Tag Archive for: Food

Thunder stolen by a turnip; whatever next? My portal into reviewing Pen Vogler’s enthralling new social history of food, Stuffed (Atlantic, £22), was to be via the humble root vegetable. But trips to Florence and Paris delayed my words and, meanwhile, The Observer’s Rachel Cooke went down that same route (sic), name checking naturally the departed agriculture minister Thérèse Coffey, who responded to salad dearth in our supermarkets by advocating we all ‘cherish’ the turnip. Did she mean the cute purple and white version the French call ‘navets’, or our own more rustic swede or rutabaga, often confined to being over-wintering livestock fodder? Even though her advice might count as a plea for seasonality, as so often, ‘Nellie The Effluent’ muddied the waters. The UK’s biggest turnip grower happened to be in her Norfolk constituency and he was giving up on it because those same supermarkets wouldn’t give him an affordable return.

Appropriately, Stuffed, subtitled ‘A History of Good Food and Hard Times in Britain’, is a surprisingly political survey of feast and famine with a particular emphasis on the damage wrought on subsistence by 300 years of Enclosures forcing 6.8 million acres of communal land into private ownership. The book title is not just about a full stomach, it’s also about being shafted.

Its predecessor Scoff, with its examination of class within English eating and drinking was her ‘Nancy Mitford’ book; this is her ‘Jessica Mitford’, constantly drawing parallels with times of scarcity in the past with, say, today’s children going hungry. In the introduction she puts herself firmly in the camp of medic Chris van Tulleken in bemoaning the baleful effects of UPF (ultra-processed foods), toxic equivalents of the adulterated horrors of the Victorian era, detailed in chapters such as ‘Bread and Butter’ or ‘Mustard and Pickles’ in lurid detail.

It took an outsider to chronicle the industrialised food short-cuts that could wreck or even kill a consumer. In 1820 London-based German chemist Frederick Accum published A Treatise on the Adulteration of Food and Culinary Poisons, its cover warning “There is death in the pot”. But it was not until half a century later that the Sale of Food and Drugs Act finally legislated against universal excesses such as the addition of alum or aluminium salt to make a baker’s loaf heavier and bleached whiter. Pen writes: “It was not lethal but it could cause swollen gums and inflate the gum, leading to dyspepsia, diarrhoea and gastritis, all of which impeded the absorption of nutrients.” Alum grinders inhaling its dust became seriously ill; it is still around today.

If all this sounds a mite dour, don’t fret. Born out of impeccable historical research, Stuffed shares the same lightness of touch that made Scoff a best-seller. Particularly wry is her take on the link between that Dickensian twist, gruel, and a ‘healthy brunch mate’ of 2023. While porridge had 5oz of oatmeal per pint, gruel managed just 2oz. A similar ratio to our oat milk, which thankfully avoids the workhouse pollution of rat and mice droppings!

As with Scoff, the book is divided into chapters devoted to a particular foodstuff, 26 in all, ranging from carp to strawberries, from goose to pumpkins with a recipe tagged on the end of each, each account riffing across the centuries, driven by the weight of her research.

Which brings us back to where we came in. The turnip gets a chapter to itself, introduced as a surprising flagship for Renaissance wellness theory based upon ‘the humouds’… revered too for its aphrodisiac qualities. So not just the neglected foodstuff it has become across our shores. According to Stuffed, improved farming techniques on a grander scale slowly transformed the turnip into primarily animal feed for winter.

Let us salute Baldrick’s proud and upright turnip

Witness for the turnip’s defence, unearthed by the diligent Pen, is much-travelled Tudor cleric Andrew Boorde, A Compendyous Regyment or a Dyetary of Healthe (1423) puts the turnip on a pedestal for its medicinal properties, particularly in a sexual context. She writes: “His prescriptions closely follow a slightly earlier book by Sir Thomas Elyot, as they both agree that turnips boiled and eaten  with flesh ‘augmentyth the seed of man’ and a small amount of raw turnip was good for the appetite.”

Hence the aptness of those running turnip jokes across the first two series of BBC’s Blackadder. In the launch episode the new King Richard gives a speech: “This day has been as ’twere a mighty stew in which the beef of victory was mix’d with the vile turnip of sweet Richard slain and the grisly dumpling of his killer fled. But we must eat the yellow wobbly parts two serves. In life, each man gets what he deserves!”

The apogee of the dick-shaped turnip gag comes in series two when the Edmund Blackadder’s servant prepares his ‘Turnip Surprise’. Edmund: “And the surprise is…?” Baldrick: “There’s nothing else in it except the turnip.” Edmund: So, in other words, the Turnip Surprise would be…a turnip.”

To much merriment the Turnip Surprise turns out to look like a “thingy”. Baldrick: “A great big thingy! It was terrific.” Edmund: “Size is no guarantee of quality, Baldrick. Most horses are very well endowed, but that does not necessarily make them sensitive lovers. I trust you have removed this hilarious item?” Baldrick: “I found it particularly ironic, my lord, because I’ve got a thingy that’s shaped like a turnip!” Miriam Margolyes as Edmund’s Puritan aunt (whose inheritance he seeks) demands she must have her turnip not mashed but as “God intended”. It arrives and further priapic hilarity ensues.

I have turnips. What do I cook with them?

The batch of un-suggestively shaped turnips I brought back from the market demands I prepare something that does them humble justice. Maybe use the beef stew with turnips recipe from 17th century diarist and gardener John Evelyn that’s appended to Pen’s turnip chapter. My gut instinct is to go for the great Richard Corrigan’s take on the French classic Navarin that pairs lamb shoulder with anchovies, but it requires tiny purple spring turnips. Mine are larger but still intense, so I stew them in butter and thyme with chopped chestnuts and black garlic, add rich beef stock, simmer for an hour, liquidise and serve as a rich veloute. A proper winter warmer.

Anthony Bourdain called AJ Liebling’s Between Meals (1962) “the benchmark for great food writing”, so there’s palpable excitement among gastronomes that 60 years on it’s about to be republished. This Francophile expat contributor to the New Yorker is an obvious inspiration for Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch, quirkiest of odes to La Vie Parisienne mid-20th century (though that movie is set in the fictional provincial town of Ennui-sur-Blasé).

Liebling was more gourmand than gourmet and his unreconstructed attitude to women matched his gross appetites at table, which in turn led to obesity, gout and death at just 59 in 1963. Yet the guy could undoubtedly write. Like his almost exact contemporary also renowned for evocative prose rather than recipes, Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher. She  survived him by a further 30 years, dying as a feted grande dame in California’s Napa/Sonoma wine country.

