Why I no longer call myself a foodie

saffron_bunny_food_journalism_cornwallBeing a foodie was great. Once. I ate the food of some of Cornwall’s best chefs, hung out at festivals with my press pass, stayed overnight in some stunning seaside locations, received countless edible freebies in the post and even got to take my tastebuds to the pistes of the Dolomites and sample some of Italy’s finest. Hell, I even thought I was a half decent cook myself.

Tell people about it and they are naturally very envious. My husband is a bit miffed that he no longer gets to piggyback onto my fine dining commissions. So why have I given it all up? What’s not to like about free food?

It all got very boring very quickly. Don’t hate me for being ungrateful, I feel extremely lucky to have cooked alongside Paul Ainsworth, interviewed Nathan Outlaw and eaten with Rick Stein, but I just can’t do it anymore.

Firstly, food ‘fashion’ does my head in. Just as education should not be the political football of every newly elected party, so food should be left alone to the test of time and taste. What’s all this nonsense about local and seasonal and it was Mr Brown from Muddy Farm who grew our carrots today? What a load of old supermarket fictional faff. Yes, I love to eat Cornish and respect the changing bounty of the seasons, but I don’t need it rammed down my throat (literally) as if it were a new ‘invention’. The French and Italians would laugh in our rosbif faces: they’ve been doing it quietly for generations.

Secondly, writing a review of someone’s business is a tricky business. Perhaps a PR company set you up with the gig, so it makes it somewhat ‘awks’ if you then go ahead and slate their client. You get dinner, wine, possibly an overnight stay, all for free, so can’t help but feel a certain obligation to string together some glowing remarks, even if you don’t like underdone lamb and the white wine is warm. And in case you hadn’t noticed, this is Cornwall not London and I am no Jay Rayner. I have no right to potentially ruin people’s businesses in an already tough industry. So I’ve given up the constant tight-roping of compromise. Call me a fool, but I’d rather go out and pay for my dinner these days.

And finally, the latest sugar-free food trend brings up just a little bit of sick in the back of my throat. Self-righteous media-luvvy ladies of loveliness who bathe in coconut oil, #eatclean, turn vegetables into spaghetti and think that dates have no sugar in them. Food has become an expression of moral superiority over others at which point it stops for me: I’m doing no kneeling in front of any courgetti altar and there’ll be no repenting of gratuitous pork fat snacking any time soon on this blog.

I’d rather embrace the amoral delights of sliced white toast with Marmite, the best meal I’ve ever eaten at Treliske hospital after the birth of my son. I think that means I have officially resigned from the lofty towers of ‘foodie-dom’.







cowI thought I knew a few things about meat. That is until I met Philip and Ian Warren. And I realised I actually knew nothing. Particularly about the fragile moorland ecosystem that without Warrens, may not exist at all. But also about ageing meat properly, suckled beef and the skill of real butchery. Read More

What I didn’t know about meat. And why Philip Warren butchers are so exceptional

Horse-free and homemade: The Kernow Sausage Company, Cornwall

IMG_5536It’s time for some foodie confessions. 1) I am a food snob; 2) I have a prejudice against processed meat; 3) pork scratchings still rule.

The first (and I say this with some smugness) makes it highly unlikely that meat of an equine leaning has passed my lips. It’s not a class issue but I am not a member of the Findus ready meal target audience. I could tell you why but I would bore even myself. The second means that I have an unfounded and unshaken conviction that all burgers and sausages must contain lips and eyelids and the third means I can eat filthy fatty snacks that definitely contain only skin, lard and salt. Read More

Bringing back the bacon to Cornwall for Farmhouse Breakfast Week

According to Jay Rayner, we may well be sick of hearing about ‘dirty fast food’ in 2012; sick even, of hearing people say they are sick of it. Bacon is different. Unlike sausages, hot dogs and burgers (whose recent ‘inclusive’ animal policy would make even Noah proud), bacon not only looks like meat but is impervious to the oscillations and whims of food twitter twattle. The only difference is that we are eating more of it and in different ways: bacon brownies, bacon jam and even, as created by food blogger Niamh Shields, brown sugar candied bacon honeycomb butter (the very name induces heart palpitations). Read More

Great Chefs of Britain exhibition at The Old Coastguard, Mousehole

Food and art are never far apart and taste is as extricably linked to the eyes as it is to the tongue. From the palette knife that ‘smears’ an unappealing ode to Van Gogh across the plate to the smoky drama of Hestons’ now controversial nitrous oxide gas, the baking of bread to look like mangled body parts and Carl Warner’s stunning foodscapes, food can be art and art food.
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Paul Ainsworth at No. 6 Padstow finally gets his Michelin star

Whenever I talk to people about the slate-roofed Grade II-listed house sandwiched between Stein outlets that is Paul Ainsworth’s No. 6, the response has always been the same. Until now. The question, “Why hasn’t he got a Michelin star yet?” in incredulous tones has finally been answered. As of yesterday, the team at No.6 found out ahead of time that they have nailed their first Michelin star.

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2011: A year of saffronbunny in pictures

To send out the old and ring in the new, here is a selection of photos from 2011, the very first Year In The Life Of saffronbunny:

Reviewing Nathan Outlaw’s masterclass with Tom Kerridge. (photo by David Griffen)

The best. Massage. Ever. Goldeneye resort in Jamaica.

Running into the sea with wooden toys – a revelation in water (photograph by John Isaac).

Learning to be a preserving goddess with Pam Corbin and Liz Neville.

A coiled ray wing with confit duck skin for lunch at Paul Ainsworth‘s Number 6 in Padstow for BBC Olive mag.

The multi-talented co-founder of The Tea Appreciation Society, Shayne House.

The first ever Clandestine Cake Club in Cornwall.

