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9 posts from October 2008

28 October 2008

The first meal

This is cross-posted on the Observer's Word of Mouth blog.

For the last few nights I have been peeling, chopping, stewing and pulping vegetables because our daughter, Silverbrowlette, has started eating. She's still on the breast-milk wagon, but she needs a top-up of something more substantial. So far, solids have been only part of one meal. From tomorrow however, she moves on to having solids for breakfast and lunch.

We can look at first meals one of two ways: either the po-faced but serious approach of what the hell do we actually feed the sprogs - is the received wisdom of organic baby rice the way forward, or are there other options - or, we could indulge our fantasies and wonder what we would choose for this formative experience if we could travel back in time and keep down more than slop.

First let's be serious. In every possible way I want to give my daughter the best start in life. I want to make sure that everything she eats is good for her.

I also want to do everything in my power to ensure that she isn't a fussy eater and that she appreciates her food. It's not an easy task, especially as there's no agreed theory as to what makes for a fussy child.

So far, she has quite happily scoffed baby rice, stewed and mashed carrots, pears, apples and sweet potatoes. The larger the portion, the happier she is - that's my girl.

To many people, that list of fruit and veg might read like a mishmash of relatively sweet staples, which is true, but for the parents out there who have recently weaned their babies it is as a semaphore signal that tells you a lot about the way we're bringing our daughter up. It tells you whether Silverbrowlette is a Gina Ford baby or an Annabel Karmel baby and those in the know will identify her as the latter.

The approaches of these these two arbiters of feeding are fundamentally different but as parents you become wedded to one or the other. What if you want to plough your own furrow? After all, I rarely eat what an overbearing woman tells me to eat.

From what I can see, unless one follows the strictures of Karmel or Ford, you're on your own - and it's bloody scary. For example, received wisdom dictates that baby rice should be on the menu very early on. Let's dismiss the issue of being a slave to received wisdom and instead focus on the horror of arsenic in baby rice. Yes, arsenic. According to the NHS we shouldn't worry. But it's arsenic ... in baby rice. Does it come much more scary?

In the UK, the NHS baldly states that it's breast milk until at least six months, but the reality in our household and that of many of our friends, is that the baby needs proper food before that. Silverbrowlette started diving for the knife and fork at about four and a half months old. Does that make the NHS advice worthless? Probably not, but trying to get a clear answer to that question is tough, because after all, it's the NHS. They must know what they're talking about ... I think.

There is surprisingly little independent guidance (ie not written by those trying to flog a series of books) on what babies should be fed. There's a mini-industry around last meals, there's a lot of gnashing of teeth about what to give early meals, but first solid meals seem to be overlooked.

Is any meal more significant than our first? For the food obsessed, does it get any more existential than pondering what to pass between our lips for the very first time? I have a gut feeling that the first meal will determine how that child approaches food for the rest of their lives. I'm interested to hear what you fed your baby as their first meal and why.

And what about you? If you could choose your first meal what would it be? For me it's either a beautifully roasted side of beef or bollito misto. Both reflect the type of food I love to cook and eat. They're big and bold dishes but with subtle flavours and are best eaten with a glass of red wine and surrounded by family. Both also benefit from my wife's astoundingly good roast potatoes.

26 October 2008

Style goes down on Tom Aikens

Tom Aikens' suppliers, don't read any further, you may hurl.

In a fantastically badly timed article, the Style section of the Sunday Times carries a fawning article by Christa D'Souza on Tom Aikens.  I know these magazines have a fairly long lead-time, but this is really badly timed.

For irony and hubris, my favourite bit of this piece is:

It’s 11am and we are sitting in the reception of Tom Aikens, the Michelin-starred Chelsea restaurant he opened in 2003. Things have changed a little since we saw each other at that dinner. The popular up-market fish-and-chip shop he opened last summer has been closed down after complaints from the neighbours about the smell. And he’s not doing his food products at Selfridges any more. Otherwise, he is just as hyper and driven as ever: team Aikens is raring to go. There’s the cookbook. Then there’s the hugely desirable cookware he has just designed with the couple’s friend David Linley. There’s also the possibility of a television series in which he goes to places such as Sierra Leone to address one of his pet topics: fish piracy.

Er, he may have opened in 2003 but what about what happened this week?

I wonder whether that rather expensive sounding line of cookware with David Linley is in that part of the Aikens empire that has gone under, and what about that book deal? I'm guessing not.

What with the rather frosty economy and the enormous dent his cache must have taken in the last couple of weeks, I imagine both these endeavours could well get put on hold. Which is a shame and I mean that genuinely. I've never eaten in one of his gaffes, it's never really appealed and I don't like his public persona, unlike say Heston Blumenthal, who comes across as a good bloke and his food is mind-blowing. But the problems facing Aikens are probably just the start of what will turn out be a snowball effect that will almost certainly engulf others that I do like, either personally or because of their contribution to my taste-buds. And that's sad.

20 October 2008

Tom Aikens in administration, others teeter

Unfortunately the blood-letting has started.

Tom Aikens and Tom's Kitchen, the eponymous restaurants of the c'leb chef, have gone into administration, following the closure of his chippie.

High-end restaurants are notoriously expensive and rarely make a profit, as Ferran Adrià explains, so the demise of Tom Aikens is not a surprise. According to The Caterer, the business has been bought by management, which I'm assuming includes Aikens himself. 

