Sunday, 25 July 2010

What do I know, I taught myself to cook? Posh folk and dinner party angst.

The 2010 harvest at The Nook

Connoisseurs of the broadsheet Sunday newspapers will have noticed that the standard definition of “middle class” used by assorted lifestyle writers is different from that in common usage. Indeed, it seems to me that the “middle class” lifestyle set out in the pages of glossy supplements is better defined as ‘rich but not quite rich enough to have a manor house and a flat in Kensington’. And this describes the rarefied and select world of the foodies described by such lifestyle writers. Here’s Lucy Cavendish (who isn’t remotely middle class one suspects from her Debrett entry):

The only way to keep up these days is to cook properly. You have to know your cuts of meat, the right oil to use (never fry using olive oil, for instance), the difference between mascarpone, fromage frais, ricotta. And how do we all know about this? Cooking courses. That's how.

Now leaving aside the ignorance of this paragraph – if they’re saying don’t fry with olive oil that rather rules out any Italian cooking – what on earth is this writer on about? Cooking courses? They’re things you buy a foodie for a fancy present not things you can afford to pop onto at a whim. Unless you’re Lucy of course:

I can't move for friends going on courses. They're either off to Hugh (Fearnley-Whittingstall) or Rick (Stein). They are at Sarah Raven or Darina Allen in Ireland, or up in Scotland smoking fish.

Not my friends. Nor do my friends have that foodie angst about what to serve, where the meat’s from, whether it’s organic or how the lettuce comes from the allotment. But angst sells the cooking courses:

Yet Jay Rayner believes our lust for cooking has a deeper psychological meaning. "It's all about us desperately trying to prove we have a hinterland," he says. "People think it's bored housewives going on cooking courses, but it's not. No one has time to be bored now. It's because cooking is self-contained. It has a beginning and a middle and an end, which is unlike all the areas in the rest of our lives such as rearing children, work, and so forth."

No Jay. People go on cooking courses because they’ve the time and money to do so. And because they want to learn how to cook well. Existential angst is what you’re selling – scaring people whose Friday night dinner party involves escaping from work at 4.43, driving like an idiot to Morrison’s grabbing a selection of goodies and some booze, going home and turning it all into something good to eat for the guests.

I’ve never yet experienced any of the ‘one-upmanship’ that seems to bother Lucy – the suppers, dinners and teas I go to at friends are just a nice meal with good company. Which is the point of a dinner party. However, Lucy can’t resist finishing with a snobby quote from Escoffier and an aside from Jay Rayner that:

Rayner doesn't think there's anything wrong with our quest to learn more skills, however - as long as we realise that that doesn't necessarily make us good cooks.

There, there you troubled posh darlings. It’s OK, you learn how to bake. And self-important food writers like Jay (can he actually cook?) will take the piss out of you. In the Guardian!

The real middle classes – people like me – will carry on untroubled by not having anywhere to put a wood-burning stove (let alone any desire to own one) or by the need to go and learn complicated and fiddly, over-flavoured dishes just to impress. Cooking is pretty easy – good ingredients, simple processes, the right timing. Bingo – great food.

But then what do I know? I taught myself.

1 comment:

Pam Nash said...

The most fun I've had cooking has been experimenting with different ingredients and cooking times. I well remember devising a cake and then having to make it 5/6 times to get the cooking time spot on.........

Courses? I think folk go on them less to learn than to be able to drop into conversations that they've been on one. ;)