Friday, March 20, 2009

Guest Post from Across the Pond

British culinary explosion
by UK resident Claudia Vilato

British food is bad, and everyone knows it. But for the past several years, it has been undergoing a makeover- or more like plastic surgery. There’s the sultry Nigella with her spoon licking and delighted moans tasting a frittata, the feisty Gordon Ramsay, whose madman bullying has pressured newbies to churn out impressive culinary feasts, and the homey Jamie Oliver, whose campaigns to make Britain healthier and tastier has won him both friends and enemies on this pork rind-eating, beer-drinking island. These chefs have done such a great job that they have won fans even in America.

But there’s one chef who has yet to influence across the pond, and interestingly, has the most to offer: Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, the man who started River Cottage. Hugh’s project is simple- he wants people to realize that growing one’s own food is the healthiest, most delicious, and most ethical option there is.

And it’s really fun. Hugh and his team not only grow fruits, veggies, and herbs (as in helicopter, not hour), they also maintain (and kill) chickens, pigs, cows, geese, and lambs, and they hunt wild game and fish. He has mentioned that he does not forget for one minute that the animal he is feeding and caring for will end up on a plate, but he derives much pleasure knowing that, because of him, the animal led a good and happy life and died in a humane way. He might be smug, but I admire his thinking as a smart, ethical alternative to boring, bland, and uptight vegetarianism.

What’s more, I admire his cooking!! Lord above, he is good. I remember watching his Medieval Christmas show, in which he made a stuffed 10 bird roast, from turkey to pigeon and everything in between. On another show he made marshmelllows from scratch, and on another, he and his friends went fishing and cooked the catch with a fresh lemony sauce right on the boat. His book is even better because it’s got recipes and it shows readers how to grow food and raise animals for food. All ingredients are fresh from the farm. He makes such things as zucchini and raisin chutney, lovage soup, fresh made pate, and lamb’s kidneys with chili and lentils. He’s even got this one recipe for beef tartare (totally raw ground beef with raw egg mixed in)—not for the gastronomically challenged!!

In America, there might be some tasty international cuisine, but we certainly hold last place when it comes to food politics. From pesticides to pumping hormones and packing animals into cages, we are sorely backwards in this department. It’s nice to see that the Brits have swallowed their pride enough to address the taste issues in British cooking as well as the political ones. I urge everyone to take a simple test- buy organic carrots and non-organic ones, and see which ones you like better…

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