A survey conducted by Waitrose shows that 43% of British people admit that impressing guests is far more important to them than cooking a meal from scratch. 13% will further admit to messing about with pre-prepared food to make it look like they cooked it themselves.
While farmers, butchers, fishmongers, cheesemongers and bakers work hard every day to deliver the best quality food products that they can source, almost half of the population claim that they choose the easiest option to seduce their guests instead of looking for the best quality. Should we be surprised, then, when recent statistics show that there are now more people studying to become astronauts than butchers?
I remember an article in Fire & Knives written by the talented Oliver Thring about dinner parties falling out of favour, pointing out that people aren’t cooking as much as they used to, resulting in the loss of these home-based socialising moments.
Where is the culinary world going if people are now spending more time trying to amaze their guests by cheating than making the effort to cook a decent meal which, admittedly, might take you two hours instead of half an hour?
I wonder when people started thinking that the first impression was more important than the quality of the menu itself.
Should I dare be controversial and suggesting that, maybe, the whole buzz around high-end restaurants and the rat race for the Michelin star has influenced people to consider plating and visual amazement as the key success to their evening? In the wise words of Lily Tomlin, “The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat.”
It is completely understandable that people try to reproduce at home the experience they enjoyed at restaurants. But does this mean that superficiality has become the norm rather than the quality of the dish itself?
In other words, is it that perfectly presented layer of mashed potatoes that makes a Shepherd’s pie delicious or is it the quality of the meat beneath? Of course, the first impression is important. But there is more to consider and guests can’t be fooled for very long.
The fact is the culinary/food world has steadily been widening the real fissure between the reality of day-to-day cooking and the sparkling world of high-end cuisine.
As a way to re-establish this balance between the two worlds, several brands have taken the initiative to bring the chefs’ cuisine to the mass-market and give them the opportunity to aspire to Michelin stars in the comfort of their own home.
Waitrose is launching a menu of home-dine dishes inspired by Pierre Koffman, Anthony Demetre and Bryn Williams while Pizza Express just announced a new menu created by Francesco Mazzei, the Italian chef at l’Anima.
With its new range, Waitrose and Pierre Koffman are offering people a variety of dishes from starters to main courses including King scallops, smoked bacon and black pudding, the classic Beef Bourguignon and Cassoulet. The company are looking to extend the range to other cuisines and some themed menus should see the light soon.
- The teams have managed to create dishes that don’t taste of the industrial process behind it, like was the case of the scallops, smoked bacon and black pudding. The scallops weren’t too chewy with a nice texture and the smoked bacon with the black pudding flavoured up the whole dish. The Beetroot and goat cheese tarts were filled with a good amount of goat cheese which isn’t always the case in prepared meal. The cheese overpowered the beetroot a bit, yet the two worked quite well together.
- The Shepherd’s pie was composed of tasty meat cooked with vegetables, topped with a crispy potato layer. The Beef Bourguignon, the classic of French cuisine, was very well cooked and melts in the mouth. The taste was pleasant and well-balanced but could have had a stronger overall flavour.
- The Cassoulet was covered with crispy breadcrumbs as a nice homage to the crumble. The meat was tender and the beans had a good consistency and are flavoured by the cooking juice.
- Coated in a lemon and tomato marinade, the Pork saltimboca was full of flavours.
- The Provençal beef was most probably the most successful dish of the tasting. The slow cooking gave the meat all the flavours from the tomato sauce, olives, capers and sage. It was a very tasty dish that only needed a light side dish to be balanced.
With a new and well-known guest chef, Pizza Express is now taking the creative cuisine of Francesco Mazzei to a wide audience adding six exclusive dishes to the menu.
- The Insalata semplice was made of mellow Santos and vine tomatoes tossed in fresh rocket and combined with mozzarella and ciabatta. This classic Italian salad was light but very tasty.
- Tricolore is a revised version of the classic mozzarella and tomato salad with oregano and spicy guacamole served with baked dough. The guacamole added a nice flavour to this foodie version of the ‘Italian flag’. However, the sample portion of dough wasn’t really convincing.
- One of the three pizzas, Mia Sofia, was named after Francesco’s daughter. The pizza combined Portobello, Button and Oyster mushrooms infused with truffle paste, chives, Calabrian oregano and garlic. Maybe the most neutral pizza of the menu, it missed an additional flavour to spice it up.
- The Calabrese was made with spicy Italian Calabrese sausage, green chilies, roquito peppers and hot soft sausage, topped with mozzarella and watercress tossed in basil pesto. The hottest pizza yet, but with intense flavours.
- Slices of crispy Italian pancetta with marinated roasted tomatoes, fresh rocket topped with grabs padano, Caesar dressing and Calabrian oregano were used to make the Rustichella. They worked very well together and gave the dish a very well-balanced taste.
With these new options of true Chef’s cooking available at home, people will undersand that high-end cuisine need not be dedicated to an elite few. Who knows, people may even be inspired to take the time and re-discover the pleasure of culinary creativity for themselves… even if it includes a bit of cheating.