‘I just love, you know, cooking a steak’

And I just love that. A decorated, game changing London Chef, saying THAT.

Some background: The John Salt in Islington hired uber culinary whizz kid Ben Spalding to run their kitchen. Ben cooked my dinner at Roganic the night I proposed to my wife, then left (I’m led to believe that leaving was unrelated to cooking for me but I think he knew it was never going to get any better than that). Then he did some successful pop ups and markets and bits and pieces and created sexy chef noise all over London. He, Ollie Dabbous and others were and are cutting a tattooed swathe across the capital- brilliant young chefs with attitude, OCD perfectionism and phenomenal standards. The heirs to Gordon, Marco and every supplier’s favourite bankrupt ginger bollix, Aiken.

Spalding’s a superb chef then, and was a great coup for The John Salt, the reviews were phenomenal. He is detail led, distilling his own salt, experimenting with flavour combinations, techniques and textures that 99.9% of our industry could never hope to emulate. Touched with genius, probably.

But so far, it hasn’t quite worked. He left the John Salt under a cloud, each party releasing increasingly combative press releases. When I had the temerity to suggest that it was a bit rum leaving without honouring 2 solid months of bookings or explanation, his ludicrous PR woman, Lexi Proud threatened to sue me. She quickly deleted the tweet but not before my phone rang off the hook with people who had been crossed by this serial, lunatic fantasist. Google her if you don’t believe me- A recent tribunal found her “unduly confrontational, intemperate and challenging”

Anyway, the long and the short of it is that Spalding and The John Salt were an imperfect match, shit happens, sometimes it doesn’t work out and I’m certainly not in the know enough to apportion any blame. He should though get better management. Whoever advised him to speak about a third person  ‘Ben Spalding’ in his press release should not be advising anyone (Hi Lexi!). Ben will find somewhere that fits and he’ll be a big name and people will wax lyrical about his food.

I don’t think I will though, and this is not at all a reflection on him, I’m just done with that style of over worked, prissy, ‘clever’ Michelin grabbing, tasting menu food. Food that is more about the Chef than the customer. And that, folks in a massively verbose roundabout way is where I started, about 4 hours ago.

‘I just love, you know, cooking a steak’

Neil Rankin 2013

I was honoured to be invited to a test dinner at The John Salt last night cooked by newly installed Head Chef, Neil Rankin. I love Neil. He rocks a trademark baseball cap whilst he cooks (I suspect he is a wee bit baldy under there), was head chef at Pitt Cue, without a doubt one of the most important restaurants of the last few years and just GETS IT, where so many chefs don’t. He instinctively knows how to feed. Anyone can cook… Few can properly feed. Rare is the chef that has the brass balls to leave well alone, to take a beautiful ingredient and not puree it with popping candy and truffle oil.

There will be many, many food blogs over the coming weeks and months honouring Neil and his team, then there will be a backlash and Jay Rayner will say that it’s crap and Neil isn’t fit to trim his Athos inspired face muff. That’s just how the game works, you have to play it, be thick skinned and move on. Neil knows this- he’s old (my age) and he’s been there and done that. He knows that he is at the top of his game and he is cooking exactly the kind of food that he likes to eat. He cooks with a rare palate and has that brilliant ability to incorporate great technical skill with seeming simplicity. I’ve never seen anyone do that better.

I loved everything that I ate last night (apart from a bream and bergamot dish that was too perfumed for me). Some of the dishes are set to become instant classics- the raw beef with sesame and pear and the pig skin with crab and fennel were the best things that I have eaten for a long time. Go and look at someone else’s blog for the pictures, or better still, go. You won’t regret it- he does cook a mean steak…. With love, blistering hot charcoal and genuinely the best chips that I have ever eaten in my life.

I nearly didn’t write this.

I nearly thought ‘let it go, who cares…. It will be forgotten by tomorrow’, but it’s stuck in my craw like an errant herring bone. Followers of this blog (Ha!) will know that I only write one post a year when something riles me significantly enough to put calloused finger to keyboard- 2 years ago it was the hideous Taste of London corporation, last year it was Laura Zilli, which included a passionate paean to proper chefs and all of their unseen toil and pain. This year it’s those same chefs that have got my back up

It happened last night, as is the modern way, on Twitter and concerns a young man called James Isherwood. James is the chief restaurant critic of the New York Times, Chairman of the Guild of Food Writers and has written 4 award winning cook books. His opinion carries a LOT of weight.

