“Compliments to the Chef”
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!