December 17, 2014
Do you remember the scene from the movie ‘Falling Down’, with Michael Douglas where he orders food in a fast food restaurant and goes absolutely ape shit when the burger looks nothing like the picture on the menu board? Well, we have all been there at one time or another in our dining out experience.
The picture is designed to sell to the impulse of what looks appetizing and in almost all cases works for the everyday food that is really not all that special when you get it. Hence the picture!
As a chef, it is important to exceed the expectations of the visual the customer will have in their head usually from the descriptors written in the menu. Imagine picture icons on the menu next time you go to Jean George’s?
Innovating those dishes to handle the tolerance of a quick service or even casual service can and is quite a chore. But it is not impossible. In my upcoming book called “Feeding the Masses”, I talk about this considerably and point out my opinion on why the younger chefs of today have an advantage over us old timers.
You see when I was young, everything had to be based around the classical French way of doing things. My mentors were all classically trained the French way as were there mentors.
School focused around the French way of cooking also so I personally think that left us at a disadvantage. You see if you think about it, being taught that to be a successful chef you must only follow the classics kind of leaves you unimaginative. This of course is only my opinion but I think there is a lot to be said about how we are taught. Especially getting screamed at by the chef reminding you to not think and not deviate from the classical approach of things.
It is important to be in a culture that encourages innovation. One that would embrace a different approach to the pass rather than one that has no room for change.
Todays young chefs have free reign. They didn’t endure the bullying in the kitchen, not to be construed as a negative, and have had the chance to be more explorative in their journey. I envy them for that. If you take a good look around you, you will notice the difference. I see it everywhere I go. I expect to see more of it in Scotland too!
The food of today is beautiful. No matter what the picture looks like on the board, if your unsatisfied with what you get, your eating at the wrong place mate! Go and find that chefs food that will be better than the picture in your head. They are out there……
August 3, 2014
Food, in my opinion, is very spiritual. It can and will connect with you whether it be ethnically, favourably, spiritually or necessity. As the spiritual chakra is the energy points of light in our physical bodies I was inspired to use a similar system when working on Modern Scottish Cuisine.
The first point of energy is the mind. We are all taught from a very young age to think rationally before speaking or acting. For me it was what did I expect to get out of modernizing Scottish food? I had to think of the outcome before taking any other action. Envision, if you will, the finished product before any other work is started.
Second, is sight. What will the food look like? It must be appealing to sight and find favour in its appearance.
Third, is smell. Does the dish smell attractively? The bouquet of aroma has a very powerful effect and must be capitalized on at every opportunity.
Fourth is taste. Every dish is judged by all previous points but most importantly by how it tastes. Personally I believe the food from Scotland tastes terrific. My objective here is to convince others to also feel the same way about Scottish food as I do.
Fifth, is feel. With a variety of different cooking methods, I have the ability to demonstrate different textures. Moist heat will soften the food where dry heat will crust it. Taking the same ingredient I can have a variety of textures.
Sixth, the heart. How does this dish reflect the love and attention of the heart. This sense is more important to me than first thought. It should reflect not only how you feel about the dish but if the dish reflects the passion and love of an artist in creating it.
And finally, seventh, the stomach. When we are hungry, we rub it and when full, we do the same. Our stomachs have an incredible way of communicating with us and letting us know how it feels. For me, it is incredibly important to satisfy the stomach and give it nutritious foods when combined with all of these elements mentioned makes for a truly innovative approach to creating recipes.
Now the importance of touching all of these elements is balance. Practice on some of your favourite dishes and see how balanced that dish is and what you would change to improve it. This has proven a very worthy exercise for me in the development of my recipes and I am sure it will for you also.
February 9, 2014
A good friend of mine and I were having a discussion the other day about Modern Scottish Cuisine and influential dishes that hail from Scotland. He suggested creating a dish that would help inspire the people of Scotland for the upcoming vote on independence and celebrate the flavours of home.
The result is a dish I call ‘Independence Chicken.’ A delicious entree that has familiar flavours with a modern twist. Mike, my friend, wasn’t the only inspiration. I was also inspired by Cock-A-Leekie soup and how to capture those delicious flavours into a main course that would be easy for home cooks and professional cooks alike. The result is as follows:
2 Chicken Breasts, boneless and skin on, seasoned with Celtic Sea Salt & Pepper
2 TBSP Cooking Oil
Preheat oven to 360F / 182C, In a sautee pan, oven proof, over medium to high heat brown chicken breast on both sides, skin side first. Once browned, place in oven till done, approximately 15 – 20 minutes.