Except he’s not. And it doesn’t.

James is a very average writer of a very average blog. He enjoys interacting with the ‘Big Beasts’ of the chef world, always on the lookout for crumbs (tweets) from their mighty tables. His Blog is rather sweetly called ‘Dining with James’ and if you read all of it (there’s only 12 posts), you will find the meanderings of an amateur food writer, writing about his dinner. There isn’t much flair, élan or technical knowledge on show but neither is there in most of the Chefs in this country.

James has a hundred and something followers on Twitter and until last night, I would suggest that his blog attracted stats in the single figures- he has literally no comments for any of his posts. He is at worst a wannabee, naïve, maybe a wee bit delusional but ultimately harmless. There is literally no one in the world that would cancel a restaurant booking on the advice of James.

James had dinner at Hibiscus, stomping ground of the great Claude Bosi- holder of 2 Michelin stars, technical genius and at the forefront of British and indeed global cuisine. A bear of a man with glowing reviews, the respect of his peers and at the top of his game.

Unfortunately he has now shown himself to be an insecure mess of a man and a bully. Wee James had the temerity to ‘award’ Hibiscus 3 stars out of 5 on Trip advisor and say that he didn’t like his starter. Monsieur  Bosi took exception to this and offered the following advice:

Followed by

So that’s nice.

The interesting thing here is that Bosi assumed that a paying guest wanted the respect of the Chef and not a nice dinner. And that says it all. Cook the food and shut up. If you cook nice food you’ll do well, if you don’t you’ll close. If you demand the ‘respect’ of your customers you are a self-important blow hard who has positioned the art of cooking up there with fighting in the trenches or treating the sick. It’s not. It’s cooking. I do it, you do it, and my 90 year old Nan does it. It’s just cooking.

Also, and this was widely picked up on by the gang of cheffy wannabee sycophants, Bosi asked James if he had enjoyed his meal and James said yes!


Hands up if you have had a duff meal and then mumbled through gritted teeth ‘yes it was lovely thank you’ And then paid a full tip? Everyone? Thought so. Why on EARTH do chefs think that I, as a paying customer want my expensive evening out to be sullied with a confrontation with an overbearing chef? Again its utter arrogance.

Or as @happyappetite put it : This passive aggressive “it was lovely”/trash online shite is pathetic, no other word for it.

Followed by

Just to register my tuppence worth, @James_Isherwood you’re a stupid cunt who devalues decent bloggers..

Then all the big guns joined in! Tom Kerridge, a chef who I have never heard anyone say a bad word about, a bit of a hero of mine and a real personality chipped in uninvited

@tomkerridge now your just being a c#nt! #notwelcomeinanyrestaurantever! #bellend seeya dickhead

@tomkerridge smash him in chef Bosi #chefsunite

@tom kerridge who is this guy??? What a loser!!

The especially sad and poignant thing about this is that in July, James wrote a gushing review of Tom’s 2 star gaff, The Hand and Flowers. Kerridge is quite obviously his hero and it must have been so crushingly dispiriting to be so publicly bitch-slapped.

‘You leave the hand and flowers full, content and with a smile on your face.congratulations go to Tom kerridge who got everything spot on’

He wrote.

Did Kerridge or any of his acolytes ever read it? Of course not, they’d never heard of him.

So that’s 4 stars having a pop. Shall we add another 2? Yep? OK- Here’s what Sat Bains had to add to the discourse

@satbains heard a really good saying once, and it rings true today!!!! @claudebosi @ChefTomKerridge there is a c**t amongst us.!!!

And on and on it went.

Until James had had enough and deleted his account and got the hell off Twitter.

Well done Chefs. Nice work. A victory for common sense. How dare some nobody pleb have the temerity to criticise YOU.

