from one generation to the next
It’s soapbox time!
It’s two years since I quietly entered the blogging scene and in that time, sadly, I’ve become increasingly cynical and critical of the celebrity chef movement. Always curious to see what’s happening in food trends my cookbook library is continually expanding, but the difference between now and before I began blogging is that I’m actually cooking from them.
I’ve been a food tragic for forty plus years, and for a big chunk of that time I was a poorly paid, untrained, passionate professional chef. I’ve worked in kitchens with all types of personalities, highly trained experienced cooks and enthusiastic, dedicated amateurs, apprentices who inspired me with their edgy ideas and some who just came to work just for the pay packet.
I prefer to call people who work in kitchens cooks, because “chef” literally means the chief, the boss! The kitchen team leader is the Chef, the person who plans and budgets, who oversees the food and his brigade, who sets and maintains standards. The chef is the person who teaches and leads by example, the person who knows their ingredients and kitchen chemistry and can develop successful formulas for dishes that entice you to want to cook and eat. It takes many years of experience to attain this knowledge. It’s not without foundation that the Japanese believe an apprenticeship lasts 20-30 years and only then do you attain the title of “master.”
I simply cannot see how the process that the media has formulated to elevate a young relatively inexperienced person to the status of “Masterchef” can ensure that they are a consistently good cook with ideas and technique we should aspire to emulate.
I’m not being personally critical of these young people, most are intelligent, incredibly enthusiastic and have camera charisma in spades, but I question the media, those in glass towers who mistakenly see marketability and the size of their burgeoning bottom line as the reason the foodie public should all be putting time and hard earned bucks into a bunch of nice ideas published in a book. It looks to me as if the test kitchens and recipe writers are cutting corners and marketing oversimplified dishes as quick and simple, when with just a smidge of extra attention to the detail in the recipe writing and cooking technique would elevate a nice dish to the sublime.
Blogging is the grass roots of the food media. We have the power to right these wrongs. I urge you all to cook critically from your bright new cookbooks, to try recipes that appeal to you, but also to appraise the ingredients and their quantities, the cooking method and times, the flavour, texture and appearance of the finished dish. Consider reinventing a dish, adjust the ingredients to suit availability, budget and your palate. You’ll then be well on the way to being a true master chef!
I keep a note book on the kitchen bench and I also annotate my recipe books in black lead pencil. I find following recipes slows me down and distracts my creative thought processes, but I will generally cook a recipe verbatim once, to give it a trial run. I’m inspired by new ideas and as I prepare new dishes I make notes regarding improvements and options I think could improve the dish to suit me better. I don’t just alter recipes for the thrill of it, but sadly, there have been many cookbook recipes lately that have fallen well short of expectations.
This brilliant idea comes from Adam Liaw’s “Asian After Work “. I found several false leads the first time round. I have made the ingredients list clearer and I have adjusted the seasoning. We also preferred the flavour using Adam’s alternate poaching liquid, clear flavoursome homemade chicken stock. My one significant change to the method made a huge difference to both the handling and look of the finished dish. I spent one extra minute in preparation to make these changes. The dish is still quick and simple, as well as being delicious.
1.5kg piece of pork belly with bones and rind, 750g trimmed weight
1 whole Chinese cabbage, you need the big outer leaves
1 bunch spring onion greens
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon Chinese 5 spice powder
Freshly ground black pepper
For the poaching
11/2 cups light chicken stock
Using a boning knife, remove the bones from the underside of the pork belly then cut off the rind with the layer of fat below. You could make pork scratchings with the rind and save the bones for stock. Your butcher may do these first steps for you if you ask nicely.
Use a very sharp knife to cut the pork belly into thin slices.
Cut the base off the cabbage, then separate the leaves. Wash and dry the leaves thoroughly.
Wash the spring onion greens and cut then into lengths approx 8cms
Mix the salt and 5 spice powder together.
Place one of the largest cabbage leaves on a cutting board, then lay several strips of pork belly in a single layer along the leaf. Sprinkle with the salt/spice mix and a good grinding of pepper, then lay pieces of spring onion across the leaf. Place another cabbage leaf on top with the stem at the opposite end to the first leaf then add more pork, seasonings, spring onion and another leaf. Continue to layer the ingredients until the pork is finished. As you get to the smaller leaves, use two laid end to end and alternate the stem positions. Finish with a cabbage leaf layer.
Lightly oil a large saucepan.
Cut the cabbage stack into 4 thick sections and put them into the pot. They should fit tightly.
Pour the chicken stock over the cabbage stacks.
Place an oiled square of baking paper over the cabbage and then a plate to weigh down the stacked ingredients and keep the top leaves moist.
Bring the pot to the boil. Place a simmer mat beneath the pot and let it bubble over a low heat for 45 minutes.
Remove the paper and plate then serve the mille fieulle with fresh rice noodles or steamed rice and the poaching liquid.