ratatouille is a peasants dish, Remy, the film's protagonist, is following Thomas Keller's recipe for byaldi. In his cookbook The French Laundry, Keller describes byaldi as "a refined interpretation of ratatouille." But, being one of the world's most innovative chefs, Keller's interpretation of ratatouille is a loooong way from the dish's humble origins. As such, it mirrors the underlying message of the film, don't judge something by the way it looks or what it's called - a rat can cook and a few vegetables in tomato sauce can be the greatest dish ever made.

Like all Pixar's output, Ratatouille is visually stunning, repeatedly I would have sworn I wasn't watching an animation. In some of the bumpf I was given about the film, it said that rendering the various liquids, from wine to water to stock, was one of the toughest animation tasks ever undertaken. In my view, the hard work paid off. I loved the visual beauty and culinary detail, I was completely enthralled. Although, not the entire way through. I felt the film sagged a bit towards the end, especially all the stuff about friendship and family - unless the shmaltz is being used as a replacement for duck fat, it has no place in this film - although it will help to add to its family appeal. And from the repeated and very sweet giggles of the youngest viewer, about five I'd say, this is a film that will definitely appeal to all the family.

I didn't have one favourite moment but I did have a favourite theme: the sheer joy one can experience from food. In three separate instances the pleasure of food is beautifully portrayed with a great use of animation, music and humour. The first was when Remy expresses his delight in the simple pleasures of cheese and a strawberry, the second was when Remy's tasteless brother Emile almost sees the light and the third where my namesake and favourite character, Anton Ego, regresses to his paisan childhood.

This isn't the Oscars but I would like to thank Anna at Digital Outlook who helped me sort out the screening tonight. I know my fellow food bloggers and food aficionados enjoyed themselves immensely as well.

The one question this film left me asking is which UK chef has only just finished doing a voice-over for the UK release of the film? We saw the US release tonight, so had the pleasure of Thomas Keller's mellifluous tones as one of the diners in the restaurant. I'm assuming the secret UK chef will play the same role. Safe money would be Gordon, but I'd love to see Marco do it. Then again, I have no idea which diner it was that Keller voiced, he could not have said more than a couple of lines. Whoever it is won't add or subtract to the story line, but no doubt the hope is that it will boost the profile of film in the UK. In some ways that's a shame because the film doesn't need any gimmicks, it is fantastic with or without a celeb chef.

The film goes on general release in the UK from 12 October and will be previewing in some places from 5 October.

17 September 2007

White Heat

White Heat dropped on my desk today. Go buy it now.

I doubt you will ever cook anything out of it, but you'll get more inspiration from it than any other book on your shelves.

10 September 2007

Twitter twatter

A new job has resulted in the blog not being as updated as frequently as I would like.

I think Twitter might be a way to keep things fresh. You can read my regular updates over in the left hand column and for those that way inclined, you can also get a RSS feed. Given that I'm twittering by texting, the updates will be necessarily brief.