Do you know what- you made me ashamed to be a chef last night, you made be ashamed to be on twitter and you have done nothing but bad for our industry. Yes we know a restaurant lives or dies by its reviews, yes we know that Trip Advisor is unedited and sometimes destructive. But calling a paying customer a ‘cunt’, on a public forum for not liking his starter…… That’s gonna kill you before any pee wee blogger. Stand up, say sorry and be real men. Bullying is not for this industry, nor any. I am shaking with anger writing this. If you laid into James Isherwood, from the safety of your laptop last night or this morning you should put your hand up right now and say sorry.  Except you can’t.  Because he’s gone.

And if you want to bully someone, try me, try someone who can take it, who has a forum to fight you back. I dare you. Even if it destroys me and my career I won’t let you do this shitty thing in my name #chefsunite?  My hairy, chef-whited arse they do.

But YOU want a TV show!’

‘Of COURSE your piss is pickled! But no one else cares- she has great rack and sultry eyes! You’re just jealous cos you’re not purdey’.

I’m not you know. Jealous. Or for that matter,  pretty.

I’m sad. Actually sad, depressed, disillusioned and royally ticked off…… Because I want my own TV show? Not entirely. But, well, yes- of course I do- let’s be honest here- would you rather sweat your knackers off, cooking for people who don’t care, earning not much more than an hourly minimum wage, or prance around on telly earning some big bucks, with a book deal tied in? It’s a no brainer. Don’t judge me- ask yourself the same question. It’s so English not to admit what you want. I want a telly show- primetime telly. I want all the cash and an adoring public. I want a book deal that bears absolutely no correlation to the quality of my knowledge and writing ability.  And I don’t want to get up at 6.30 any more to start lunch prep. Oh. It turns out I am jealous. Who knew.

But I don’t have perky tits, a (mildly) famous father and ABSOLUTELY no moral qualms. In short I am not the fragrant Laura Zilli.

Here is the article that I read yesterday http://goo.gl/INoKX . Have a look. But do come back, I’m just warming up.

Have you read it? How do you feel? Do you have a tingling fury in your very marrow? I do.  About every crapulous sentence. The NAME for Christ’s sake. ‘High Class Cooker!’  Really? REALLY? You are going on telly promoting yourself as a whore. A slut. A prostitute. That’s nice. What a lovely message for the kids. What is she going to cook? Slag Aloo? Who is advising the poor girl? Her famously media savvy ‘celebrity chef’ father Aldo Zilli perhaps?

HIYA everyone!!!! I’m a High Class Hooker! An Expensive Slut! A Pricey Whore! It is mind boggling. Isn’t it? Am I being priggish? I’m not usually.

Is it her fault? Probably not. She’s just another fame hungry wannabe of the X factor generation. She has already appeared on the laughably awful Channel 4 ‘documentary’ ‘Seven Days’. Her Biography for that programme states thus:

 ’Laura is pursuing a music career and is as (sic) a singer songwriter With a large circle of friends, she loves to socialise in London and is often seen at exclusive events. Laura’s a country girl at heart and spends most of her weekends riding her horses. She is currently in a long distance relationship. Her father is renowned celebrity chef Aldo Zilli’

How’s the music career going Laura?


Oh well. I mean you only had prime time advertising on Channel 4 and your father’s connections. It’s tough out there and you wouldn’t want to lower yourself to being Cowell fodder or, you know, gig.

I know! Do some food telly!

Look. I’m sorry, this is just turning into a mean spirited attack on Miss Zilli and I have never met the girl. I’m sure she is quite charming. But why is she getting a food programme? Why? Because her father has a chain of mediocre to awful restaurants and plays the ‘celebrity’ card at every opportunity? Or because she is quite nice looking?


I’ll tell you some reasons that weren’t discussed in that particular commissioning meeting. Has she ever trained as a chef? Has she done double shift after double shift shucking oysters until her fingers bled? Has the energy of a professional kitchen caused her to succumb to drug abuse, depression or insomnia? Is she engaging on television? Likeable? Humble? Can she write an informative, fascinating and ground breaking book? Does she really CARE about food? Could she hold her own in an in-depth debate, with chefs about seasonality and provenance? Does she have a single recorded opinion about food or things culinary that is not contained in that Mail article?

