Sunday, August 31, 2008

Age of excess.

Royal Chef- Gabriel Tschumi

As a young chef staring out Gabriel Tschumi got a job, that even today would be considered a great opportunity. He was hired as a cook for the British Royal family. This is not that same Royal family that is tabloid fodder. His time in the kitchen was a little before all that. When he started in his employment Victoria was Queen.

The one thing that stands out in this book is the extravagant excess's that the Royals seemed to go in for. Judging form the menus listed copious amounts of food were a regular thing. How often does one read a culinary book where the roasting of a baron of beef is a regular occurrence?
This was the age of regal excess. The Swiss born Tschmi writes about his experiences in the royal household kitchens as an outsider. Certainly not one who lived that way(who did) but some one who did his duty. There is obvious affection for the families he served, most notably Queen Mary.

Given that it was written 1954( a year after the death of Queen Mary)this is not a salacious tell all. but simply an affectionate memoir. This is good for the reader as it is a window into a time and lifestyle that is long gone. When he started in his employment Victoria was Queen

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A Feast of a Book

A Feast Made For Laughter- Craig Claiborne 

I had heard the name over the years but had been unfamiliar with his work. I was certainly I aware of the lasting influence of Claiborne.

The book it's self is a very open and honest account of the man's life. Certainly it was an interesting one. Originally from the deep south Claiborne served in the navy during two conflicts. WWII and Korea. He then attended hotel/culinary school in Switzerland. After a series of jobs he landed at the New York Times. Eventually he wound up heading the food section and transforming it to what it is today. This is at times an intense story. He does go into some deeply personal details about his life growing up in Mississippi. 

Claibrone's story takes up about half the book. The rest of the volume he has divided into two parts. The second of these is a collection of his one-hundred favorite recipes. These run a gamut (but do seem to be a little dated in some cases) from the basics for crepes and English custard to Le Cirque's spaghetti Primavera as well as Mrs. Reardys Shrimp and Artichoke Casserole. But it is the First list that is the most interesting. This is a listing of one hundred-plus 'must' haves for one gastronomic library. Granted there dose not seem to be a opportunity missed to included the works of himself or his friends(but hey why not it is after all included in his book.). It is certainly interesting to see where things stood in to mid 1970's. Especially of note is the international section. Claiborne was a proponent of what was then considered 'exotic' and which we today simply call  Hungarian and Spanish etc. Claiborne was a great proponent of broadening peoples horizons.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Forgotten roots.

The Land That Thyme Forgot-William Black 

Ah...English food there is nothing really quite like it. That statement is can be taken any number of ways. True many a joke has been made at the expense of British gastronomy and not without good reason. But like all countries England has a unique culinary heritage all it's own.

It is in fact a rich history that has somehow gotten over looked and surpassed by the negativity that has grown up around British food. Like any country there is a great deal of local diversity and numerous regional dishes and food.

Black, an Englishman, has taken it upon himself to look into British cuisine, not through the eyes of a critic but more of those of a traveler. He crisscrossed the country looking for the unique and the good. The unexpected and the endangered. 

In return the reader gets a look at a fascinating side of the UK that is often over looked. As well glimpses in to corners of the land that are well off the beaten path. Small producers are profiled and regional specialties tasted. It is somewhat reassuring that there still is some diversity out there. While at the same time one can't help but wonder how much longer some of it can last in  an overly homogeneous and highly regulated marketplace.

It might seem as if Black is on some sort of vision quest.  Perhaps he is trying a little too hard. No. He really can't be too far off the mark, after all given the chance who would not want to spent a couple of days indulging in the current London culinary scene? Fine British food had to have come from somewhere. And that is where Black takes us.