Some things nag at you for a while. Yes, indeed. This one has been nagging at me for just over two years now… cripes!
The great thing about social media is that, in the midst of composing my own meanderings, I am occasionally brought up short by the presence of much more accomplished, purposeful and committed people. I was completely side-tracked by a tweet from BENEDICTS Restaurant Head Chef, Richard Bainbridge. Posted on a day which would not recur for another four years, it really appealed to my interest in the creation of menus, especially the more developed and thoughtful menus of people who have devoted their life to the challenge of providing food for which I'll gladly pay.
I scanned and scoured the picture until I was happy that I'd identified most of the books which Richard had chosen to use for his planning session. This would be part of his 'spring clean' just nine months into opening the restaurant. It brought home to me the huge difference between what goes on in a professional kitchen and what I attempt at home. I will rarely plan meals for more than a week ahead, with a few extra considerations in the background for upcoming dinners with friends. In Norfolk a new season and new styles of cooking were being considered. Everything to be studied, embraced or rejected (maybe kept simmering for eventual use) and worked into new menus. With the added elements of deciding what is achievable, available, economical and viable in a commercial setting... not to mention having the confidence that the results of those decisions will appeal to diners.
You can see from my unanswered question on the original tweet that one book at least remains a mystery (Yes, chef, I fully realise that you have a wealth of better things to do than slavishly review and respond to all social media... no offence taken!) but here are links to those which were definitely in the frame and on chef's desk at the time:
‘Heritage’ by Sean Brock
‘Relae: A Book of Ideas’ by Christian F. Puglisi
‘The Desserts of Jordi Roca: Over 80 Dessert Recipes Conceived in EL CELLER DE CAN ROCA’ by Jordi Roca
‘Daniel: My French Cuisine’ by Daniel Boulud
‘Bistronomy: French food unbound’ by Katrina Meynink
'Biota' by James Viles
'Sea and Smoke: Flavors from the Untamed Pacific Northwest' by Blaine Wetzel
'Atelier Crenn: Metamorphosis of Taste' by Dominique Crenn
'Kimchi: Essential Recipes of the Korean Kitchen' by Byung-Hi Lim
'The Nordic Cookbook' by Magnus Nilsson
I have some books with similar themes but none of those specific publications. 'Kimchi' is no surprise. At the beginning of each year food journalists are clamouring to predict what the trends will be for future months. In 2016 many had identified the fermenting of vegetables as a coming thing. This year one of the competitors from the most recent series of MasterChef: The Professionals has helped to put the fermented-related Kombucha in the spotlight (thank you Matthew Campbell). I'm pretty sure that neither Chef Bainbridge or Matt are really interested in 'trends'... but I expect they keep their options open in case a filthy great commercial deal to front 'flavour of the moment' comes along!
Trends alone will not provide the variety of flavours and cooking techniques which Richard offers. They might appear as an element but only if they complement and balance a dish. There might be other trends in the rest of the books on the desk but they would also distract from my main thrust here. Which rather forces me to focus on that thrust.
The reason I was brought up short by a seemingly simple picture was... erm, simple. I would love to have sat next to Richard on the day he took that picture for however many hours it took before he picked up a pan or a kitchen tool. If I was part of a group of keen like-minded cooks that would be great too. It would mean that Richard was running a session unlike any he has previously led except with his professional team. If any cooking ensued, fine. But, for me, it would be enough to join in the process of research and planning which ultimately leads to the creation of a brand new menu and deciding which excess exciting ideas are to be kept on the back burner.
Richard still offers demonstrations and gives talks. Here is his diary for this year. Much success and recognition have led to new commitments which have altered the complexion of courses run at Benedicts. So the chances of me sitting in on the creation of exciting new menus by this top chef are slim now. Maybe I should have contacted Richard two years ago to see if he needed a page-turner for 'The Nordic Cook Book'.
Maybe we should all message him now, two years later, and see if he might squeeze in a day which allows us to watch a magical menu being born.
A cookery class without any cooking isn't everyone's dream ... but it's an idea which I would love to see happen.