As with Alice Waters or our own Elizabeth David, hers is a formidable foodie name to drop. Meryl Streep was never destined to play her. Snooty MFK in an apron for telly demos à la Julia Child? Quelle horreur! All we have is the writing and a certain cult following, of which I’m happy to be a fully paid-up member. If Liebling got Bourdain’s vote, I’m happy to endorse WH Auden’s verdict on her: “I do not know of anyone in the States who writes better prose”.

The great poet died in 1973 (a year after I had dinner with him in Oxford – we disagreed over the merits of the avocado), so that view of his may have dated. Indeed there is a certain antipathy in some quarters towards her legacy and the genre of food-centric life memoirs she initiated. Nadir? Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. 

Yet MFK doesn’t really deserve this diatribe from one Josh Ozersky in Medium magazine, culminating in “Her legacy suffocates us, immobilises us, covers us as tightly as puff pastry in a beef wellington. Food writing today is one great echo chamber, and the voice it echoes must be silenced. M.F.K. Fisher must die.”

Harsh. Contrast it with the unlikeliest of MFK homages in Birmingham last weekend, which sparked this, my own reminder of her greatness as a writer. No, I didn’t attend the supper club ‘Lunch with MFK Fisher’ hosted by Matt O’Callaghan, whose Italophile blog isthe rather excellent MangiaMangia, but I’d like to have shared that menu of tea, bread and honey, sherry, tomato, chicken and wine broth, cheese tarts (with white wine), roast pigeon with herbs and bread (with red), iced fruit, gaufrettes and Tokay, coffee and Armagnac.

This ‘fusion of food and art’ apparently replicated a meal she served for friends and family in her rural Swiss home, Le Pâquis above Vevey, just before the outbreak of World War Two. This was just one stop-off in a peripatetic life that also took in Italy, various parts of France and later, her native America (she was born in Michigan). 

Food was integral but she always aimed to chart her life in its entirety, summed up beautifully in the opening to her most popular book, The Gastronomical Me, “Our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others.” 

She was a great beauty. Photographer Man Ray worshipped her bone structure. Her determinedly independent life had its fair share of glamour, but also trauma, especially when her terminally ill second husband, Dilwyn Parrish shot himself. Life after the war as a single mother can’t have been easy but those years yielded two of my favourite books of hers on Marseille and Aix-en-Provence. I visited both cities last year and her ghost was there, particularly in Aix along the Rue Cardinale, her base in the Mazarin Quarter.

The area on which she is most evocative is Burgundy. In 1929 she moved there with her first husband, A,l to Dijon, where both studied at the university. Heady days as the newlyweds celebrated its rich food pickings: “We ate terrines of pâté ten years old under their tight crusts of mildewed fat. We tied napkins under our chins and splashed in great odorous bowls of ecrevisses a la nage. We addled our palates with snipes hung so long they fell from their hooks, to be roasted then on cushions of toast softened with the paste of their rotted innards and fine brandy.”

A touch florid, even Lieblingesque, maybe but, especially as her marriage faltered, she grew into her razor-sharp narrations. My favourite of these, set in the Burgundian Avallon region, is I Was Really Very Hungry

It was first published in the Atlantic Monthly in 1937; I discovered it in a delicious ‘greatest hits’ compilation, As They Were (1982). The centrepiece is a kind of a joust between a serving girl besotted with the cuisine her chef is producing backstage and the solo diner (MFK is always brilliant on the ‘woman who dines alone’).

It starts: “Once I met a young servant in northern Burgundy who was almost frighteningly fanatical about food, like a medieval woman possessed by a devil. Her obsession engulfed even my appreciation of the dishes she served, until I grew uncomfortable.

“It was the off season at the old mill which a Parisian chef had bought and turned into one of France’s most famous restaurants, and my mad waitress was the only servant. In spite of that she was neatly uniformed, and showed no surprise at my unannounced arrival and my hot dusty walking clothes…”

3,000 words later, after being pressed with glasses of marc and settling the large bill, the relentlessly sensuous ‘tasting menu’ is over, our heroine ready to leave…

“Suddenly the girl began to laugh, in a soft shy breathless way, and came close to me.

‘Permit me!’ she said, and I thought she was going to kiss me. But instead she pinned a tiny bunch of snowdrops and dark bruised cyclamens against my stiff jacket, very quickly and deftly, and then ran from the room with her head down.

“I waited for a minute. No sounds came from anywhere in the old mill, but the endless rushing of the full stream seemed to strengthen, like the timed blare of an orchestra under a falling curtain. She’s a funny one, I thought. I touched the cool blossoms on my coat and went out, like a ghost from ruins, across the courtyard toward the dim road to Avallon.”

You’re hooked? You must be. Follow this link to read the full 3,500 words.

The best introduction to Fisher at her peak is The Art of Eating, a compendium of four books, her debut, Serve It Forth, Consider The Oyster, The Gastronomical Me and An Alphabet for Gourmets. Her most recipe-led volume, How To Eat A Wolf, was published at the height of Second World War food shortages and its wryness still resonates. One chapter is called How to Be Cheerful Through Starving, another How To Boil Water, and she helpfully tips us off on creating a life-saving ‘sludge’ for 50 cents, yet the message, echoing the rest of her 25-strong oeuvre, is ‘food is pleasure’. When we “nourish ourselves with all possible skill, delicacy and ever-increasing enjoyment it is a way to “assert and then reassert our dignity in the face of poverty and war’s fears and pains”.

That message was there at the start of her writing career in Serve It Forth: “If you have to eat to live, you may as well enjoy it.”

Main image is courtesy of the Audubon Canyon Ranch, a sustainable nature charity based at Stimson’s Beach, who are custodians of MFK Fisher’s Californian legacy.

ECCLES cakes  and orange custards. Blame it on a pair of puddings for a mutual obsession with the greatest English cookery writer you may never have heard of. My own interest in Elizabeth Raffald was piqued a decade ago during research for Crispy Squirrel and Vimto Trifle (MCR Books) by chef Robert Owen Brown. She was one of his culinary heroes and when we included a recipe for Eccles cakes it turned into a homage to this 18th century cookery writer/entrepreneur, who led a remarkable life. Not just as housekeeper of stately Arley Hall (above).

Her own hugely influential The Experienced English Housekeeper of 1786 contained a ’receipt’ for ‘Sweet Patties’ that’s not a million calories from Eccles’ finest, even if the ingredients include boiled calf’s foot, apples oranges, nutmeg, egg yolk, currants and brandy, in puff pastry, and it could be baked or fried.

