Where to begin? I love food. Have done since I first decided to cook the family meal when my mum went back to work whilst I was still in school, but as I got home an hour before she did it seemed like the right thing to do. She blessed me with the fundamentals; how to make a white sauce starting with a roux and not get it lumpy, how to assemble a casserole or stew of any sort, the importance of timing so that all the elements of a meal arrive on the table cooked, hot and at the same time.
These skills kept me fed through university, where I could make a ham hock and a bag of lentils provide nourishment for most of a week, if not a great deal of entertainment. And in those simple meals, though I didn’t know it at the time, were born my basic philosophy of food – nothing from a packet. Even then, I was fairly sure I could make a better tasting meal from the primary ingredients than ever came from a supermarket microwavable tv dinner tray. And from those days to these, the simple act of preparing food for one person, my wife, or many, gives me pleasure, peace and escape in equal measure. Who has time to worry about the world when you’re trying to dice a perfect brunoise? Give me a sharp knife, a bag of muddy carrots and a chopping board any day over a pre-prepared steam-in-the-bag excuse.
Fast forward to now. I first encountered SALLY2HATS through the medium of Twitter, and later met in person through shared professional interests. I rashly suggested that I would open Dubai’s first pop-up restaurant, and she’s been quietly but persistently reminding me of this notion ever since. Thank you, Sally, it is a mission not yet fulfilled. So when Sally announced that she was participating in a Dubai version of Come Dine With Me, I was intrigued. So much so, that I invited myself to the party, and to my astonishment, she and her fellow bloggers and contestants were gracious enough to include me in their adventure! Interloper maybe, but I was in, and now the onus was on me to come up with the goods. But first, lunch.
First to put her food on the block was another S, The-Hedonista. It was with a significant degree of trepidation that I rang the doorbell, but was met with a broad smile and warm welcome and a swiftly proffered glass of wine. Slowly the realization dawns – we’re all interested in food, its preparation, presentation, and pleasure, and so the conversation quickly turns to discussion of the trials of sourcing ingredients, of concerns for food miles and local availability, of the challenges we all face as chefs. In H’s case, this meant substituting fresh tuna for her intended salmon, as she wasn’t happy with the provenance of what was on the slab that morning. And in that, I think, lies one of the values I cleave most tightly to. I don’t, as a rule, create a menu for a meal in advance, and then stick slavishly to it like so many of the contestants on the televised version of CDWM, though of course they may be obliged to do exactly that by the program makers. No, instead, I like to go to the market, to the shops, to the fishmongers in the morning, to see what they have that day that is fresh and special and delicious, and then build a menu around that. So for my own menu later in the game, I wanted cod, but all the man had was fish that had come in on Wednesday previously, so I came away with this morning’s hammour instead.