I am the proud owner of this ridiculous piece of 70s kitchen equipment called The Little Lovin’ Fan Oven. Because apparently no other colours existed in the 70s, its colour-scheme is various shades of brown and other brown, it’s built to survive nuclear fallout and consists of about one moving part. It was given to my parents as a wedding present and, when they got divorced was handed down to me (well, more accurately… I stole it. I was a student and we’ll take anything that isn’t actually made of poo or welded to the ceiling, as any bar-owner in Grahamstown will tell you). The most amazing quality of this hunchbacked cooking throwback, is that even though it’s been glued back together more times than a Morningside housewife’s sex-toy, it still works (much the like the Morningside housewife’s sex-toy – again, only one moving part…). Not only does it still work, it kicks the ass of just about every piece of cooking equipment I’ve ever owned and possibly will own in the future. This rather belabored point is meant to go some way to show that, apart from having some seriously questionable ideas about personal grooming, those guys from 40 years ago had fairly good ideas about what works when it comes to kitchen machinery. Apparently their ideas of what to do with that kitchen machinery haven’t lasted with similar grace and hardiness.
I guess one likes to think of food as some sort of constant. An unchanging thread that currently links us as humans across the world, but backwards and forwards across time as well. The thing is that food is as subject to trends as anything else – perhaps even more so. Remember the Great Sundried Tomato Craze of the mid-90s? Our current obsession with pomegranates? “Fusion” Food? And now, Organic everything? It was watching those two teletubbies from Masterchef rather scornfully ridicule some poor well-intentioned contestant who wanted to stuff an aubergine, proclaiming that “we” stopped doing that in the 70s. This annoyed the hell out of me, because I suddenly realized that the fickle ridiculousness of “fashionable” food is threatening to leach the fun and universality out of what should be a purely pleasurable past-time without any exception (so how about you take that snot-faced attitude and go lick the ceiling of a bar in Grahamstown, Masterchef Morons, because I know for a fact that, with cavalier disregard for what “we” do, I stuffed the crap out of a tomato the other night and it was bloody delicious,). What we see as completely natural and almost universal food combinations can almost completely disappear in the space of a decade, and even the more ‘universal’ combinations are for the most part, incredibly recent ideas. Medieval cooks had very few of the spices, herbs and condiments that we take for granted today. Food was often not salted, it was packed full of honey and more often than not drowned in pastry and cloves to disguise the fact that the meat was more often than not on the wrong side of ripe. No potatoes, no rice, no tomatoes. Lots of bread, lots of cheese, lots of mushrooms, lots of pigeons, squirrels, lots of grouse, pheasants, partridge, chickens, ducks and geese.
Actually, that sounds very similar to a meal I had in Krugersdorp once.
How we approach and think about ingredients changes all the time, depending on fashions, world social trends and the inventiveness of a few famous restaurateurs and TV chefs. The thing I struggle with is trying to decide if I want to listen to that rather small group of “foodie elites”. On the one hand it’s nice to be exposed to fresh ideas and new directions, but on the other hand, dammit – if I want to have a fondue, then I’m fucking going to have one, and Gordon Ramsey can go jump up his own bum. Possibly the only way to do it would be to start a restaurant that specializes in dishes that have gone out of fashion. The centrepiece of the menu? Chicken Kiev. Starters of Prawn Ritz and little cubes of gelatin with ham in them will definitely be on the cards. Fondue? Certainly. Medieval grouse pie? Sure thing. Steak Flambe! Salads packed full of sundried tomatoes, Rice pudding, Black Forest Gateau, and entire trays of things that can be stuffed with other things.
It’s time to be deliberately untrendy, to cook and eat what we like and not to worry that the food police are looking over our shoulder all the time.