Meanwhile Dr Neil Buttery, scientist and fledgling food historian, had already chanced upon Mrs Raffald’s recipe for Seville orange custards in English Food by the great Jane Grigson, another Raffald fan. Levenshulme-based Neil famously went on to blog his attempts to cook every recipe in her 1974 classic. Now finally he has authored a biography of Elizabeth Raffald that encompasses the huge impact she had on Manchester beyond the dishes she created and catalogued so brilliantly. It’s enthralling.

That the book is titled Before Mrs Beeton is a polemic provocation. Brand Isabella Beeton has never faltered since her untimely death at just 28 in 1865, four years after the publication of her Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management. Dr Buttery points out chunks were compiled by anonymous contributors with much copying of recipes and her husband soon sold the copyright, allowing it to be modified over successive editions. “Contrary to public perceptions,” he writes, “Beeton is less the Nigella Lawson or Delia Smith of her day and more the Colonel Sanders.”

Contrast with Elizabeth Raffald, the real deal, publishing 800 recipes. most tried and tested by herself. Indeed the only time this stellar cookery phenomenon “missed a trick”, in Buttery’s words, was with those prototype Eccles cakes, which she developed at her bakery shop in Manchester’s Market Place.

The Guardian of the time reported “a worthy female leaving her, and going to settle at Eccles, Mrs Raffald made her a present of the recipe for this dainty, which made the recipient’s fortune, and that of her niece, who succeeded her in the business – many thousands of pounds having, we are told, been realised by this sweet little monopoly.”

Not that every recipe in The Experienced English Housekeeper is as accessible or as ‘monetizable’, to use that dyspeptic tag. Take ‘Rabbits Surprised’ or, my fave, ‘Pigeons Transmogrified’. The first requires “Take young Rabbits, skewer them and when they are roasted, draw out the Jaw-bones and stick them in the eyes to appear like Horns… stick a bunch of Myrtle in their Mouths, and serve them with their Livers boiled and frothed.”

The Pigeons get off lightly. They are stuffed into hollowed out cucumbers with heads sticking out with ‘a bunch of barberries in their bills’.

Such elaborate show at table is a legacy of her time as housekeeper at Arley Hall, Cheshire, where her aristocratic overlords loved tounleash a ‘Grand Table’ banquet on their guests – some 75 separate dishes on more than one occasion. Other challenging recipes included one for turtles, using their blood and fins and, of course, an elaborate mock turtle substitute. Yet also in the book you’ll find simple dishes that seem quite modern like the first mention in English cookbooks of macaroni cheese and burnt cream (creme brulee by any other name).

The book is split into three parts – the first dedicated to browning, soups, fish, plain meat, game, pies and puddings, the second covering confectionery and ‘directions to set out a table in the most elegant manner and in the modern taste.’ In the third she discusses pickling, potting and distilling. Eminently practicable if you discount the likes of staggeringly elaborate pastry work. Elizabeth can also lay claim to creating the first English wedding cake, as we know it.

Though she wrote English Housekeeper in Manchester, its gestation was undoubtedly at Arley Hall, four miles from Lymm, where  she arrived from her native Yorkshire as Elizabeth Whittaker in 1860. For four years she was housekeeper for Lady Elizabeth Warburton, to whom she later dedicated her book, before marrying the head gardener John Raffald and moving to Manchester. After which it’s really hard to keep up with her hyperactive schedule. in the midst of compiling a series of Manchester business directories  – the original ‘yellow pages’ – launching an employment agency and two newspapers, promoting what might be the first ever ‘ready meals’, running shops and public houses, including her own, The King’s Head, she gave birth to at least nine children. 

Eventually it all went downhill until she died suddenly aged 47, of a stroke or aneurysm, in   1781. Husband John’s alcoholism undoubtedly contributed to the business failure, but she showed him little sympathy. One one occasion he was drinking heavily and feeling suicidal. When he said he wanted to drown himself, Raffald replied: “I do think that it might be the best step you could take, for then you would be relieved of all your troubles and anxieties and you really do harass me very much.”

Dr Buttery is compassionate:“He’s the perfect scapegoat, the one who caused the collapse of Elizabeth’s empire, hurrying her death as she exhausted herself… but the truth is Elizabeth was working too hard before the coffee house, indeed even before the King’s Head; working too hard was her natural state and something was going to give eventually…

“Elizabeth’s untimely death released him from the life choices he had regretted, a life that led him into a depression he self-medicated with alcohol, a life that took away his wife. Returning to his beloved brothers and working in the family gardens was the only sensible thing to do.”

Elizabeth was buried in the Old Church family plot in John’s home town of Stockport, but you can’t locate her gravestone because John couldn’t afford to pay for an inscription. That run-down Exchange Coffee House, the Raffalds’ last venture. was on the site of today’s Selfridge’s. Check out the discreet blue plaque to Elizabeth on the side of the store. Market Place, epicentre of her commercial success, was destroyed by World War II air raids. Arley Hall, much changed architecturally from her tenure, remains the sacred Raffald place.

And it’s here that I like to think of Elizabeth in culinary over-drive. This new Buttery book, like its precursor, The Dark History of Sugar, occasionally gets bogged down in heavily researched historical context (nothing that keener editing wouldn’t obviate), but it’s at its best when the author’s deep empathy with kitchen practice comes to the fore. It inspires me to recreate one of those ‘receipts’ that earned Mrs Raffald such a following (including Queen Victoria).

So let’s conclude with an ode to flummery. We are back in the exhausting territory of those Arley banquets with their emphasis on display and munificence. In her book Elizabeth includes a table plan for her ‘Grand Table’. Fortunately diners weren’t expected to devour every dish of the litany of delights – mock turtle soup, broccoli, kidney beans, bottled peas, salad, house lamb, fricassee of veal, a small ham, sweetbreads, ox paletts, ducks almonde, boiled turkey, pigeon compote, chicken fricassee, haricot beans, beef olives, hare soup, florindene of rabbits, pork griskins, larded oysters, sheep’s rumps and kidneys, cod sounds, French pye, lambs’ ears stuffed with forcemeat and transparent soup.

And the flummery then? Her actual menu is mind-bogglingly labour-intensive. With a wacky whiff of Heston Blumenthal about it. Let me quote Dr Buttery’s paraphrase: “Jelly and flummery were the media of choice for 18th century ‘subtleties’. They were made from gelatine derived from calves’ feet, ground hartshorn or, on fast days, isinglass extracted from the swim bladders of sturgeon. (I’m tickled by one of the author’s acknowledgements – “I’m also indebted to Ellie Huxley for going through the rigmarole of of making Mrs Raffald’s calves’ foot jelly, so I didn’t have to.”)

“Flummery was a sweetened dish made from the boiling of cracked oat grains in water. The resulting opaque ’stock’ was strained through cloth, flavoured and sweetened. Once cool, it set to a delicate jelly. Elizabeth needed her flummery toto form a wobbly, quivering but ultimately stable structure, and therefore made hers from almond milk mixed with calves’ foot jelly, rather like a modern blancmange or panna cotta.”