Aikens' continued involvement would explain the wrath of some of his suppliers.  Suppliers always get hit when businesses go into administration, that's the point of the administration laws, to protect companies from their creditors and allow them to keep trading.  But from the perspective of his suppliers, they lose out whilst the business continues.  These suppliers aren't selling pads and pens.  Their excellent produce ensures his excellent food and provenance is something he has always been only too aware of.

Having said all that, both the Aikens' restaurants are still trading and to serve food they will need suppliers to deliver ingredients.  One has to assume that for suppliers to agree to do so, Aikens will reach an arrangement with them regarding the outstanding invoices.  Or, find new suppliers.  Or, the businesses only trade for a short period of time before going completely belly-up and therefore leaving suppliers and employees high and dry.

I've also heard that another restaurant group, with a piscine theme, is soon to follow a similar path to the Aikens' empire.

The rumour mill is working overtime at the moment and I heard particularly sad news about a restaurant far closer to my heart than either of these two businesses.  This is going to get very ugly.  If you can, stick by the establishments you want to be eating in in twelve months time.

Another Dan Lepard class

For those of you who expressed an interest in another Dan Lepard class, you'll want to act on this email I just receieved:

Apologies if this goes to anyone who attended Dan's last class on September 26th, but as demand outstripped the number of places available, we promised to give several of you as much notice as possible of the next class that we arranged.

This has been booked for 17th January 2009, and we are experimenting with a Saturday class, which we hope will be helpful to those of you with demanding Monday to Friday commitments. The class will again focus on Sourdough bread making, and will run from 9.30am to 4.30-5.00pm. The location will again be in central London at Cookery School, and all bookings and enquiries should be addressed to them at:

Cookery School
15b Little Portland St
London W1W 8BW
email: [email protected]

The class may be mentioned in The Guardian as a possible Christmas gift idea, so you may want to reserve your place before there is any publicity.

Best wishes,
David Whitehouse
Business Manager for Dan Lepard

13 October 2008

State of the kosher nation - according to NY Times

The New York Times published its inaugural food issue yesterday. 

There's a great article on the numerous ethical and political issues that are being fought over kosher meat at the moment. 

Being written from an American perspective, there is none of the loony 'ban-Shechita' arguments we see in the UK.  Rather, the war is about the importance of looking after the animals we raise for slaughter and the dissonance between believing in the laws of kashrut and allowing our livestock to spend their lives in stinking hovels.

It's well worth taking a few minutes to read it.

12 October 2008

Seared scalps

You don't need me to tell you that the financial system is currently in the weeds.

There is no doubt that this constantly shifting situation, is going to hit the restaurant industry.

Gordon Ramsay Holdings' involvement in failed Icelandic bank, Kaupthing has been widely reported.  But the implications on GRH of the collapse of Kaupthing are not known.  Whilst in a statement the group says they've moved their corporate banking from Kaupthing to RBS (talk about frying pans and fires), there is no explicit mention of the extent GRH relies and relied on corporate loans from Kaupthing.  The recent growth spurt was not paid for from the petty cash tin.  Others relying on Kaupthing for their investments have not been having a good couple of weeks.

So where does it leave the restaurant and food industry?  Frankly none of us know - but when there is talk of titans like Morgan Stanley collapsing, anything is possible in any other part of the economy.

I'm sure we'll see a clearing of the decks.  Lots of restaurants won't be able to cope and it will be classic survival of the fittest.  I fear some of the better restaurants will be hit hard, as their margins are wafer thin, whereas less deserving establishments have greater protection and are able to hang on.  Then again, the big corporate groups, whether at the top or bottom end of the market are going to find life very tough, as their funding lines dry-up.  There won't be much expansion going on anytime soon and considerable numbers going under.

On the home-front, I reckon the King household have it about right: there'll be a lot of mixing and matching of food lines, with some of us sneaking the odd value range in whilst no-one is looking.  Unfortunately, I reckon this means that independent shops will be hit hard, but could well be a boon for farmers markets and their ilk.

It's an undeniably gloomy picture.  We can do our bit by supporting those shops and restaurants we treasure.  But let's be realistic.  None of us are charities and however much we love somewhere, we aren't going to start chucking around our uncertain pay-cheques to ensure someone else's survival.

07 October 2008

Readers, please subscribe

This post is unashamedly lifted from Seth Godin's excellent blog

I take no credit for the post - all the credit is his, but I agree with it all and I think what he says is important for readers of this and other blogs.

If you subscribe to a blog, any blog, congratulations. Not only have you figured out how to keep up, for free, with huge amounts of information, you've done it in an elegant and efficient way. While it may be fun to try to remember which blogs you read and then go visit them in some sort of order, RSS and other subscription tools are way smarter.


I can highly recommend a wide range of RSS tools, which can take your browsing efficiency way up.

And if you're not a subscriber (to this blog and others) today is a great day to start. RSS is a little like radio. Every blog and many news services 'broadcast' a tiny little signal that you can't hear, but your RSS reader can. (It's like a radio tuner). You tell the RSS reader which blogs and news feeds you like, and whenever it senses that signal, it goes out and grabs the post for you. Quick and free. With a good reader, you can easily keep up with 100 blogs in less than an hour.

Some media companies don't like RSS because it means you don't see their ads. I, on the other hand, love RSS because my goal is to reach people regularly, not just with the occasional juicy headline.

You can read the full article here on his site, rather than just my excerpt above.

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