The Big Issue : Edition 443
Over the years, my father has gotten into his fair share of screaming matches, whether prompted by his own temper or a colleague’s. My Dad is a chef, and my memories of him when I was young are always tied to the kitchen. If I remember Dad when I was in primary school, I’m always back in the kitchen of one particular restaurant. It is a self-contained cave, and its floor sparkles like a rare gem. things dangle from the ceiling; pans, ladles, pots and tongs hang like stalactites. Diners manifest themselves as orders called into the kitchen by waitstaff. the kitchen runs at its own speed – roughly triple that of anywhere else. there are two goals here: perfection and efficiency. all roads lead to this end. the dining area itself is quite loud. everyone’s speech reverberates from the high ceiling, stone floor and expansive glass windows on two sides of the building. It’s a permeating buzz, but it can’t be heard in the kitchen. THe Big issue 11 – 24 OCT 2013 15 When peOple (or other living things) are referred to by one name only, it’s generally a sure sign that they’ve made it: Madonna, Cher, pink, hillary, Kevin, lassie, Flipper... In recent years it has happened to chefs – people who once stayed well and truly out of sight because of the nature of their work. say the words ‘heston’ or ‘nigella’ or ‘Jamie’ or ‘stephanie’ these days and it’s likely you’ll be understood. the main reason for this is the power of television: cooking has become, quite literally, a spectator sport – viewers tune in to watch celebrity chefs prepare dishes or aspiring celebrity chefs competing with others to take out prizes. strange days indeed. In some respects, the prominence of chefs is not a new phenomenon. Before nigella (lawson) and stephanie (alexander), for example, there was Betty Crocker, second only to First lady eleanor roosevelt in a poll of america’s best-known women in the 1940s. there was just one problem with this: she didn’t actually exist. ‘Betty Crocker’ – as her own books made clear – was created as a marketing tool by a US flour company in 1921. The company wanted a woman’s signature to answer requests for cooking information: the signature came from a competition among female employees; ‘Crocker’ was the surname of a company director. later, Betty got a face (after another contest); her portrait was subtly updated over the years, but always so as to maintain “her look of friendly competence”. In australia, at least, Margaret Fulton was real. after publishing her recipes in women’s magazines in the 1960s, her bestselling Margaret Fulton Cookbook first appeared in 1968. she did much to wean australian cooks off British stodge, championing Mediterranean and then asian foods and dishes. But look at, say, Entertaining with Margaret Fulton from 1971 (a time when food was shiny; sealed under glazes) and the extent to which she is only addressing other women is striking. “One word of advice,” she writes. “Don’t let your duties as a hostess get you down. With planning, and those indispensable lists that all good hostesses rely on, you should be able to enjoy your own party just as much as your guests do.” nobody would publish such text today, largely because blokes have barged into kitchens – in homes, restaurants and tv studios. some have even become household names – heston (Blumenthal), Jamie (Oliver), Gordon (%^$#ing ramsay) and the smug chaps on MasterChef. It’s cool to cook, perhaps even sexy. Olympic swimmer eamon sullivan has branched out both as an underwear model and celebrity chef. at our place, his cookbook (Eamon’s Kitchen) lies on top of one of nigella’s How to Be a Domestic Goddess. they make a lovely couple. Food has always been on our minds. the serpent tempted adam and eve with an apple, not an abacus. the cargo of the First Fleet, which arrived in Botany Bay in January 1788, included cooking equipment. and while it is terrific that the cooking cult has got people thinking about food, and perhaps trying different foods or cooking techniques, kitchens and dining rooms should not really be competitive arenas. Meals should be shared and savoured, not graded and dissected. and when in doubt, pass some of nigella’s cupcakes. by Alan Attwood IllustratIonsbyEIrIanchapman,EIrIanchapman.com Zen and Kitchen Wisdom Samantha van Zweden describes how lessons learned from her father the chef have also helped her in life.