Food: The outing of nerdy food
Sunday 11 July 1999
It's no good even trying. The average human body can only take so much fashionable food before the various systems start shutting down. Sooner or later, the fine food receptors get frayed and thin, and the jus diviners lose their intensity. The nasal fragrance detectors start breaking down; the cappuccino sauce selective channel gets stretched and flabby from overuse. That's where nerdy food comes in.
We need nerdy food to counteract the toxins and to reinstate the brain cells lost to an excessive intake of modish food and wine. The idea goes right back to the ancient seesaw of Chinese culture, the Yin and Yang thing. The Chinese believe that food, as with all things in life, should be a balance between the Yin and the Yang, the twin forces that ultimately control our lives. Yang is the male force symbolised by heat, light and energy, while the female Yin is more cooling, comforting and dark. That makes fashionable food very Yangish, with its adrenalin-rush service and look-at-me presentation, leaving all that hard Yin work to be done by nerdy food.
So a fricassee of lobster with an individual potato gratin needs to be offset as soon as possible with something like pea and ham soup, or maybe some smoked oysters straight from the tin. A risotto of nettles with asparagus spears and black truffles can be countered by a good old- fashioned kedgeree, blushing pink with tomato sauce.
When the Yang in you craves a cassoulet de Castelnaudary, allow the Yin - after a decent interval of passing wind - to go for canned baked beans on toast.
A northern banquet of drunken chicken, Peking Duck and squirrel cut fish will reach your Yangy parts, but only fried rice will get to the parts banquet cuisine cannot reach. Likewise, boudin noir with Puy lentils requires curried sausages. Bouillabaisse needs to be offset by a bowl of Mulligatawny. Anything with foie gras can easily be countered by anything with HP sauce. You get the picture.
Don't tell me you don't achieve a balance in every other area of your life. You may step out in your Paul Smith and your Patrick Coxes to see the latest Polish arthouse film on Monday night, but by Wednesday you're staying in, curled up in the cooking-stained tracksuit and your coming-apart trainers, watching Neighbours on video. Even Australians think staying home to watch Neighbours is daggy.
If you're not sure about what constitutes the ignoble art of nerdy food, then picture yourself eating it in public. If you can't, it's nerdy. Nerdy food is a private pleasure, best practised with the blinds drawn and the telephone off the hook.
The worst thing to happen to nerdy food is that - ye gods - it is suddenly becoming fashionable. Nigel Bloody Slater started it, with all his spoon- licking and sticky puddings. Simon Bloody Hopkinson did a book on it. Now everybody's doing it. They think it's chic, in a we-know-what-we're- doing-is-ironic kind of way.
But do they realise what they are really doing? Do they not understand the tide of history, the great cycle of humanity? If they force nerdy food out of the kitchen closet and on to the television screens and into the Damien Hirsted dining rooms of the gastroscenti, then Yin can't do its thing with Yang and the whole country is up the spout. The natural order of things is all but scuttled.
And we all know what would happen then. There we would be, in our baggy tracksuit pants at Bibendum and Mirabelle and The Square, scoffing down chip butties. With cups of tea, for chrissake.
That leaves the noisettes of lamb with Provencal herbs and a red wine glaze for Sunday night tea at home, with just the two of you, dressed in Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen, listening to a little Miles Davis. Also present on the crisp tablecloth are candles, and a decent bottle of Cotes du Rhone, and there is a fine chocolate almond cake waiting in the wings. Which is probably how the world should be, when you come to think of it.
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