Don’t even ask how all this segued into gargantuan, moulded creations such as ‘Eggs and Bacon in Flummery’ and the cochineal and brandy driven showstopper, ‘Solomon’s Temple in Flummery’. To find our more you’ll have to acquire Dr Buttery’s excellent tome.

Upstairs and downstairs incarnate, all this endeavour was about creating an “immersive experience for guests while, Elizabeth, the creator, worked tirelessly with her staff out of sight and earshot in the hot, noisy kitchens.

Before Mrs Beeton – Elizabeth Raffald, England’s Most Influential Housekeeper by Dr Neil Buttery (Pen and Sword Books, £20) is out now.

Here are my favourite food and drink books published in 2022 with something to suit everyone’s prezzie stocking. I make no apologies for kicking off with a couple addressing, in their different approaches, a wellbeing approach to eating. The health of our planet seems inextricably bound to the healthiness of what we eat.

Food For Life by Tim Spector (Jonathan Cape, £20)

Initially sceptical about yet another nutritional gospel, I was won over by the famous epidemiologist dissing ‘superfoods’ and proclaiming his own food passions, which include dark chocolate, red wine and butter alongside all those key ferments, kimchi, kombucha and sourdough bread. Such food choices for health? Im with him all the way.

The new tome is an upgrade on his The Diet Myth, (2015), which popularised the idea that each of us has a unique and constantly changing gut microbiome that is crucial to our health and 2020’s Spoon Fed, in 2020, which debunked a legacy of food misinformation that encourage us to consume many products that are of scant nutritional value. The microbiome continues to take centre stage but the research message is that each individual’s ideal diet is different and common sense should prevail.

Healthy Vegan Street Food by Jackie Kearney (Ryland Peters & Small, £20)

A key element in Spector’s message is the importance of plant-based while avoiding the trap of vegan ready meals. He is keen on spices too, so Jackie’s latest book, revisiting her food discoveries across South East Asia, is a natural companion in the stocking. The former MasterChef finalist expounds on the health value of these tasty cuisines in my recent interview with her. What really impresses is, seven years on from her debut cookbook, the lack of recipe duplication alongside the lessons she has learned about the health value of ingredients as she tackles he own auto-immune issues.

Rambutan: Recipes from Sri Lanka by Cynthia Shanmugalingam (Bloomsbury, £26)

Like with buses, you wait around for ages for a definitive book on Sri Lankan cookery and then two come along. Compendious indeed is Hoppers, from the London chain name-checking the savoury rice crepe synonymous with the island, but I prefer this more narrative-driven alternative with its 80 attractive recipes, including fabulous mutton rolls. Coventry-born Cynthia’s family hails from the northernmost tip of Sri Lanka – Tamil territory – and the book does not shy away from the terrible conflicts as it explores the ravishing culinary culture. Above all, it is a celebration of a family in exile maintaining its links via food.

Notes from a Small Kitchen Island by Debora Robertson (Penguin, £26)

Now for a read that is less dramatic but with it own distinctive, domestic voice. The chapter names reveal the wry take on food from this erstwhile Daily Telegraph columnist: No one wants brunch’; ‘Why everyone hates picnics’; ‘How to survive having people to stay’; ‘unInstagrammable, that’s what you are’. Like Nigella Lawson, I am a fan of this diarist, whose kitchen apercus straddle Co Durham and the Languedoc. 

Here’s Debs on Roast Lamb with Durham Salad: “ My slow-roast lamb is luscious and garlicky, which would probably have offended my northern antecedents, who greeted the arrival of garlic in the trattorias and brasseries of County Durham circa 1970 with no small amount of suspicion, bordering on disdain. My mother, being a free spirit and one of the first people in the county to wear cork wedges, suede trouser suits and, famously, a crocheted bikini made by my Auntie Dolly, was an early adopter and always loved, and still loves, garlic, so this is for her.”

Cooking: Simply and Well for One or Many? by Jeremy Lee (4th Estate, £30)

Distinctive voices? Well that surely bring us to ‘national treasure’ candidate Jeremy Lee, whose debut cook book has been rapturously promoted. For once, happy to endorse; this really is an instant classic – my prime Christmas prezzie recommendation. I devoted a whole article to his recipe for salsify but in my heart of hearts would settle for the signature sandwich at his Soho restaurant Quo Vadis – smoked eel.

Butter: A celebration by Olivia Potts (Headline, £26)

Jeremy Lee prefers light, unsalted butter for cooking and baking. In her debut cookbook Spectator magazine `Vintage Cook’ columnist and former barrister Olivia begs to differ. Salted is her go-to in th fridge. Who’s to argue with a cook devoting 350 pages to the glorious (and healthy) key to so many culinary delights. I’ve been cooking from it ever since it dropped through my letterbox – most notably a Wild Mushroom, Tarragon and Mushroom Pithivier.

A Dark History of Sugar by Dr Neil Buttery (Pen & Sword, £20)

Sugar – now there’s another much-debated kitchen essential, this time with a troubled history to match its place on the table. I interviewed the Levenshulme-based (and yes sweet-toothed) food historian about his research which encompassed the murky worlds of both slavery and later, teeth-rotting commercial exploitation. Dark stuff indeed, but this is a delightful read, if not for the squeamish.

The World of Natural Wine by Aaron Ayscough (Artisan, £31.99) and The Wine Bible by Karen McNeil (Workman, £31.99)

Two very different approaches to wine writing, each to be treasured, both authors from the States. Natural wine proselytiser Ayscough is based in Beaujolais, the crucible of the natural wine movement thanks to certain key figures over the past four decades. Across 400 pages he traces that timeline in depth, exhaustively explaining what make this alternative ethos superior to mainstream ‘manipulative’ winemaking. 

Karen McNeil’s encyclopaedic tome runs to 700 pages and embraces the mainstream. The first two editions have old more than 800,000 copies. This updated third now has the advantage of colour and whole new chapters on Great Britain, Croatia, and Israel. he chapters on France, Italy, Australia, South America, and the United States are greatly expanded. What I like are the little sidebars on regional food or culture anecdotes. A great, approachable yet opinionated entry in the ever-evolving world of the grape.

Back in the day most folk’s first encounter with Indonesian food was probably via a Rijstaffel in Amsterdam or any Dutch city, an all-you-can eat buffet, at heart a colonial legacy. At its centre would be mounds of cooked rice – the Nasi of Nasi Goreng fame, that now ubiquitous fried rice dish, often featuring chicken or prawns.