While the chicken is in the oven, place the following in a sautee pan over medium heat:
1 TBSP Butter
45g Leeks, julienned and blanched
56g Prunes, sliced thin
100 ML White Wine
250 ML Double Cream
Let sauce simmer until thickened. Season with salt & pepper if desired.
Remove chicken from the oven and let rest for a minute or two. On a plate, spoon sauce in center. Slice chicken and place on top of sauce.
Garnish with tattie Scones and your favourite greens. If you would like to try my tattie scones, here is the recipe:
400g Mashed Potatoes, chilled. I like to make them the day before
50g Steel Cut Oats
In a bowl, mix all ingredients but retain 50g of flour for dusting. Once dough is smooth and fully combined, divide into 6 balls. roll each ball onto floured surface into the shape of a rectangle. Then cut into quarters and griddle on a pan with a splash of oil over low heat. Serve hot.
I hope you enjoy making and eating this dish. Share it with your friends and family and let’s get our independence spirit moving on ‘YES’ a full stomach!
February 5, 2014
If there could only be one food that reminds me of home, it would be the Scotch Pie. It is in itself symbolic of all things Scottish. To be honest, it is hard to think of food in Scotland and not think of the pie.
But I do have to be honest and express my deepest sympothy for the way the pie has been treated through the past few years. Made with cheap flavourless greasy mush is unfortunately a descriptive of some pies I have had lately. It’s gotten to the point where I am more satisfied with making them myself but not everybody can do this on a regular basis and even myself, like most of you, resort to buying them in hopes to enjoy but to be honest I hardly do anymore.
I guess this is my way to vent my frustration and would love to see quality back into my beloved pie!
I truly long for the day that the pie can regain it’s favour in my weekly diet. I would much rather pay an extra Pound for a quality pie and I am sure the rest of Scotland feels the same way. So my message is this to all you cheap pie makers out there, “Get the quality of flavour, texture and crust back into our beloved Scotch pie instead of cutting ingredient costs to maximize profits, please!”
December 23, 2013
Putting aside, for a moment, all the attention Scotland will achieve this next year with the focus being our vote for independence I would like for you to consider making our cuisine a top topic in all your discussions as well as what’s on your table. Create a BUZZ around the terrific foods that we share with the world in an ever-changing topic of trends which creates ideas of what we will crave.
Each year I read all the trend reports from several sources which offer predictions of where the food scene is going next. As food trucks became all the rage in Los Angeles I couldn’t help but think of the wee caravan I would get my slice sausage on a roll and a cup of tea from in Largs. When small plates were the rage, and still are, I often think of what it was like growing up in a council house where there was eight of us jockeying for position at the dinner table where small plates was the trend every day. A tasting of sorts with a wee bit of fish, tatties and stovies perhaps one day and skirlie, fried eggs and bacon another.
I spend a lot of time looking at previous year predictions and see what hits. Mainly out of curiosity but mostly to see who really has their finger on the pulse of the culinary world. Truth is about 30% of the predictions are really even relevant to what we see the following year. A low percent but still not too bad in my opinion. Take for example an article that I read on trends recently. One chef says “Look for beef to be on trend.” Hardly a prediction in my opinion but with the growing cost of beef from several commodity forecasters I’m not really feeling this one but we will see. I would be more intrigued though if he had said Angus Beef or Highland Beef. Referencing the Scottish input to the beef market would be great in my opinion. Similar to the experience of Kobe beef from Japan and how for a couple of years chef’s went absolutely nuts trying to get it on their menus. The cost is high but that didn’t seem to slow the trend. Wagyu started popping up almost everywhere in America. Even in hamburgers! Can you believe that? Finding the best beef possible and grinding it?
Trends become trends by people taking notice and talking about what is trendy. I hope this happens with our food and would like to see the world be more curious about what Scotland has to offer.