Or is she a failed singer/songwriter with a pretty face and a Dad who once upon a time cooked average, overpriced food in Soho.

It’s a joke. A bad one. And it REALLY, really matters. And it’s not fair.

I feel sorry for people like Lorraine Pascale and Gizzie Erskine, who will get tarred with the same brush as Miss Zilli. Did they get on TV because they are beautiful? Well yes, that  probably helped. But they went to catering college; they have both worked in top restaurants. They both live and breathe FOOD. You can just tell. Laura Zilli just wants to be famous and you shouldn’t let her get away with it.

The average chef in this country earns £19,000 and works harder than you could possibly imagine. Depression and suicide is rife within the profession and Miss Zilli’s message to the lowly plebs is that it is OK to cook in Louboutins.

This isn’t about misogyny (though calling yourself a ‘high class cooker’ surely opens oneself to certain lines of criticism); it’s about modern life and everything I abhor about it. Hugh’s ‘Three Hungry Boys’ nonsense upset me greatly. And don’t get me started on those bloody Baker Boys. This isn’t about Laura Zilli being a woman. This is about Laura Zilli having no qualifications whatsoever and demeaning the profession that I so love with a tawdry piece of tabloid twattery that should never ever have seen the light of day.





Note: If you would like to see Aldo Zilli a. forget my name on live telly and b. admit that he cooked frozen broccoli in his awful (now defunct) vegetarian restaurant then google our names together.

Last night I went on a date with my fiancee. And on the 16th of September 2010 I wrote half a blog that I never finished and never published because it was sad. I have just found it.  On the 15th of September 2011 I asked someone to marry me. In 364 days everything changed.

‘Being single in your thirties is a funny thing. Not funny ha ha. Or funny peculiar, particularly. Just funny in a ‘funny sort of fits’ lazy writing kind of way. I believe the kidz today are saying Meh..? Because right now, on this day, I am largely indifferent to being single. But last week I was desperate to be in a relationship. Today I am focused on the exciting new path my career has taken recently and the fact that tomorrow I am seeing most of my best friends for an old school day of fun and frolics. But on Monday I might well start working out how old I will be on my first child’s 18th birthday if I don’t have one in the next five years.

And thinking that it is a bit weird to be single when you are thirty three. I can’t quite see past that. It does mean that something hasn’t quite worked out. This might just be that you ‘haven’t met the right person yet’ but it might (might it?) allude to something more? something more difficult to accept or even admit? I am fairly sure that I am a difficult boyfriend in many ways and I suspect am becoming more so. I work funny hours, like reading the paper in peace and quiet and really hate doing things that I don’t want to do. Like going for lunch at your parents house when I have a hangover or going clubbing in Shoreditch for your idiot friends birthday.

I was the one in my late teens and early twenties who always had a girlfriend, pretty much constantly from 18-23. I thought at 23 that I was going to marry my girlfriend. We had a little garden flat, a cat and for a time an amazing thing. But she came home one Sunday night, said she wanted to break up and that was that, I never, ever saw her again, to this day. I think we still have a joint bank account somewhere. And I wonder sometimes if the brutality of that break up, the near insanity that I experienced over the next 6 months has affected my ability to be in a grown up relationship now.

Since then I have flitted in and out of various relationships, six months here, a year there. Had hundreds of blind dates, internet dates, one night stands and two week flings but never come remotely close to knowing beyond all doubt that this was the mythical one. And in that decade, that decade, Jesus, nearly all of my friends, cousins and peers have done it. Have found another person that they want to spend all of their time with. And the older I get, the more cantankerous and set in my ways that I become, the more unlikely it seems that I will even want to spend my time with any one.

But we repeat the single person’s mantra about not having met the ri…blah blah blah. And we get drunker at weddings than everyone else and we go home to mums and sleep in a single bed whilst our younger married siblings take the en-suites.’

