A husband and wife team. Yusuf is a professional chef, Clarissa is a designer, events organiser and very good cook. Regular supper clubs in Norfolk, Suffolk, Devon and London. For bookings and event information email unthanksupperclub@gmail.com

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Why I love Nigel Slater

I awoke this morning at 6am thinking about Nigel Slater. I watched his new program Life is Sweets in bed last night on my laptop, my husband was snoring and I was quietly watching a man I really love, with the odd bit of weeping thrown in.
 As a costume designer one has a different view on 'famous people'. I have seen a lot of very famous actors and celebs in their pants, you don't just work together you become friends, see they are (mostly) human beings and the feeling of being a 'fan' does not exist. In fact is is an unspoken no no. You must never be a fan if you work in film and TV. It is the height of unprofessionalism.

So I have this odd (obviously one sided) relationship with Nigel Slater. I try not to be a 'fan' of him, but I do really love him from afar. We have never met, though he has worked closely with a dear old friend of mine. Nigel's approach to cooking has always appealed since I bought 'Real Food' in 1998. Nigel taught me to bake cheese in a box, and make potato pizza for friends when we were pissed and needed cheesy carbs to soak up the booze. Nigel taught me what Tallegio was back then, and awakened a life long obsession with Italian delicatessens.

I read Toast, it made me weep. I have a six year old son, the Mother in me aches with compassion for the loss of his Mum, the drastic change to his life as a nine year old boy and his loneliness. Last night watching 'Life is Sweets', it was very touching to see his poignant memories played out by olfactory and taste triggers. I found it deeply reassuring to watch a program that focused on the emotional and psychological connections we make with food. Nigel's ability to show his vulnerability, is most refreshing. I think we need more of this on TV.

I gave up watching TV about 6 years ago, maybe I am cynical, but it is hard to watch when you have helped make TV programs for 15 years. Occasionally I watch the odd thing back on IPlayer or 4OD. I absolutely cannot watch any food programs without thinking of the script, design, make up & hair and of course the clothes. Masterchef is utterly un-watchable, as is I am afraid is Nigellissima, I love her writing, and her recipes, yes she is very beautiful, but the whole sexy/gluttonous rare steak fellating  thing is akin to walking in on your own Mother masturbating. I just cannot watch.

Nigella Lawson is an impressive franchise. Beautiful books, TV shows, kitchen stuff etc. But it's hard not to feel cynical about the tenuous link of building an entire TV show and (just ready for Chrimbo!) book on a teenage trip to Florence working as a chambermaid is rather stretching it. I gave one episode a go. I bailed out at 'Meatzer'...a dish that is a pizza, but rather that bread dough as a base, she has used minced meat. The sort of colon clogging dish that would not be out of place in a middle American school canteen. It is hard not to envisage the initial planning meeting for this show, I can hear researchers 'throwing around ideas'..I wonder who came up with 'Meatzer'....? Get back to Espresso Martini's! That really was a work of excellence. That said I admire and respect Nigella Lawson as a business woman, I am sure she is a lovely woman, a really fun Mother and friend. I just can't watch.

Because I don't have a telly, but do Tweet I observe lots of realtime reactions to TV programs. One tweet that drew my attention this week was by Trish Deseine. I follow Trish Deseine's blog and tweets. Trish has a rather glamerous balance of wisdom, honesty and cynicism that really appeals to me. She has an authenticity about her frankness towards food and the industry that I really admire. And, I hate to be so superficial, but she has a very beautiful face, no relevance at all, but always lovely to see when here tweets appear in my timeline. It was this tweet that made me watch 'Life is Sweets' on BBC.
Twitter is such an unforgiving platform for criticism, and this eventual gracious interaction really struck a chord. This week those who follow foodie stuff on Twitter will have noticed a very ugly and public bullying of a blogger by some of the UK's top chefs. Everyone is talking, tweeting, blogging about it, so I will not. It was not very nice.

I suppose it is exactly what Trish Deseine found uncomfortable about Nigel Slater's 'Life is Sweets' that drew me to it. It is very refreshing to watch a program that is not sexed up, it is about something real, something emotional, maybe not so easy on the eye or heart, but one can empathise and have an emotional response. It is the humanity that is so appealing. I momentarily loved Nigella when she spoke of her Mother, revealing an emotional and sad story of her late Mothers favourite naughty treat being disposed of after her death. It was real, I felt compassion and respect at the sheer humanity and the chink of vulnerability she allowed us to see. I am sure it is not easy to reveal personal moments when you are a TV personality, but it is helpful for all of us normal people to not be cosseted by endless sexed up, hermetically sealed aspirational gluttony.

