IMHO

Food jour­nal­ist Tony Nay­lor has eaten far more than his share of dirty burg­ers, pulled pork, ribs and hot dogs, but no more, the love af­fair is over. He’s call­ing time on DUDE FOOD

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Tony Nay­lor ex­plains why he’s call­ing time on ‘dude food’

Wel­come, dear reader, to this month’s IMHO in which I will come down like a ton of roasted cauli­fower, on all things ‘dude food’: dirty, deep­fried and, gen­er­ally, drip­ping in bloody meat juices. But frst, may I please is­sue a dis­claimer? Of course, at some level, like you, I love all that stuf – who wouldn’t? I still drool at the mem­ory of the best burger I’ve ever eaten, at Troll’s Pantry (hob­gob­lin.pub/trollspantry) in Brighton. For­get roast beef, for­get beef stock, for­get even Ian Botham. That per­fect paty, grid­dled in beef fat, was the sin­gle most beefy thing I’ve ever en­coun­tered. It was in­cred­i­ble. As are the burg­ers at Paty Smith’s (bel­grave­mu­sichall.com/kitchen) in Leeds, where they’re briefy steamed un­der a cloche un­til the bun, cheese and burger melt to­gether, into one sweet, slip­pery, al­most slurp-able whole. I’ve eaten hot dogs, ribs, grilled cheese, buttermilk chicken, chilli fries, and have worn the grease stains down my shirt as a badge of pride. I rev­elled in the transgressive glut­tony of Man v. Food and her­alded the street food revo­lu­tion as a demo­cratic lev­eller. It seemed like we, the peo­ple, were fnally forg­ing our own con­cept of what good food is, rather than obe­di­ently ac­cept­ing what Miche­lin, mid­dle Eng­land or the French gas­tro­nomic tra­di­tion – with its luxury in­gre­di­ents and pompous fayn dayn­ing (© Ma­rina O’Lough­lin) – told us was the cor­rect, refned way to dine. The USA was our new in­spi­ra­tion, and we were go­ing to eat calo­rie-packed, arteryclog­ging junk un­til our hearts burst. So there. Deal with it, bro. Stupid as that sounds, the ca­su­al­i­sa­tion of eat­ing-out, which dude food helped catal­yse, has changed Bri­tain for the good. The rise of no-book­ing restau­rants, the em­pha­sis on af­ford­able plea­sure, the pride that chefs now take in per­fect­ing mun­dane items (such as brioche buns or triple-cooked chips), the spread of wood-fred pizza ovens – th­ese are all ter­rifc things. The cul­ture around Bri­tish food is now young, ur­ban and en­er­getic where it used to feel staid and mid­dle-aged. But as I sit here, nurs­ing a large Gavis­con and con­sid­er­ing my ever-ex­pand­ing waist­line, I’m lef won­der­ing, not at what a won­der­ful pe­riod that was, but rather: what have we done? Be­cause dude food and dude at­i­tude have per­me­ated our food cul­ture to such an ex­tent that, in­creas­ingly, it feels sti­fling, sticky and in­di­gestible. Quite sim­ply, dude food is ev­ery­where. Now ev­ery chain pub and fake hip­ster diner (indie look, cor­po­rate back­ing), has a limp mop-head of pulled pork on the menu, or serves a burger on a dough­nut (bleugh!). Due to the low skill-base re­quired to churn this stuf out and the ready au­di­ence for it (we all love fast food, right?), dude food was al­ways go­ing to go main­stream. What’s strange though is that food’s real ob­ses­sives, its tastemak­ers, its street food ven­dors, its chefs, the me­dia and we our­selves – in the things we like and favourite on so­cial me­dia – have not moved on. We’re all still jump­ing around like giddy chil­dren over lu­di­crous, gim­micky, usu­ally fried food: ra­men burg­ers; pou­tine-style piles of junk-on-chips; cronuts, nu­clear hot sauces; fried pickles, ba­con jam; mac ‘n’ cheese; corn­bread with maple syrup and buter. Me? I’m sick of it. I’m be­yond bored with the nar­row taste range of dude food, its muffly com­bi­na­tion of OTT sug­ary sweet­ness, hot fat and meat. Afer a while, it all seems to set­tle like a dull smoky fug on the tongue. Right now, and not just be­cause it’s sum­mer, I’m far more ex­cited by the end­less pos­si­bil­i­ties of sal­ads, from pea, feta and broc­coli, through pan­zanella or or­ange, chorizo and fen­nel, to all the mag­nif­cent things you can do with charred aubergine. Sim­i­larly, from Leeds’ Bun­do­bust (bun­do­bust.com) to Ox­ford’s Oli’s Thai (olisthai.com; see restau­rant fea­ture, page 96), the rel­a­tively kalei­do­scopic colour of highly-spiced In­dian and Thai cooking seems so much more vivid and ex­hil­a­rat­ing than an­other buck­et­ful of gut-bust­ing, dark brown dude food. Cer­tainly, out­side the pages of O, cov­er­age of nov­elty burg­ers and port­man­teau pastries con­tin­ues apace. In­deed, it drowns out cel­e­bra­tion of that new wave of Bri­tish chefs, who – rather than sim­ply chuck­ing stuf in deep-fry­ers and pil­ing it on enam­elled tin plates – ac­tu­ally take raw in­gre­di­ents and, well, cook. That is, they use their tech­ni­cal skill and imag­i­na­tions to cre­ate dishes of def light­ness, depth and com­plex­ity of favour, dishes which, at times, in their earthy, min­eral, veg­e­tal or tart way, chal­lenge you to en­gage with food as an adult should. Per­haps that’s the prob­lem. Ei­ther way, the truly ex­cit­ing things in Bri­tish food aren’t hap­pen­ing in East Lon­don pop-up BBQ joints but in those restau­rants – for ex­am­ple, Clapham’s The Dairy (the-dairy.co.uk; see page 66), the Ethi­curean in Bris­tol (theethi­curean.com), Ed­in­burgh’s Tim­ber­yard (tim­ber­yard. co) – that are cul­ti­vat­ing a post-Noma ap­proach to cooking that’s all about sea­sonal, her­itage in­gre­di­ents and an­cient ar­ti­san skills al­lied to new tech­nol­ogy. Such places will not re­place dude food; they’re not ca­sual dining venues. Th­ese are rel­a­tively ex­pen­sive, in­spi­ra­tional places – but their ethos could trickle down. Look at Leeds’ Grub & Grog Shop (gruband­grog.co.uk), where a street-food men­tal­ity of keen pric­ing (mains around £8) and cre­ativ­ity dove­tail with a more cere­bral ap­proach. Us­ing lots of tra­di­tional pick­ling skills, air-dry­ing, hop oils and for­aged in­gre­di­ents, its team pro­duces food which feels, lit­er­ally and metaphor­i­cally, fresh, and which min­imises the use of meat. To me, this tastes like the fu­ture.

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