Indonesia is the world’s third largest producer of rice and farmer must make offerings of the sacred grain at harvest time to Dewi Sri, the goddess of rice and fertility. This can involve eve trekking to the top of a volcano, of which there are many.

In her fascinating new book, Healthy Vegan Street Food (Ryland Peters & Small, £20) Jackie Kearney makes rice the centrepiece of her own Indonesian/Malaysian-influenced showstopper, but it consists of just three or four plant-based elements and the rice is the more nutritious black variety. 

Healthy eating is at the core of the Masterchef legend’s fresh batch of recipes – without sacrificing flavour. As proof let me introduce you, in this exclusive extract, to her recipe for Simple Nasi Campur: Tempeh brittle, purple potato curry and coconut kale stir-fry.

“Indonesia’s answer to India’s thali. This selection plate means ‘mixed rice’, simply a plate of rice with three or four different dishes. It’s a generic term used across Indonesia and Malaysia. Nasi padang is a type of nasi campur, originating from the city of Padang in West Sumatra, where the mixed rice plate was served as a huge banquet alongside multiple curries made with meat, fish and vegetables, plus spicy sambals, peanuts and eggs.

“The Dutch colonialists adored this Minangkabau banqueting, which they called ‘rijstaffel’ or ‘rice-table’. Rijstaffel restaurants are incredibly popular throughout the Netherlands, and a closer foodie experience for most Europeans. Go hungry and be prepared for 15–20 dishes to be laid around the table.

“This recipe is a simplified little taste of nasi campur to make at home. The moreish tempeh brittle recipe uses a significant amount of (unrefined) sugars, so the portion should be a very small part of the whole platter, or give this a miss if you are trying to reduce your sugar intake and simply fry some soy-marinated tempeh instead. The kale stir-fry and simple curry are super-quick to prepare. You could also add other Indonesian elements like loaded cassava fries, manadu ‘woku’ curry or Indonesian corn ‘ribs’, if you want to create a larger rijstaffel.”


250g tempeh; 1 tbsp plus 1 tsp culinary coconut oil, or use good-quality vegetable oil; 1-cm/½ -in thumb of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped (about 2 teaspoons), or use 1 tsp ginger paste;  2 tbsp coconut sugar; 1 tbsp date syrup, or use pure maple syrup or unrefined coconut sugar; 3 tbsp soy sauce; large pinch of salt. Baking sheet, lined with parchment. Serves 6.

Preheat the oven to 190°C (375°F) Gas 5. Cut the tempeh into 6 mm/¼ in thick slices, then slice into 1 cm/½ in wide small pieces (the length will be the width of your tempeh block).

Place a wide frying pan over high heat with 1 tbsp of the oil. When the oil is very hot, add the tempeh pieces. Fry for 8–10 minutes until crispy and brown on all sides. Remove and place on paper towels to drain.

In the same pan, add another teaspoon of oil and add the ginger. Turn down heat to low and cook gently for 2 minutes, then add the remaining ingredients (except the tempeh). Bring the mixture to a low simmer until a thick syrup starts to form, then add the tempeh pieces. Mix well to coat all the pieces and fry gently until the liquid is reduced and sticky.

Lay the pieces onto the lined baking sheet and bake in the preheated oven for 10 minutes until crispy and nicely browned. Remove and set aside to cool. The pieces will then become more brittle and crunchy.


1 tbsp extra-virgin coconut oil, or use culinary coconut oil or good-quality vegetable oil; 7–8 curry leaves; 1 large brown onion, thinly sliced; 3 fat garlic cloves, thinly sliced; ½ tsp ground turmeric; 7.5-10-cm/3-4-in cinnamon stick; 250–300g bunch or 200g bag of kale, thick stems removed and thinly sliced; 75g desiccated unsweetened shredded coconut, soaked in boiling water for 15 minutes; 2 green chillies, chopped; ½-1 tsp salt, to taste; freshly squeezed juice of 1 lime (about ½ tbsp). Serves 6.

Place a wok or large frying pan over high heat. Add the oil and then add the curry leaves, frying for 20–30 seconds. Now add the onion, garlic, turmeric and cinnamon. Turn down the heat to medium–low, and gently stir-fry for 3-4 minutes until the onions are softened and the garlic is golden brown.

Add the kale and turn up the heat to medium–high. Stir-fry for 8-10 minutes until the kale starts to soften, depending on how crunchy you prefer your kale. Drain the desiccated unsweetened shredded coconut and squeeze out any excess water. Add the coconut and chillies to the pan, mix well and cook for 1 minute more.

Season with salt and remove from the heat. Add the lime juice and mix well. Serve immediately.


½ tbsp culinary coconut oil, or use good-quality vegetable oil; 1 large brown onion, finely chopped; 2 fat garlic cloves, finely chopped, or use 2 tsp garlic paste; 4-8 small red chillies, to taste; ¼ tsp chilli powder; 1 tsp ground cumin; 1 tbsp ground coriander; 400g can plum tomatoes; 250 g purple potatoes, peeled and cubed, or use new potatoes; 

250g firm tofu, cubed (and lightly baked if you prefer); ½-1 tsp salt, to taste. Serves 6.

Place a large frying pan or wok over medium-high heat and add the oil. Add the onion and sauté for 4-5 minutes until translucent. Add the garlic, cook for 1 minute, then add the chillies and ground spices. Add the tomatoes (and juices) plus 3½ tbsp water, then squash the tomatoes to a pulp. Simmer for a few minutes, then remove from the heat.

Using a stick blender, blitz until smooth. Return the pan to high heat and add the potatoes. Place a lid on the pan, turn the heat down to low and simmer the potatoes for 20-25 minutes until soft but not falling apart. Add the tofu pieces. Season with salt and add a little more water if needed. This curry can be reheated when needed.


Cooked black rice; 3–4 tbsp sambal balado; 3-4 tbsp red-skinned peanuts, lightly toasted, or use cashew nuts; freshly chopped coriander; rice crackers.

To serve the nasi campur individually, place some cooked black rice in the centre of a plate (or on a banana leaf if you like). Add a large spoonful of each of the dishes around the outside, plus a spoonful of sambal balado (or hot chilli sambal) and a spoonful of toasted red skinned peanuts. Sprinkle the potato curry with a little fresh coriander and add a few rice crackers, if you like. Indonesian rice crackers are fried, so I prefer to serve with baked Vietnamese-style crackers for a healthier option.

