Thinking With Your Nose

March 25, 2012

 

From Hackney to a Greek taverna in a split second

So spring is finally here. Unfortunately there are few frolicking lambs in Hackney to get one into the vernal spirit so I have done the next best thing and bought a shedload of lamb shoulder and shank for Sunday dinner.

An arresting experience came over me one evening this week. I was jogging in Victoria Park; the air felt mild and close, the light just beginning to fade. All of sudden I smelled souvlaki very strongly (Greek lamb kebabs, NOT your standard takeaway doner). I couldn’t tell whether this aroma was emanating from a local restaurant or a portable barbeque but as it intermingled with the green haze from a man smoking a joint on a nearby bench, I no longer felt like I was in E9.

The serendipity of weed and grilled lamb transported me back in time and space to the summer I spent in Thessaloniki in northern Greece.

I am on my fourth-floor balcony on a hot night in August. The souvlaki shop on the busy street below is doing a roaring trade, selling kebabs to students tipsy on beer and retsina. In the block of apartments opposite mine, I can see at least four different groups of people flagrantly smoking spliffs (the Greek love of cannabis is surely responsible for the Eurozone crisis as much as their predilection for tax evasion).

A string of olfactory connotations follow. Kefalotyri and feta cheese. Lemons and tomatoes. Spanakopites and ouzo. I am sitting with friends in the city’s historic Bit Bazaar. We are at a long table covered with food and booze. We say ‘gia mas’ (cheers) and make another toast while the bouzouki band plays another classic.

Intense personal experiences like these highlight how smell is closely linked to memory (click here for a physiological explanation of why this is). This happens all the time with food. It reveals why food is such an emotive experience for many people. The smell of scones or chicken curry or shepherd’s pie might take you back to an important time in your life, especially your childhood.

For a few minutes, I wasn’t running in Victoria Park. Then the smell of refuse from Regent’s Canal broke the spell and I was back.

 

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Saturday Kitchen's James Martin doubtless abusing Madhur Jaffrey

If I had to pick one cookery show to embody the UK’s relationship to food, it wouldn’t be anything by Jamie or Heston or Greg and John, it would have to be long-running, weekend staple Saturday Kitchen (10am Saturdays, BBC 1).

Viewed in the main by the chronically hungover, Saturday Kitchen treads a fine line between displays of remarkable, inventive cuisine and a vague cynicism towards any dish not to be found on a Wetherspoon menu.

Take this morning’s episode. As usual, condescending Yorkshireman James Martin was at the helm. Martin has fronted TV cookery shows for over 15 years but still retains a stubborn refusal to pronounce the names of ‘foreign’ dishes properly. When a Ken Hom or Antonio Carluccio tells the audience what exquisite native dish they’ve just cooked, Martin is likely to furrow his brow and repeat what he’s heard in the most broken, anglicised fashion possible.

Still, Martin is a likeable enough host. Today he was joined by Gordon Ramsay-trained, Michelin-starred chef Jason Atherton and a-spade’s-a-spade, Welsh comic Rhod Gilbert.

Atherton proceeded to demonstrate how to make his deconstructed ‘English Breakfast’, a favourite at Pollen Street Social, composed of tomato and mushroom purées, white truffle, bacon and an egg cooked in a sous vide bath. Gilbert commented that Atherton’s expensive water bath contraption seemed to do the same as a pot of water left on a hob except you’re a thousand quid down.

Following this, was the popular ‘Food Heaven, Food Hell’ segment in which the non-chef guest has to pick his or her most loved and most loathed dish, one of which will be cooked at the end of the show. For his ‘Food Heaven’, Gilbert chose chicken curry and chips.

Coupled with the mid-morning boozing element (why I’d love to try wines and beers at 10.30 in the morning!), it is these sorts of juxtapositions that make Saturday Kitchen such a resoundingly British show. I propose that recordings of the programme­­ be buried in a time capsule as testament to what it means to be British.

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Hail to the King

February 13, 2012

  In the dominion of Farringdon resides an almighty monarch, HRH The King of Falafel. Residing in his palace, Sara’s Food Store on Leather Lane, The King demonstrates his munificence by serving up delicious falafel wraps to his subjects, the hungry office workers of Clerkenwell Road. The People love The King. And The King loves [...]

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A Question of Taste

January 19, 2012

  What’s the best foodie show on TV right now? Masterchef? How to Cook like Heston? Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations? Wrong, wrong and wrong again. You evidently haven’t been watching A Question of Taste (BBC2, Mondays 7.30pm) – “the food show that puts the quiz into cuisine”. The format is simple: two teams of aspiring [...]

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Kitchen Goblin On The Lamb

January 9, 2012

““I am so sorry for all my recent stupid and irresponsible actions; I am of course devastated for my family and friends, whom I’ve let down and will seek the treatment that is clearly needed.” – AWT These hollow words shall not atone for his heinous crime. HOW DOES HE SLEEP AT NIGHT? BRING THE KITCHEN [...]

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In Praise of Bolognese

January 5, 2012

Some time last week as I lay in a post-prandial food coma typical of the festive period – mouth ajar, diaphragm taut, breathing shallow – I flicked over to UK Chow or some other budget channel on the idiot box. UK Chow was showing an old episode of Can’t Baste, Won’t Baste, or a similarly-titled [...]

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Top Ten Culinary Mistakes

December 13, 2011

Forgetting about a pizza in the oven (“This black carbon disc is our dinner?”) Heating up a can of Campbell’s Condensed Soup without adding water (“So thick and salty”) Forgetting to remove cinnamon sticks from a one-pot dish (“Your tagine tastes like concentrated Christmas”) Putting off milk on your cornflakes (“Time for another visit to [...]

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Burger Me Silly

November 6, 2011

The following morning brought with it a familiar sight in the New England fall – an unsettling, battleship-gray sky releasing fat globules of rain water to the ground below. Equipped only with the most flimsy of umbrellas, we tramped through the streets to Longfellow Bridge, which spans some 500m across the Charles River, connecting Boston [...]

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Beantown

October 30, 2011

I touched down at Logan International Airport with anticipation. Boston is an appealing city. It is one of the oldest settlements in America and has played a pivotal role in shaping the modern United States. It was in Boston that a series of events led to the Revolutionary War (or the War of Independence depending [...]

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How Henry VIII can ease your binge guilt

September 13, 2011

It was a familiar scene, one which has been played out across the world since the dawn of humanity. Late one evening, a young man (myself) arrives home, a bit drunk, and wants food. What’s available that will provide maximum satisfaction with minimum effort? As luck would have it, the remains of a homemade coffee [...]

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