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Around the Table | DineOut Articles

Mr Lu


by Mr Lu, Tue 19th Jan 2010 07:19pm

I rather think that Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Philip treat their staff very well, all 1200 of them. Of those, as many as 30 work in the Royal kitchens, otherwise known as F-Branch, with the Royal Chef presiding over 20 other chefs, sous chefs and apprentices. There's little doubt that the 400 staff based at the 'palace' are well fed on what is very much home grown produce and well sourced beef, pork, lamb, poultry & game, but One wonders whether there is a sufficiency of challenge for the Royal Chef and his team on a day to day basis. Unquestionably, catering for Royal banquets and/or visiting dignitaries with unusual dietary requirements must represent an interesting diversion and a welcome relief from the daily routine of feeding Ma & Pa Windsor.

At least there's little chance of the aforementioned chef meeting his maker as a consequence of a culinary misadventure, as happened during Henry VIII's reign. Richard Roose, a chef to the Bishop of Rochester at the time, prepared a meal that ended up causing the deaths of two of the bishop's dinner guests. Henry was suitably outraged and, in April 1532, had Chef Roose publicly executed. He was lowered into a large cauldron of heated water which then took approximately two hours to come to the boil. Apparently the crowd loved the spectacle and kept up a rhythmical chant of "Long Live the King." We must all surely be pleased that times have changed somewhat since the 16th century although there was a ghastly restaurant I went to in 2003 where the chef may well have been deserving of similar treatment...

In many respects, even if our own 21st Century lives are not quite as cliquant and privileged as those of the House of Windsor, we do have access to the best chefs in the world, the best of food and wine and we have the freedom of relative anonymity. What could be finer?
Tens of thousands of immensely talented cuisiniers (and cuisinieres)strive passionately to wow us, to challenge us and to satisfy us, their valued clients, with remarkable examples of their culinary prowess and their abilities to teach us and lead us into temptation.

We each seek to eat three meals a day and the more we enjoy our 'daily bread', the happier we are likely to be, not forgetting that it is the responsibility of each of us to ensure that our intake doesn't exceed our daily requirements. If you don't exercise, if you binge eat, if your tooth is a tad too sweet and you flee from a balanced diet then you shall be publicly convicted of the crime of gross obesity which is nothing less than a gross indecency!

Add to the splendid realization that we have professionally trained, talented chefs at our beck and call throughout the world, the hometruth that each of us could, if the blood of motivation courses vigorously enough through our veins, embark on the most exciting of culinary adventures, become gourmets in our own homes and surprise not only those we love and with whom we live, but also friends and dinner party acquaintances. There are multifarious cookbooks out there in the marketplace, television programmes purporting to school us up on how to make everything edible from pies and cakes to delightful molecular gastronomics of the most avant garde kind, and impressive numbers of cooking classes being run by restaurants around the country.

Most of us have a kitchen and a handful of whirligigs designed to both indulge our desires for gadgets and make the practice of cooking more achievable; we just need the ingredients and a little confidence to begin the uplifting walk along this trail of physical and spiritual enjoyment.
In a country like New Zealand, of course, we are privileged to have unrestricted access to some of the finest raw materials in the world, with produce grown in clean air conditions, adequate rainfall, good soils and sound agricultural practices. Most towns and cities have weekly Farmers' Markets or the ability to buy direct from the farm gate and our supermarkets stock everything from local goods to exotic Middle Eastern spices, Asian delicacies, International wines and more.

Just think! You could become a dinner party legend in your own community as you challenge and titillate the palates of your guests, regale them with stories of how and where you sourced particularly uncommon or even rare ingredients and honour them with a wine from an emerging viticultural region of the world.
Remember that in some cultures every meal is a banquet - not quite a catchcry that we egalitarians in New Zealand will likely take on board but it's fair to suggest that every meal should be one that you felt, in hindsight, served the inner person in a good way as opposed to leaving you discontent and possibly even disgusted at your food choices. So, in essence, why not take the time to be careful about your choices and be prudent and astute in shopping expeditions at the supermarket. You don't have to eat crap, think about erring on the side of quality and making a lasting contribution to life as an intelligent creature interested in enjoying his or her food rather than simply eating to survive as if you were an animal.

It isn't the prerogative of Kings, Queens, Presidents and the wealthy to eat well and delve into the culinary cutting edge. You can do this too!

We all love our fish & chips and, it appears, McDonalds, KFC and other fast food purveyors and these businesses are to be found in just about every populated place. The prolific success of these outlets might, on the face of it, suggest that we can't be bothered preparing food at home or that we've become addicted to the tastes just like so many in other countries. I think it's part of the dumbing down of the nation, a sad and noticeable descent into the culture of convenience. Is it just the young? No, just look into any fast food restaurant and you'll see all ages queueing up for little boxes of food, highly processed fizzy drinks and deep fried chips. It makes me think of 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest' where they all lined up for their daily dose of pills... the difference is that the fast food devotees are free to choose their own medicine and our streets are littered with the packaging cast off immediately on completion of the eating.

It has often occurred to me that our delightful little country, at the far end of the Earth (from the viewpoint of our Northern Hemisphere cousins) could become a powerhouse of outstanding Cuisine, a producer of the world's finest chefs, even a place where the Kiwi home-cooked dinner becomes world-renowned because of its accent on quality, uniqueness and style. Is this a far too fanciful notion for 2010 and beyond?

As Anthelme Brillat-Savarin once said, "Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are."

And so it was written, until next time

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