SAMBAL BALADO:  This Indonesian chilli and tomato condiment is a cornerstone of Indonesian food. Buy in or follow this recipe, which will make 250ml. 10-12 large dried red chillies, to taste, soaked in boiling water for 15-20 minutes; 2-6 Thai chillies (optional); 1 small red onion, roughly chopped; 3 fat garlic cloves; 1 large tomato, halved and deseeded; ¼ tbsp culinary/unflavoured coconut oil; 2-3 fresh or dried kaffir lime leaves (optional); ½ tsp date syrup (or maple syrup/unrefined coconut sugar); ½-1 tsp salt,, to taste; freshly squeezed juice of one lime;. 

Drain the soaked chillies and add to a blender or food processor along with fresh chillies (if using), onion, garlic and tomato. Blitz to a rough pulp, then add to a small pan with the coconut oil. Place over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Add the lime leaves, date syrup and salt, and simmer gently for 10-12 minutes until the liquid reduces. Add the lime juice, mix well and taste. Adjust the seasoning, adding more date syrup or salt, if needed. Store in a sterilised jar and keep in the fridge for up to two weeks.

Healthy Vegan Street Food: Sustainable & healthy plant-based recipes from India to Indonesia by Jackie Kearney (Ryland Peters & Small, £20) Photography by Clare Winfield © Ryland Peters & Small. She has published four previous books with them and the BLOG on her ‘Hungry Gecko’ website is an essential background read. 

Check out my recent interview with Jackie.

High summer in Sicily and the carefree boys will be leaping off the quayside at Cefalu,  location for Cinema Paradiso; in New Mills fewer, if any, will fancy a dive into the murky Peak Forest Canal or the River Goyt. 

Taking a plunge on Cannoli, now that’s another matter. At A Tavola Gastronomia Sicilia I’ve lined up a trio of these sweet fried pastry tubes filled with fresh Agrigento ricotta, Etna pistachio and the like. To close a glorious lunch ‘from the old country’ in a Technicolor Mediterranean setting my brother and I are sharing them alongside scoops of ice cream, one intensely lemony, the other showcasing the legendary dark chocolate of Modica, spectacular Baroque home town of A Tavola’s owner/chef Alessio Muccio. His restaurant journey to the former Beehive pub has taken him via stints in the old Stock restaurant in central Manchester, Mamma Mia in Denton and Reddish. 

This proud Sicilian and his open kitchen team make the cannoli, the gelato, much of the pasta we never ordered and the arancini that thankfully we did. Alessio’s front of house partner Nicky Owen beams with enthusiasm when we tell her these awesome cones of deep-fried, breadcrumbed rice are the best we’ve ever tasted, vanquishing those tiny balls of leftover risotto rice that are the norm in the chain Italians. At the heart of mine is a torrent of ragu and molten mozzarella.

Mixed feelings about the caponata on sourdough bruschetta but, as Nicky points out every family across the island of Sicily offers their own version of this sweet and sour aubergine dish. A Tavola’s is light on the capers and vinegar, unlike my own take, which is sometimes too Cosa Nostra ferocious. There looks to be a lightness of touch across the whole menu here. Testimony to which exemplary fritto misto, a bargain to share at £14.50 with its cornucopia of red mullet, whitebait, calamari, sardine fillets, anchovies and king prawns… only the latter, from Argentina, perhaps over-crisped in the frier.

Of course, there are pasta and pizzas on the menu (with a mission statement abut the quality and sustainability of the flour they use). Readers of my website will be aware of my obsession with Pasta all Norma. Yes, that pinnacle of Sicilian primi is there, the sauce with ricotta salata and mint applied to Casarecce (short durum wheat twists), Bravo.

The menu is apparently based on a book of family recipes passed down by his father. Among the riot of Sicilian artefacts and keepsakes across two floors there are pictures of family and, on the stairs, Al Pacino and other Godfather luminaries, who I presume are not related.

All in all, the whole place feels like a labour of love with some 30 covers inside and the same number outside, served by staff predominantly from Sicily. The raw materials, too, sing of that rich culinary melting pot – sasizza (fennel sausage), grassy olive oil, wines,  even Sicilian craft lagers (they also have plans to commission a house beer from the estimable Torrside Brewing in the town). Check out the Sicilian deli, selling pasta, condiments and chutneys.

A Tavola Gastronomia Siciliana, 67 Albion Rd, New Mills, High Peak SK22 3EY. Open 4pm-11pm Tuesday-Thursday, 1pm-11pm Friday and Saturday.

Main image, courtesy of PMW Photography, is from the glorious A Tavola website gallery.

Cast your mind back a quarter of a century. ‘Craft beer’ didn’t exist, street food was probably a bag of chips and fusion sounded like something electrical. OK, a certain Robert Owen Brown (above) was probably spit-roasting a whole steer in a car park somewhere, but without his carnivore core audience baying for a commentary. How the scene was about to change.

Flash forward to the 25th Manchester Food and Drink Festival (September 15-26) – a landmark event guaranteed, given I’ve been there from the beginning, to make me feel old. As will the climactic Manchester Food and Drink Awards gala dinner. So many of the places I’ve been instrumental in garnering gongs for as a veteran judge are no longer with us.

Melancholy aside, what a remarkable transformation for the better has taken place in our expectations and how they are catered for. This is reflected in the first wave of the 2022 programme, full details of which are on the website. Cathedral Gardens will once again host the free to attend Festival Hub with its array of street food traders and bars…  plus the Artisan Food Market, open from 15th–18th and 22nd–25th from midday to 7pm.

Among the special events and masterclasses my initial enthusiasm is for the first ever Festival Fire Pit Takeover, coming to the Hub for both long weekends. Sponsored by Weber, it will invite some of the region’s best loved chefs to cook over fire. These will include Caroline Martins, founder of the Sao Paolo Project, Fazenda exec chef Francisco Martinez and, yes, Robert Owen Brown.

The Hub will also feature the Octopus Cookbook Confidential demo kitchen on Saturday 24th September in collaboration with the publishing house of that name. Top chefs and industry experts will come together to share their tips and knowledge in cookery demos and debate. Spaces are free but limited and can be booked now.

Best known of the participants is probably telly’s Kate Humble, but my hot tip is don’t miss Jaega Wise, award-winning brewer/TV and radio presenter, going head to head with spirits guru Joel Harrison in conversation with Neil Ridley, subject Beer vs Cocktails.

Away from the festival hub, an array of activities will be taking place across Manchester city centre. Tickets are available to buy here for the Wine and Fizz Festival in a new home that’s the talk of Manchester. It will be the first event to be held in NOMA district’s New Century, currently being repurposed to open as new events hall and food hub from September. Cork of the North, Grape to Grain and sake masters UKiYO Republic re the first names on the team sheet for that kick-off.

Look out, too for a £25 for 25 years menu collaboration for the duration of the festival. Already signed up to provide these menu bargains are District, Embankment Kitchen, Three Little Words, Mi and Pho, Shoryu Ramen, Tast and Society.