It’s amazing. I had given up hope- I know that I wrote it, because it is saved in the ‘drafts’ section of my blog, but I don’t recognise that person, that ennui, bordering on despair. Thing is, I was right. There probably is something wrong if you are in your thirties and single. There is something wrong with you. There was something wrong with me. But that’s OK, because somewhere there is someone with something wrong with them too, but it’s your kind of wrong. And you make each other better. And that’s just fine. Three days after I wrote the above, I met Sara and last night we had dinner in Quo Vadis and laughed until we cried. She’s my kind of wrong and I’m hers.

You will notice that I haven’t written much recently. This is because I am happy with my lot. I am content rather than miserable, chirpy not blue. And it is an absolute bastard for the creative process. But then I went to Taste of London and worked up a nice bubbling fury that got the old juices flowing.

I have been to The Taste of London festival a lot over the years and in fact went to the first one ever with my friend Jo. Those were the days. For ONE  POUND , Marco Pierre White and Gordon Ramsay would cook lobster in dragon’s breath and feed it to you with a runcible spoon whilst tossing each other off. And you always had change for a hap ’worth of chips and a Dandy on the way home. Those were the days my friends. Good times.

Now though. Now! It’s a joke. A cynical escapade in the art of corporate money making. A machine, a clinical humbuggerance designed to empty your pocket faster than The Artful Dodger on crack.

That it is sponsored by British Airways should be a clue, that Waitrose has the biggest stand another. This isn’t a celebration of British food, or even British restaurants. It’s a shopping mall. Without a roof. In London. In June. So what you have essentially is a flooded shopping mall. It is Westfields with pissing rain and mud. Joy of heavenly joys.

Oh wait though! Give us £26 quid for the pleasure! So a dank, wet shopping mall with no parking, surly security guards, ridiculous currency and an exorbitant entry charge. How wonderful. Can I get a ticket for next year please?

‘But it’s a celebration of British restaurants you miserable git!’ Is it bollocks. It’s an opportunity for celebrity chefs to unleash their commis chefs from their basement manacles to slop tepid pork belly onto a polystyrene plate. Oh and charge you 14 crowns.

Ah yes. Crowns. They sound nice don’t they? Sort of medieval and quaint. You can imagine a troupe of travelling jesters doing their weekly shop with Crowns in Dribblecock-under-Wold or similar as they pass verily and merrily through.

Well think again friend. Crowns are not quaint and cute and dripping with historical chutzpah, they are yet another cynical and manipulative way for The Taste Corporation to extract their pound of flesh. For should you ever be daft enough to exhibit your product at one of their festivals you can expect to pay thousands of pounds for a tiny stand next to the loos AND, then at the end of each trading day you MUST hand all of your crowns in. These will be counted and you will then be sent a cheque months later. Less ten percent. Yes that’s right. They charge you for your pitch and then skim off your profit margin for good measure. Of course if Taste  just used cash the evil exhibitors might slip a few un-taxed quids out in their knickers. Oh, and if you, the punter, happen to have a couple of crowns left at the end of the day? Bad luck! Take them home and wipe your arse with them for all the value they have. Cha-ching! Bless Taste and their joyful ‘celebration’.

Half an under seasoned Scotch egg cost Four Pounds at the Quo Vadis stand. Half a Scotch egg. That means (keep up) that a SCOTCH EGG costs EIGHT POUNDS That’s essentially an egg, a slice of white bread and a few chipolata sausages. For eight quid. It’s not even a Golden Eagle egg. I’d pay eight quid for a lovely Golden Eagle Egg. And wash it down with dolphin tears and a fat cigar. But eight, new shiny pound coins for a stupid chicken egg in sausage meat makes me want to suck out my own eyeballs and Scotch them.

It gets me down, it really does. It’s not really the restaurants fault, God only knows how much they are paying for one of the premium stands, but why do it? I genuinely don’t understand what benefit for example Le Gavroche or similar get from being there? The food cannot be anything like as good as that served in their restaurants and the public are alienated by what looks from the outside as extreme stinginess.

But what do I know.

I know that I am a consumer, that I eat for pure joy. That I book every holiday I ever go on because of the food. I cook for people and make a living from it and dream of the perfect Scotch egg. And I know, most pertinently of all,  that I trudged out of The Taste of London with a heavy heart and an empty pocket and said to myself that never again would I support this corporate behemoth, posing as something, somehow wholesome and something, somehow good.