I recently sent an piece to Mr. Gustav Temple, editor of the excellent periodical, The Chap. He was not in the least bit interested. But as I was rather proud of it, especially as it is the only piece of food writing I have been happy with, I thought I should publish it here.
Having been a reader of your publication for some time, I resolved to write a piece for consideration. The subject is one which I have often felt is under-represented in your pages – GASTRONOMY. Good food is to the Chap’s
constitution as good grooming is to his appearance, and any chap worth his brogues cannot afford to be ignorant on such an issue.
It is 1,100 words long, including both a sidebar and a recipe section. I do
hope that you find it both edifying and instructive.
Your sinc. ect ect,
David G. Robertson
The adage that cooking is “womens’ work” is as thin and tired as Gwyneth Paltrow. In the civilised countries of Europe, it is men who do the cooking, while the women lay table and tend the children. This way, they do not risk dirtying their finery or ruining their composure, two eventualities that might severely curtail their attractiveness. The widespread abandonment of the kitchen by men has led to a generation raised on canned and frozen victuals who are happily ignorant of what good food tastes like, and who consider wandering in after a popular sporting events and several measures of watery lager to a large meal without flavour or nutritional value, cooked without enjoyment or flair, to be somehow befitting a man. Coves, each.
Our grandfathers’ generation knew better. Robert Frost carried a cast iron skillet all the way to Belgium with him, an undertaking that, although treacherous, amply rewarded him when he was able to knock out a stunning bouillabaisse using a stove created from tin cans and candles. Churchill himself was known to whip up a tarte au flet in his study in No. 10 to sustain him through his mammoth insomniacal work sessions.
It is my contention that any Chap worth his whiskers should be able to step into a kitchen and rustle up eggs Benedict without dirtying his tweeds or ruffling his hair: woe betide he who cannot sear a steak when the situation demands. Good food is to the constitution what good grooming is to the appearance, and both should be of utmost importance to the Chap. Being able to cook grants you self-reliance: no panic as you realise that your wife has not left you any supper; no frantic dash to the grocer’s for a Pot Noodle, that modern culinary onanism – momentarily satisfying but cheap and ultimately leaving you feeling empty and riddled with shame. Rather, you look after yourself, as every chap should, and what is more you do it with a detached, casual aplomb.
Forget cowardly aprons: upon stepping into the kitchen, the Chap’s first move should be to pour himself a stiff drink. Wine will suffice: brandy or whisky would be better. Next, he will furnish himself with a knife. Let no serrated edge or plastic handle sully your cooking: a Chap’s knife should be an elegant, unadorned union of steel and wood, with a cool, functional beauty, and as sharp as the crease of your trousers. Let your favourite find its natural place in your kit between a well-made compass and your Army-issue pistol; but do not sully yourself with such pointless modern fripperies as the egg-slicer, the juicer nor the (shudder) “flavour-shaker”.
Run not with the herd: reject the bland fare of the proletariat! Equally, disregard over-thought modern fare based on some inexperienced chef’s misunderstanding of exotic cuisines. The Chap cooks with strong flavours and fresh ingredients, shuns what is unnecessary, and does as little to his ingredients as possible. The perfect chap recipe consists of a few swift, precise cuts, with the results thrown casually into a smoking pan, tossed with insouciance and emptied nonchalantly onto the plate. For your edification, we present three such dishes below. The lady thus presented, having heard her pulse quicken with excitement, will feel her heart melt and affections loosen as the first fork-full reaches her tongue. Accompanied by a good wine, such a meal all but guarantees her acceptance of any proposal of marriage. Be careful, therefore, that you do not indulge so much that any such proposal seems like a good idea.
It is an unfortunate truth that the present generation of aspirant chaps has been utterly terrified out of ever setting foot in the kitchen by a crop of scoundrels masquerading under the misnomer “Celebrity Chefs”. That anyone should seek to emulate the behaviour of the lip-chewing, faux-proletarian illiterate Jamie Oliver, corpulent offal-munching dipsomaniac Anthony Worrall Thompson or the trust-fund-abusing hedgerow-rustler Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is an indictment of the decline in values in the latter half of the Twentieth Century.
Yet the chap has a role model in Second Lieutenant Keith Floyd, whose louche, stylishly disheveled form habituated our television screens through the 1980s and ’90s. Never without a tuxedo and a glass of something in his hand, he travelled the world, knocking out a fair approximation of the local cuisine while apparently having a thoroughly jolly time. We may question many of his life-choices, but at least he was never reduced to making advertisements for a supermarket.
Chaps from a secret service rather than military background may prefer Len Deighton, whose career combined writing spy novels like The Ipcress File with books on cookery. His Action Cookbook, recently reprinted, is guaranteed to edify those who see no reason why fine dining and espionage do not make perfect bedfellows.
- Asparagus Parmesan – take a fistful of asparagus spears, drizzle with olive oil and put into a char-grill, grill pan or under a hot grill. Make sure to turn them a few times. When they are thoroughly roasted on the outside and floppy when you pick one up, take them off the heat, and throw on a plate. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar and olive oil, throw on cracked black pepper and Malden’s sea salt. Shave Parmesan with a potato peeler straight on top, and serve.
- Steak Tartare – cut up a little fillet steak until it’s almost as fine as mince. Chop up a shallot, some chili, parsley and a pinch of capers and gherkins. Add a dash of lemon juice, Tabasco, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper, and mix the whole thing up. Taste, and adjust the seasoning if it needs it. Fill a teacup with the mixture and turn it out onto the centre of the plate. Serve garnished with parsley, or, for the traditionalist, the yolk of an egg placed on top.
- Mouilles Marinier – Put a pot with a tight-fitting lid on a high flame. Take a bowl and just fill it to the brim with mussels, rejecting any that remain stubbornly open – they are dead. Slice an onion and chop a clove of garlic, and add these to the bowl with a few grains of salt and a good grind of pepper. Throw the whole thing into the smoking pan, pour in a glass of white wine or cider, and replace the lid forthwith. After five minutes, check that the mussels are now all open. This being the case, add a dash of cream and a little roughly-chopped parsley. Cook for two more minutes, and pour back into the bowl. Serve with half a lemon and some crusty bread.