“Com­pli­ments to the Chef”

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE - FOOD, DRINK and OTHER MAT­TERS with Patrick Skin­ner

Some­times, the chef comes out of his kitchen, gen­er­ally when last or­ders for main cour­ses have been com­pleted, to say “Hello” to his cus­tomers. A cus­tom I like, be­cause it be­speaks con­fi­dence on his part. Some­times his tour of the restau­rant is cur­sory, his sim­ple com­ment be­ing “Ev­ery­thing al­right?” “Yes, thank you”, we gen­er­ally say, or some-such word as “Won­der­ful”. On other oc­ca­sions he stops with ‘reg­u­lars’ who tell him what a good fel­low he is. The best chefs talk to ALL the cus­tomers, and lis­ten to any com­ments in­clud­ing bull­shit (or genuine) praise, and crit­i­cisms.

From my own din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence you are most likely to see the chef in these cir­cum­stances: (a) When he/she owns the place and does the cook­ing; (b) When the place is up-mar­ket/ex­pen­sive or a ho­tel (where restau­rants are of­ten dreary places and any­thing out of the or­di­nary helps brighten up the oc­ca­sion) (c) The guy is not 100% con­fi­dent about the cui­sine and thinks “the per­sonal touch” will help cre­ate happy cus­tomers.

All too of­ten cus­tomers are so be­sot­ted at the mere fact that the man who has cooked the meal for which they are pay­ing 50 eu­ros a head has deigned to come out of his den to hold court with them, so all they can mut­ter is how great it was. When they get home, of course, the wife says: “HUH! And you said how tough the steak was and that the sauce was crap!”

Mind you, there’s one restau­rant not far from where I’m writ­ing this where, IF the chef stops by your ta­ble he’ll chin-wag for ages – a case of where he talks as well as he cooks.

Re­cently, stay­ing at a 3-star tourist ho­tel in Scot­land, we en­joyed our din­ner main course of Braised Beef in Red Wine and when the chef did his rounds we told him so. He then de­scribed the six hours it had taken from trim­ming and cut­ting the meat to bring­ing it slow-cooked out of the oven. The next morn­ing, out­side the ho­tel I en­coun­tered a large van with a famous ca­ter­ing firm’s name on the side. The de­liv­ery man told me his firm pro­vided ALL the food served in the ho­tel, in­clud­ing the braised steak.

I don’t mind ready-cooked meals. And you find them all over the place, es­pe­cially when trav­el­ling. I re­mem­ber one day when I looked at the dish be­fore me. It was baked mac­a­roni, bet­ter known to Greeks and Cypri­ots as Mac­a­ro­nia Pas­tic­cio. The sauce was fluffy, the pasta prop­erly cooked and the minced meat very tasty. Now this is a dish I of­ten avoid. At its best it’s won­der­ful. But in the hands of fifty per cent of the tav­erna cooks it’s a heavy, dry, in­di­ges­tion-cre­at­ing dis­as­ter.

Where was I? I was 10,000 me­tres in the air, sky or what­ever. Up there, on a Cyprus Air­ways Air­bus 320 bound for Stansted. By the side of my tray was a lit­tle bot­tle of Is­land Vines red (I had at least two) I was con­tent.

I am not a snob about fly­ing or eat­ing air­line food; 95% of my air jour­neys have been in econ­omy class (I fig­ure the back of the aero­plane with the peas­ant like me in it, with luck, lands at the same time as the front), and of the other times, up-front with the al­co­holics, eat­ing roast New Zealand lamb washed down by Chateau Mar­gaux at mid­night wasn’t worth pay­ing six times the econ­omy class fare. rice dish that orig­i­nated in Turkey. It can use cooked lamb, if you like and is there­fore good for us­ing up “left-overs”, but you may pre­fer fresh meat, I do. It is called: 450 grams long-grain rice 1 litre light meat or chicken stock 450 grams of lamb, diced 2 onions and 2 cloves gar­lic, peeled and finely sliced 450 grams of ripe toma­toes, peeled and chopped 1 cof­fee cup pine-nuts or sliced peeled al­monds grilled brow 60 grams cur­rants or sul­tana 5-6 ta­ble­spoons ren­dered lamb fat, “drip­ping” or olive oil 1 scant tea­spoon ground cin­na­mon and 2 pinches ground cumin Salt and pep­per to taste

1. In a heavy saucepan with lid, heat 4 ta­ble­spoons of fat or oil, tip in the rice and stir well un­til rice has a coat­ing of fat.

2. Pour in the stock, cover and bring to boil. Turn down heat and put lid on. Af­ter 15-20 min­utes the rice should be cooked and liq­uid ab­sorbed. In a large fry­ing pan, heat re­main­der of fat/oil and fry onions un­til be­gin­ning to turn golden. 3. Add all the other in­gre­di­ents and gen­tly fry for 5-8 min­utes. 4. Com­bine the meat mix­ture and the rice in a large warmed serv­ing bowl and serve with yo­gurt and salad.

And what can one do with rice, when there’s no meat about? Veg­e­tar­ian pi­laffs can be de­li­cious! Try one of these!

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