It comes down to taste as usual. Of all of the meals I have set down in front of family, friends and strangers I have learnt that one cannot please everyone. I recently made a quince tart at my supper club, it was like membrillio/treacle tart in its texture and flavour, but sweeter with what I thought was just the right acidity. Of the 28 people that ate it, 3 people could not eat it. One person a chef, and a regular to our supper club said it was too sharp for him. Another, who ate the lot and was very drunk, told me it was ''utterly bland and tasteless'' (which was nice) and the third person didn't enjoy the texture. The other 25 people polished off the lot and had many very kind things to say, asking for the recipe and for seconds, which I happily gave. I wasn't offended, my ego was not bruised, I just accept that I can't make every diner happy.

I may be in a minority wanting to see 'real 'people make and discuss 'real' food. My love (yes I know he's gay, a married woman can still love a gay man!) of Nigel Slater is based and has always been based on that. He is honest. He is real. He is not showing off with cheffy and complicated techniques, making the nation all head out to buy ring moulds and water baths. He is showing us how to make food out of simple and honest ingredients, that feed our body, family, friends and dare I say it, minds. Recipes that comfort and will provide my own child with memories later on in life. My little boy gets very excited when we bake a French cheese in a box, something Nigel taught me to do way back in 1998. Thank you for that Nigel.x

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Halloween pumpkin soup fondue

I have been making this pumpkin soup recipe for nearly 10 years now. The basis of it came from a lovely friend called Katie. Katie and I were single girls together. We both worked in the film business. Katie had the good fortune of looking like Princess Diana, and sounding like her too. The resemblance was incredible. Her character however was most unlike the dearly departed Di. 

Katie was a curious wild witch. She had a black cat that could speak and everything. He had names not just in English, but also in Russian and he had his own leather jacket with his name on the back in studs.

We had many silly nights in her minute cottage in the deepest of Bukinghamshire. Drinking too much good wine and moaning about boys, and making each other laugh like wild dogs. Katie was one of those wonderful women who are very capable, more than most. She was witty, clever, immensely talented, compassionate and a fabulous cook. She really made me laugh.

One of the most memorable nights spent with Katie was Halloween. Katie had a very generous sense of occasion. She often cracked out her gun for extra fun, lining up plant pots with eggs on top whilst very drunkenly we would attempt to blow up eggs with the air rifle. I was an awful shot, appalling..Katie was excellent of course. Whenever we wondered what her next door neighbour must have thought I am sure it made us just that little bit naughtier. 
Katie loved fireworks....and explosions. I will never forget the untold abandon and squealing when she insisted on tying toilet roll to the base of a rocket and letting it off. It failed of course and came screeching towards us all screaming like banshees as we just managed to dive across the wet garden into the cottage in our boots. Wonderful madness. Katie liked a bit of danger. 

For some reason I don't see Katie anymore, our lives are different now and we are no longer wreckless, selfish singletons. No doubt like me she will be teaching her children not to play with fireworks and remembering wilder times. 

This soup is for a party, an 'in from the cold' kind of gathering. Increase or decrease the ingredients for the size of your pumpkin. This is for 10 people. The recipe is extremely calorific, so I suggest you all go out for a long walk/slash/ski/snowboard/open water swim/run before you eat it. 


1 litre single cream
300g Gruyere
300g Fontina
5 garlic cloves finely choppes
Freshly grated nutmeg
Slosh of Vermouth
Cup of chicken/veggie stock
2 cans sweetcorn
Flat leaf parsley chopped
Proscuitto, one per serving

Fresh crusty rye bread 
Raw vegatables to dip like carrots, cauliflower etc

Pop your pumpkin into a deep baking tray and cut out a nice lid, so it will fit back onto the pumpkin. 
Carve out the insides and then pour in the cream, sweetcorn, garlic, cheese roughly chopped into cubes, grated nutmeg, vermouth and stock.
It should be quite liquid like, but not too watery, add more cream or stock accordingly fill the pumpkin up to the lid and place the lid on and into the oven on 180 for about 1 hour 45, or until the pumpkin is cooked and almost collapsed. If you lift the lid and smell that the garlic is cooked, it is ready.

When you serve, take a metal spoon and gouge out the inside flesh of the pumpkin, so you get a balance of pumpkin flesh and fondue soup

Serve it with a slice of crispy proscuitto and a handful of chopped parsley. Dip toasted sourdough and raw hunks of vegetables in your pumpkin fondue soup.