In 2014 I would like to see the following food trends come out of Scotland:
- Scottish salmon both raw and smoked taking prevalence over any other region as premiere quality
- Scottish Oats. Steel cut Scots oats will grow in popularity and Skirlie will be relevant in menus
- Scottish Malt. With the trend being small distilleries making a splash
- Stovies becoming more noticeable as braised meats and tatties
October 4, 2013
Evidently, too many people turn their nose up to my beloved national dish. I am often left wondering why especially when there are so many other foods that also contain offal and are loved by the same people who won’t try haggis. I’m left scratching my head.
This situation has left me to think about how to present haggis in my upcoming book. I have looked at it from every angle. The spice, the oats, the organ meat itself, the cook process and lastly, how it is served. Traditionally it is served with neeps and tatties but I have found some risk takers dishing it up in other forms as well but still not really hitting the mark as far as enticing the rest of the world to eat it regularly and not just on Burns Night.
While I contemplate what it is that might possibly need work to make it modern, I have to admit that I seriously overthought this one. The haggis itself is a beautiful dish. Most often overcooked and underseasoned but certainly a beautiful dish. A dish deserving it’s very own poem written by Scotlands most famous poet? Aye, it is!
Described by words like reekin, gushing and glorious I have to wonder are we diluting this glorious dish with sides undeserving? Where did the neeps and tatties come into all this anyway?
Honestly, in my opinion, this is where we lose the interest of the dish. It’s not the haggis, it’s the 2 lumps next to it that don’t compliment the dish at all. If neither are mashed then possibly just possibly it is enjoyable but here is my take on the whole trinity of things.
Texture. That’s right, the texture is too soft. Soft haggis, soft potatoes and soft neeps all mashed up and offering nothing to the diner except a distant memory of baby food.
I say forget the neeps and tatties. Even if you fry both, it is still lost because I just don’t see how they go together permanently. Well, let’s just say it is a work in progress but a mushy supper is typically not on anybody’s plans for a good meal so no wonder it is hard to sell especially if it is all 3 your selling!
I will continue my work on this and hopefully come up with something of a solution. If not, the book will just have to simply include haggis all by itself. Either way that’s not too bad in my book.
Address to a Haggis
Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o the puddin’-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye worthy o’ a grace
As lang’s my arm.
The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
Your pin wad help to mend a mill
In time o need,
While thro your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead.
His knife see rustic Labour dight,
An cut you up wi ready slight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like onie ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Then, horn for horn, they stretch an strive:
Deil tak the hindmost, on they drive,
Till a’ their weel-swall’d kytes belyve
Are bent like drums;
The auld Guidman, maist like to rive,
Is there that owre his French ragout,
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad mak her spew
Wi perfect scunner,
Looks down wi sneering, scornfu view
On sic a dinner?
Poor devil! see him owre his trash,
As feckless as a wither’d rash,
His spindle shank a guid whip-lash,
His nieve a nit;
Thro bloody flood or field to dash,
O how unfit!
But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread,
Clap in his walie nieve a blade,
He’ll make it whissle;
An legs an arms, an heads will sned,
Like taps o thrissle.
Ye Pow’rs, wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies:
But, if ye wish her gratefu prayer,
Gie her a Haggis
September 13, 2013
As I work towards the completion of my next book, “Modern Scottish Cuisine”, I can’t help but envision the importance of not only what the food will look like on the end of a fork right before it hits the taste buds but most importantly “How does it represent Scotland?”
Although both questions are important, I have to lean more toward how does it represent Scotland. My approach at first was always to take the old recipes, modernize them up in a neat and trendy package and hope the public likes it. As I develop the recipes and approach the process as a product developer, I have to be honest and say this is morphing into it’s own dynamic outcome. I have then took a long hard look at what was it that made me start on this journey and reflect upon the emotion that has brought me to where I am today.
Modern Scottish Cuisine isn’t about the old, I must confess, it is about the new. How do we rediscover what it is about our food and what have we missed?
I am especially happy to reflect on the products, flavors and textures of the foods for the book. But the real story is that of what the food represents. It represents Scotland.
I am anxious to get this one complete for a lot of reasons but most importantly to share with anyone interested or even peak the interest of who might not have been otherwise. In my ‘Scotland is Delicious’ campaign, I encourage both native and decendants of Scotland to make the classical dishes Scotland is known for. To share our dishes with family and friends and especially our children so they do not forget the sights, smells and flavours of old.
Those are the true comfort foods I remember and also never want to forget. I think one traditional Scottish dinner isn’t too much to ask to help save our culinary identity, do you?