Tag Archives: Chef

Book Review: Heat by Bill Buford

Or to give it it’s full title… “Heat: An Amateur’s Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany” That’s a bit of a mouthful and hard to remember so I’m gonna stick to calling it “Heat”.

Heat by Bill Buford
Heat by Bill Buford

To give an overview of this book is easy. It tracks a journalist’s journey from confident home cook into the world of the professional kitchen and onwards into an almost obsessive desire to learn as much as possible about food and food preparation.

But to do this is also to do no justice to either the story, the writing style or Bill Buford himself. There is an awful lot of wit that goes along with working long, hard and unusual hours (something I remember from a past life in the music business 😉 ) and this is reflected very well within the writing, there are parts of this book that are laugh out loud funny.

It gives a great insight into how a professional kitchen functions and also what it takes to make it as a chef at the highest level.

It’s not all about the author’s time in the Babbo kitchen though as it charts his time spent in Italy learning the traditional methods of Italian cooking and following in Mario Batali‘s (Babbo’s owner and head chef) footsteps, in fact some of the best moments in the book are comments about Mario’s progress in the culinary world by his former mentors.

Now this struck a chord with me, in fact, if I got to live out this book over the next few years it would be a dream come true. It’s something I’m trying to do myself at the moment, move into a professional kitchen. Yes, the applications are in for various college courses at different levels and I’ve been trying to find “kitchen slave” work myself but that’s another day’s story 😉

Even if you don’t aspire to a life in a professional kitchen this is a wildly entertaining and informative read that I would heartily recommend.

My Experimental Kitchen

Some of the top restaurants and chefs in the world keep a seperate “Experimental Kitchen” where they try out and develop new recipes and dishes until they are happy and ready to add them to the Menu and transfer them to their main kitchen.

This was something I never really thought that much about until I watched Heston Bluemental’s cookery shows and it became clear that he wasn’t cooking in a studio or The Fat Duck’s Main Kitchen. It makes some sense, why distract the rest of the Kitchen with edible insects and the like, when they should be getting on with preparing the dishes for people in the restaurant.

My Experimental Kitchen is the same kitchen I use every day, well it’s not like I have dozens of diners and a staff of chefs is it? :) Some days, I try to create something from an idea I had while eating, the memory of a dish I ate in a restaurant, a recipe I’ve been using for ages but have decided to try and make better or like my most recent experiment, something I’ve never tasted and only ever heard about.

That latest experiment was rather adventurous, I tried to make a meat based ice cream (bacon to be precise), I mentioned it on our Facebook page much to the horror of one of our vegetarian readers. Unfortunately this became the first batch of ice cream I’ve ever made that even I could not eat, it was horrendous, salty and sweet all at the same time, just too many things going on for the tastebuds to cope with so I’m back to the drawing board with that one.

A few months back I was trying to re-invent my Ragu (aka Spag Bol) recipe as it was essentially my “Italian tomato sauce” with some vegetables and mince thrown in, great to have this recipe as I always have the sauce in the freezer and I can rattle the rest together in a few minutes but it’s not something I would dare serve to a lover of Italian food as Ragu, if you get where I’m coming from.

So a few attempts have been made to refine it and I’m almost ready to invite Gino D’Acampo round to see if he approves :) I am going to try one last little tweek to the recipe in the next week and if that works well you can expect to see the recipe arriving shortly afterwords.

I’ve wandered a bit on this post but what I’m trying to get across is that anyone can be an “Experimental Cook” you don’t need a special kitchen or rare, expensive ingredients, I find myself being less adventurous in this situation for fear of wasting them. All you need is an idea of what you want the end result to be, a little imagination and a willingness to not reject an idea without at least trying it once.

The last part has been the longest lesson for me to learn, but since I’ve made that leap of faith, I’ve found that my enjoyment of cooking, my ability to surprise myself (and others) with my results and the diversity and difficulty of the dishes that I’m attempting and succeeding with has multiplied exponentially.

So what about you? Do you consider yourself to be an “Experimental Cook”? Let us know your best successes and worst failures in the comments below.

Who got me started cooking proper food?

Jamie Oliver
Image by Scandic Hotels via Flickr

In truth, it was largely down to a wee lad by the name of Jamie Oliver. When his first series “The Naked Chef” aired one of my friends started to rave about him. Once I’d gotten the obligatory “you watch cooking shows” slagging out of the way, I did watch the show one night and Jamie’s passion for food is what struck me first, so I kept watching the show, kept ordering the take-aways until about a year later I decided that I should give this cooking lark a try and I did and I enjoyed it.

So I invited some friends round for dinner and once they finished with the “please don’t poison us” slagging and agreed to give it a try, I cooked the same meal and they were all either genuinely impressed or unusually hesitant to hurt my feelings 😉 Either way the success of that one meal gave me the confidence to do more, the passion to learn more and the desire to eat with friends and family more.

The feeling of satisfaction I had on that Saturday evening, is still fresh in my memory, food brings people together, you sit at a table, this starts conversations and conversation is a very powerful thing, it can spread news, ideas, ambitions, resolve conflict, help people to cope with things they might not be able to otherwise, I could go on and on, but you get the idea and it all starts with the cooking.

When Jamie’s show “Jamie’s Ministry of Food” aired, I loved the idea of “Pass it on” and I did, to a few people but I always felt that I could have and should have done more. That was part of the reason that I started this site, to help people start cooking for themselves by giving them quick and easy recipes that don’t take an age to make, or at least if they do, can be easily stored or frozen and can be quickly put together on a busy day, so I/you don’t reach for the delivery menu or the processed meal.

Jamie started me on this road a long time ago before I (or possibly he) even knew where it was going and I am eternally grateful to him for it. Which is why I was over the moon to hear that he had won this year’s TED prize.

I watched his speech from the conference and listened to his wish. It’s the most compelling speech I have heard in a long time and sums up everything I want to say about cooking and why everyone needs to learn to cook, in a way I could never manage – so coherently, briefly and passionately. Watch it and decide for yourself…

Lets all do our part to make this wish come true.

“I wish for your help to create a strong, sustainable movement to educate every child about food, inspire families to cook again and empower people everywhere to fight obesity.

Hello world!

Well it is traditional after all, so “Hello World!” and welcome one and all to notjunkfood.net, a cookery site for the novice, those of us who enjoy cooking or just want to learn how to cook a bit more.

90.365 - Passion for food

I’m no chef, I’m just a regular guy, living a regular life who has a passion for food and as a result I’ve developed a passion for cooking, as the two go hand in hand. If you’d like to learn more about this site please take the time to read our about page.

Over the next few days, weeks, months and (hopefully) years, I intend to use this site to pass on recipes, tips and tricks, with the intention of helping everyone to enjoy cooking more and not to see it as a chore.

So starting tomorrow, we will have our first recipe, I look forward to seeing you then!