Two inspirational food friends: Joanne Schofield and Sanjay Kumar.

Discovering The Wheelhouse, Falmouth with MM of the GCG.

Chris Ranger and the March Oyster Gathering at Mylor.

Meeting and interviewing Philip Stansfield who won the world’s best cheese in November 2010 (spot Alex James in the background looking excited).

Bubbles and booze at BinTwo, Padstow.

Cooking with Paul Ainsworth.

My first ever focaccia waiting to go in the oven, a day of many firsts with yeast, baker Tom and Gastrogeek.

Crab apples at Tresillian House.

Meeting the moon gardener and guru John Harris at Tresillian House, an inspiration (photo byJohn Such).

The importance of foraging, especially for nettles.

Cooking and eating en plein air, doesn’t get much better.

Loving life in Cornwall (photo by John Such).


Cooking with Paul Ainsworth

I say cooking with very optimistically, this was more me watching, enthralled and then eating; being cooked for would be more accurate. But what a privilege, be it with or for. Paul Ainsworth At No. 6, Padstow has shot to recent fame after Paul got through to the final in BBC2’s Great British Menu, winning the dessert category with his spectacular showpiece, Taste Of The Fairground.

Fight your way past the Stein establishments (two next door and one over the road) and you’ll find a little slate roofed cottage, subtley signed No. 6, set back from the bustling harbor. So intimate is the homely entrance that I feel I should ring a bell, announce my presence, rather than just wander in. I catch the attention of a tablecloth ironer, who shouts, “Paul!” into the depths of the bustling kitchen and there he is, all warm smiles and a firm handshake before melting back into the kitchen. I am swiftly picked up by a suited front of house and whisked out to the diminutive terrace with drink, awaiting TV’s latest food personality.

Paul soon takes me into the bustling warm noise of the kitchen, the engine room driving the restaurant, filled with a young, mainly male team, eyes down and intent on the task in hand, concentration cut with the occasional outburst of song (Fat Boy Slim, Michael Jackson) or witty line of banter. If Paul asked, he got, and even if he didn’t, he still got: “I just turned the doughnuts over for you,” while we were making the toffee apple or a double dose of efficiency which saw a little copper pan brought out twice, one pre-empted, the other requested.

So why was I stalking Paul Ainsworth in his own kitchen? Good question. Why not? He’s a fun, talented bloke but the real reason was to get to the bottom of his award-winning dessert: Taste Of The Fairground, a model cart laden with fairground inspired treats to be shared between two. Like abstract art, it is a concept rather than just a bowl of pudding, a sharing, consensual experience rather than a one-spoon wonder, a trip down nostalgia lane not a nouveau tower with a dip, dab or a smear. This is fun to look at, fun to eat, fun to share while showcasing complex processes and ideas.

The dessert is a sevenfold affair presented on a mini fairground cart: doughnuts, coconut custard, chocolate popcorn, honeycomb lollies, raspberry curd, marshmallows and toffee apples, each made from scratch: “Basically it was practise, practise, practise to get to this point; my head chef John and I spent a lot of Sundays and Mondays getting it right.” The result is an altar to sweetness and childhood memory, Paul describes it as: “the ultimate Charlie And The Chocolate Factory experience.” Augustus Gloop wouldn’t have stood a chance and grown women will become weak at the knees when this thing is rolled out in Paul’s restaurant this week. The method in the sugar madness is loosely set out below.

Marshmallow rippled with strawberry purée is cut into neat cubes and singed with a hot knife to create a crisscross of scorch marks, the smell of which transports me right back to childhood campfires and burnt sticky blobs on twigs. Paul explains that the next part required the most tinkering: the toffee apple, which sits on the marshmallow and is more a distillation of the idea rather than an entire apple. The flesh (Braeburn or Pink Lady) is cut into a circle and bathed in a cidery (Cornish Orchards) buttery caramel so that the fruit, in Paul’s words: “laps up” the golden syrup, finally sprinkled with a few thyme leaves. Next to this, a little copper pan filled with a splodge of raspberry curd accompanies the delicate lengths of doughnut, more Spanish churros than your typical British cricket ball, rolled in sugar and cinnamon. The dough mix is a beignet, hence the lightness captured in a delicate grasp of batter.

To the side of these are glass bowls filled with a creamy golden coconut custard, a clever (and delicious) reference to coconut shys on top of which are clusters of chocolate popcorn studded with peanuts and a little salt to cut the sweetness. Finally, the honeycomb backdrop, or as it’s known in Cornwall, hokey pokey. This is homemade by boiling honey from The Lizard with glucose and water to which bicarbonate of soda is added, injecting that all-essential lift to the caramel. Left to set on a sheet, cut into ‘lolly’ shapes (complete with sticks) and coated with milk chocolate on one side, white on the other and sprinkled with gold edible almonds and popping candy, two of these are positioned at the back of the trolley. The stage is now set and the show begins.

I follow Paul out to the courtyard with the trolley of beautiful sin in various guises and he leaves me to sample, gorge, taste and come to a verdict. What verdict? Other than severe sugar rush, I had all the fun of a fairground in that corner, dipping the doughnut in the raspberry one minute, switching to the honeycomb the next, pushing the popcorn into the custard to get a good coating and cramming a marshmallow/toffee apple stack into my mouth, all to the echo of popping candy. The man is a conjuror, a lion tamer and an acrobat all in one and I take off my big top to him. So roll up ladies and gentlemen for an entirely new dessert experience. And you thought Padstow was famous for its fish. How passé.

Paul is planning to recreate his Great British Menu at the eponymous Number 6 in Padstow over a series of four evenings: October 19 and 20; November 9 and 10. For more information about availability and pricing, go to number6inpadstow.co.uk or call 01841 532 093.

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