Food & Drink: Cooking up resolutions

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Indy Lifestyle Online
THIS IS to wish you a happy new year, a time at which I am sure you are all making resolutions, as I am. The trouble with resolutions is that they are prospective: the future seems a grander, more open place than the past, and almost unlimited in its possibilities. I, who am more prudential than most, limit myself in each new year to an attempt to root out the evils of the past. Most of my culinary resolutions concern things that I intend no longer to do.

Here is my list:

I will never again stay in a service flat that purports to offer catering facilities and does indeed have a dishwasher, hobs, a convection oven, six chairs and a dining-room table - but only three plates and no cutting board.

I will never again say to my daughter, who has prepared Christmas dinner for 12 of us, that her sauce for the turkey was watery. The sight of her telling me how many hours she had spent preparing that sauce was enough to deter me from offering advice to the young.

I promise not to explode when I read of a restaurant being extolled when I have eaten there often and with disastrous results. I shall be charitable to others' opinions and tastes.

I promise, in Prague and elsewhere, to take into account local difficulties and to be politically correct, even when I am famished and no food is put before me in the first hour or two.

I shall never again cast aspersions on the food in Germany, lest I receive four-page, single-spaced letters telling me how little I know about the joys of German cuisine.

I swear to a lot of restaurateurs not to praise their establishments when they have just lost their chefs and, to the diners who visited those establishments, never to guarantee that their meal is going to be as good as the one I ate.

I vow to make no disparaging remarks about the effects of the European Community's agricultural and food policy without consulting the huge number of food producers who seem wildly interested in a particular item on the Brussels agenda.

On a more positive note:

I will aim at quite a few improvements in my cooking technique. As advised by gastronomes in my family and among my guests, I shall attempt to make my dishes look nice, even if that means a long time spent wiping away bits of sauce that have dribbled to the edges of a plate - not to speak of quarter-hours spent making vegetables that are round by nature assume shapes with greater fantasy.

I shall seek to reduce the part of improvisation in my cooking to something less than 90 per cent, and to perfect that sauce that everyone admired so much to the point where I can actually reproduce it.

I shall practise the culinary martial arts to the point where I can slice and dice and chop as do the chefs I occasionally see on television - though I am certain that behind each Julia Child there is someone holding a board that reads 'Take 18', 'Take 19' and so on. After all, a knife is a knife and it is high time I learnt how to use one properly.

In writing, I shall seek a becoming modesty. I will make it seem that I am an ordinary cook doing ordinary things which, indeed, is what I do in the kitchen, though this is not always apparent when I write about the food I cook or eat. I offer to do this, though I know - principally from the fear my guests have of inviting me back for meals in their homes - that I am not entirely ordinary, as how could anyone be whose food-memory stretches back 60 years? And I would offer to throw in a few truly bad meals; if, of course, I were not afraid to lose my hard-earned reputation as a fin bec, or lover of the good things of life.

Finally, a few resolutions I cannot guarantee I will keep:

I shall seek earnestly to be aware of all the currents of sentiment that surround me and be nice, until I stick my fork into them, to all the animals I eat or contemplate eating. I shall certainly not lean out of the window of a car in the Alps and refer to the number of legs of lamb visible against the green of the grass. This is, of course, self-protection, as I have given up answering the zealots who write to excoriate me for my omnivorousness.

I shall desist from writing to the Surgeon General in the United States, or the authorities elsewhere, asking them why they need to spoil the pleasures of wine by frightening us to death with the risks attendant on living one's life as one wishes.

I will, once a year, and during Lent, accept an invitation to a non-smoking house: but only if the weather on the door-stoop, the veranda or in the garden is suitable for the enjoyment of my vices.

I will continue to praise and encourage those who embark on cooking as Columbus set forth for America - in ignorance of the goal - for blessed is he who invents for himself and for others, and learning cannot be far behind.

The trouble with a new year, you will observe, is that it is remarkably like the old year. One can only be oneself. And in my resolution there is a touch of what a French writer wrote, when asked to produce a brief autobiography. He feared, he said, that he would be led into invention, and it was perhaps better not to try at all.

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