Just two months ago when the current cost of living crisis wasn’t the headline news it is now and families weren’t being lectured by Tory fat cats on how to budget for deprivation Food Waste Action Week was offering its own stark reminder of food supply disconnection and trumpeting ways to fix it.

Fighting talk then from the exec director of Manchester’s Open Kitchen, Corin Bell: ”I’ve been passionate about food, food waste and food sustainability for as long as I can remember. Open Kitchen came out of a lot of trial and error in trying to develop a model that balanced tackling both food waste and food sustainability in real ways, not conflating the issues, and not using one as a sticking plaster for the other. 

“I hope that Open Kitchen can continue to be part of the campaigning movement fighting for a future where good food isn’t wasted in the first place, and emergency food provision isn’t needed, because poverty has been ended.”

As food bank use burgeons this seems further away than ever. Yet it’s not just about no family going hungry; it’s also an environmental imperative. Campaigner at Love Food, Hate Waste claim that the average UK family wastes the equivalent of eight meals every week, while food waste in UK households produces nearly 25 million tonnes of CO2 every year.

In response to all this Open Kitchen has In the vanguard of a setting a sustainable catering example, working with a huge range of food businesses to source beautiful ingredients that would otherwise be jettisoned. Zero waste is indeed their culinary mantra. So near dated milk is turned into paneer for tikka kebabs, wonky veg and fruit transformed into pickle and ketchups.

To showcase what can be achieved taste-wise, Corin and her team established its flagship Open Kitchen Café & Bar inside the People’s History Museum on the banks of the Irwell. To celebrate its first birthday new head chef Sean Lee has created a fresh summer small plates menu mostly out of raw materials that would otherwise have gone to waste. 

Sean’s CV includes exec chef of The Bath Arms, Cheddar and The Congresbury Arms, Bristol and The Burlington Restaurant at The Devonshire Arms in the Yorkshire Dales. A quite different environment but he’s not fazed: “I love the concept, and the chance to be really creative with an ever-changing mix of food. I hope that I can build a name for myself in Manchester, and also further the cause of stamping out food waste and championing local sustainably produced food. It’s a great challenge.” 

Expect Sean’s menu to change constantly to include as much local, seasonal produce as possible. For the moment there’s mozzarella arancini with home-made herb oil and garlic aioli, tempura crunchy seasonal veg with sticky tamarind sauce, and spicy butterbean hummus and homemade flatbreads, smoked haddock fishcakes and roast veg and and smoked sausage frittata. Accompanying is a new range of spritz cocktails, including a Negroni (what’s not to like?) or local beers from Blackjack.

Open Kitchen Cafe & Bar, People’s History Museum, Left Bank, Manchester M3 3ER.

It is fitting that the front cover of Benedetta Jasmin Guetta’s new cookbook (her first in English) should feature carciofi alla giudia. If ever a dish symbolised Jewish influence on Italian cuisine it is this. You’ll find these crispy deep-fried globe artichokes all over Rome, snack fodder seemingly amalgamated in to the city’s ancient fabric. Yet they originally sprung from its Ghetto. In 1555 Pope Paul IV forced the Jews to be segregated into ghettos.

The first was in Venice and the site was originally a foundry surrounded by canals. The word ghetto comes from gettato, meaning cast metal. The Roman one, which lasted for 300 years, was around the Portico d’Ottavia. Even today the city’s 15,000-strong Jewish population congregates around that area.

The artichoke dish’s true ethnicity make an interesting footnote in Guetta’s Cooking alla Giudia: “In 2018 the Chief Rabbinate of Israel declared that carciofi alla giudia are not kosher because they might conceal non-kosher insects. Roman Jews disagree, arguing that the artichoke leaves are so thick and dense that insects cannot penetrate the artichoke. In my opinion carciofi alla giudia are kosher.”

Splitting hairs over antipasti, well that’s a first. Or maybe not in the tangled interface of Jewish and Italian food culture, which Santa Monica, California-based Benedetta has explored in the blog Labna for well over a decade.

Hence her book offers 100 tried and tested recipes with a host of useful hints. In Italy the carciofi, to be at its best, is made with the softer and larger Romanesco artichokes harvested between February and April along the coastal strip north of Rome. Unusually, instead of the normal, cheaper sunflower or peanut they are double-fried in extra virgin olive oil.

Thrift, though, was born of necessity in the Ghetto. Take Zuppa di Pesce, another perennial favourite of the Eternal City. Once it was a speciality only of the fishing villages but the Jews turned it into a delicacy by making the best of scraps from the local market. Often eked out into a full meal with pasta or bread added to the broth. Note: the book’s version is more elevated, employing red snapper, tuna and sardines with dry white wine.

Fish features a lot. In Venice I combined visiting the ghetto/synagogue cluster in the Cannreggio quarter with a classic cicchetto, Sarde in Saor. Everything about it sings of the migratory influence of Spain’s Sephardic Jews. Sardine fillets are fried and then marinated in vinegar with soft onions before pine nuts and raisins are sprinkled on top. Virtually the same dishes features for Shabbat and Rosh Hashannah in the Jewish Calendar, the author points out.

This is not such a far remove in its flavourings from another dish with obvious Levantine/Jewish credentials, aubergine-led caponata half-stew, half-salad from that ultimate culinary melting pot, Sicily.

Ultimately, these are the connections the book traces, wearing its scholarship lightly and  accessible to home cooks. I might cook recipes from Claudia Roden’s monumental masterpiece, The Book of Jewish Food, but I’m more likely to consult it for historical background. The last cookbook to attempt what Guetta is doing is the out of print Edda Servi Machlin’s Classic Cuisine of the Italian Jews from 40 years ago.

It is startling to discover pasta dishes and puddings you considered essentially Italian have, at least partially, in a very different culture. It works both ways, too, as strict Jews devise ways to adapt Italian staples to their own kosher dietary laws. Take the Lasagne Kasher, where beef replaces pork and the bechamel is made with olive oil and broth rather than butter and milk. Or you could swap for a Tuscan alternative, Scacchi, a matzo, meat and veg casserole. Expect, in season artichokes to be included! In truth, I think her honey matzo fritters are a better use of these unleavened flatbreads.

Cooking alla Giudia: a celebration of the Jewish food of Italy by Benedetta Jasmine Guetta (Artisan Books, £30). The main picture is of Sarde in Saor from the book © Ray Kachatorian.

Some cookbooks have a longer shelf life than others. Well-thumbed, splattered indelibly with ingredient stains, they’ve stayed the course. Many courses, if you forgive the culinary jeu de mot. One such tome is The Carved Angel Cookbook by Joyce Molyneux, a bastion of my recipe collection since it was published in 1990. It sold 50,000 copies despite the chef’s lack of TV exposure or reluctance to self-publicise. Unlike a certain Mr Floyd, who ran a gastropub upriver from Joyce’s Dartmouth, Devon base. Until bankruptcy.

Her  book celebrates the very special restaurant on the riverfront, where she made her name. I mention it now because this groundbreaking female chef turns 90 this month after being retired for well over two decades. 

Happy Birthday, Joyce (and fellow legend Shaun Hill, 75 this week and still at the stove in his Michelin-starred Walnut Tree, near Abergavenny). 

An appropriate dish to cook in Joyce’s honour might well be the famous Salmon in Puff Pastry with Stem Ginger and Currants, invented by her mentor George Perry-Smith when she worked for him at The Hole in The Wall, Bath in the Sixties. It accompanied her to Dartmouth when in the early Seventies he set up her and his stepson, Tom Jaine, to run the Carved Angel.

One hitch, though. It’s not in the The Carved Angel Cookbook. I’d got it in my head that  it was. An easy enough mistake to make. You’ll certainly find it in two Jane Grigson books, her Fish Book (1993) and The Observer Guide to British Food (1984),where this great food scholar/cook writes: “I’d gathered that the source of the idea was a medieval recipe, but then I found something almost identical in the Cook and Confectioner’s Dictionary by John Nott (1726, reprinted in 1980). In that more fanciful time, the pastry was scored to look like a fish; inside were mace, butter and ginger in slices, along with the salmon.”

For the salmon Perry-Smith insisted on best Wye, then Tamar when he moved his own restaurant to Cornwall; for Joyce definitely Dart?

There was an obvious affinity between Joyce and Jane (who died of cancer in 1990). Tom recalled Jane and her irascible poet/critic husband Geoffrey coming for dinner to the Angel once. Joyce was apprehensive because at least one recipe had come straight from one of Jane’s books. Fortunately all went swimmingly.

Years later, Joyce would hang a grand Jane Bown portrait of Jane at the threshold of her kitchen and, one further link, Jane’s daughter Sophie was co-author of The Carved Angel Cookbook.

All of which I find fascinating but it still leaves me adrift of a birthday dish. Easy really. Let’s keep the puff pastry. Joyce provides a recipe: you could buy it in but insist on butter. It provides the light casing for a very springlike dish – A Pastry of Quail’s Eggs and Asparagus with a Herb and Cream Sauce. Wild cepes would be a luxury addition but are not essential. Check out the recipe at the end of this article. As for that definitive salmon and ginger en croute dish Google and ye will find. Versions are all over the Public Domain.

So what makes Joyce Molyneux and the Carved Angel so special 30 years on?

I happened to be in Bath this year for International Women/s Day. By odd coincidence that city has been Jan’s home since she retired in 1999, having taken ownership of the Angel years before. I called her groundbreaking before. That she certainly was, as was evident during the infrequent dinners we booked there. Joyce was always there in the properly open kitchen – an innovation in those times – with a larger quotient of female sous chefs than you’d normally encounter. And a sense of calm.

It’s seen as cool these days for kitchen staff, not just servers, to bring out  plate to table. That was the norm there. Local sourcing? Farm to fork? In the book there’s a shot of the chef patron harvesting from her own lofty allotment above the winding River Dart. She made exemplary use of the seafood on her doorstep and first introduced me to samphire plucked from the foreshore.

The menu, invariably just a few dishes, no plate overcrowded, avoided the Froglification of ‘fine dining’ at that time. Still I couldn’t resist substituting feuilleté for puff. The true French influences are obvious, yet they are filtered through the acutely Gallic sensibilities of Perry-Smith, Grigson and, inevitably, Elizabeth David. I can’t recall how many covers there were. Not many. Everyone appeared to be enjoying themselves. We certainly did.

The story of how Joyce achieved such eminence, even for a while keeping a Michelin star,  is striking. Read Rachel Cooke’s tribute as The Observer Food Monthly gave her a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2017.

It traces her journey from domestic science classes designed to equip a gal for marriage (Joyce never wed) via a revelation what gastronomy could be during an eight stint in a Stratford restaurant to the Hole in The Wall epiphany.

How The Carved Angel soared and then, post Joyce, began its descent

When the Good Food Guide named The Carved Angel the Best Real Food Restaurant of 1984 it was a remarkable reward for Joyce Molyneux’s persistence in following her culinary vision. She took over completely when Tom left the following year. In his memoir of that time he quotes a poem about the Carved Angel written by adopted Devonian and regular customer Poet Laureate Ted Hughes: 

‘The Angel carved in wood

Resisted all temptation.

She fasted and withstood

Libidinous immolation

And anointings of breasts

Of birds and thighs of beasts.

She did not bat an eye

When those two loose-mouthed harlots

Claret and Burgundy

Turned glass and drinker scarlet.

She barely coloured – say

Chassagne Montrachet.

She only cracked when Tom

Plucked Sally from the shrine as

A cork out of the Dom.

This bomb among the diners

Shattered the Angel – left

Her not so carved as cleft.’

Joyce continued to run The Carved Angel until 1999. Since her retirement it’s had highs and lows under several ownerships. As The New Angel under turbulent celebrity chef John Burton Race it briefly regained its Michelin star. Nowadays, rebranded The Angel, the kitchen is in the hands of 2018 Masterchef: The Professionals finalist Elly Wentworth. Along the quay the big chef name in town now is Mitch Tonks at The Seahorse. His culinary hero? Joyce Molyneux.

A Feuilleté of Quail’s Eggs and Asparagus with a Herb and Cream Sauce (serves 4)


100g puff pastry; 8 quail’s eggs; 225g green asparagus tips; 1 egg, beaten; sesame or poppy seeds; Messine herb sauce; chervil or watercress, to garnish.


Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface to form a 20cm square, 4mm thick. Trim edges and divide into four 10cm squares. Place on a baking sheet; rest in fridge for at last 30 minutes. Boil  pan of water. Add egg for one and half minutes drain, rinse with cold water and place in a bowl of cold water to rest. Tie the asparagus in a bundle, cook in boiling, salted water until tender (5 mins). Drain and keep warm.

Brush pastry with beaten egg and sprinkle with seeds. Bake in a pre-heated oven, gas mark 9 for 5-7 minutes until golden brown and risen. Out of he oven cut each so there’s a lid. Store the lids in a warm place for use later.

Re-heat the eggs in hot water for a minute and heat the sauce thoroughly. Drain eggs and place two in each pastry case with asparagus and coat with sauce. Cover with pastry lids and garnish.