HARD on the heels of the Gastropod's mention of Tabasco - and its subsequent lyrical endorsement by readers as the essential barbecue condiment - comes news of an ecological disaster not entirely unrelated to this sauce. The New Scientist has reported that the swamplands of Avery Island, Louisiana, where Edmund McIlhenny invented Tabasco 125 years ago and where the McIlhenny family has been making the stuff ever since, have been overrun by coypus, the large South American rodents introduced to the region by E A McIlhenny, son of Edmund.

A renowned naturalist, E A cultivated the island's 200-acre Jungle Garden, and helped to save the Snowy Egret from extinction by building special piers in a pond nicknamed Bird City, where some 20,000 waterfowl now nest. However, he also imported a dozen coypus from Argentina and kept them as pets until a hurricane liberated them from their outdoor pen. Now millions of the voracious critters are devouring the vegetation that binds the coastal marshes together.

But Ned McIlhenny Simmons, the maternal great-grandson of Edmund, president of the family firm and a trained biologist, is not unduly concerned. He reckons that coypus are no bigger nuisance than the native muskrats, which also 'eat out' the marsh. He agrees, however, that something should be done about the coypu population. It used to be kept in check by trappers, but they have stopped hunting the pesky rodents since the price of pelts plummeted a few years ago.

It mystifies the Gastropod that the good burghers of Avery Island have yet to hit upon the obvious solution. Coypu meat probably tastes a little like gamey guinea pig. Why not throw a few coypus on the barbie and serve them seasoned with Tabasco?

AS OTHERS settled in front of the television last Sunday evening to watch the all-male final of Masterchef, the Gastropod was recovering from the arduous adjudication of a competition for professional sous- chefs organised by the Master Chefs of Great Britain. The five finalists had qualified by assembling a menu fit to be served to a Japanese delegation visiting Wales; in the final, sponsored by Shetland Salmon, they were required to prepare a smoked salmon canape and salmon as a main course.

Perhaps it was no coincidence that the two outstanding dishes were served by chefs from north of the border. Martin Vincent, of Braeval Old Mill, near Aberfoyle, (087 72711) impressed the panel with a beautifully composed terrine: poached fillet on the bottom, mousse on top, the whole wrapped in seaweed and sauced with a beurre blanc infused with coriander and ginger. We thought it a bit too tricksy for a main course and, in the end, preferred the more direct approach of Kiernan Darnell from Auchterarder House on Tayside (0764 663646).

Mr Darnell, wearing the tallest toque the Gastropod has seen for some time, poached his escalope of salmon perfectly and presented it on herby mashed potato, with a pool of saffron sauce and a 'cask' of fennel and samphire (the mould in which the vegetables had been cooked was lined with salmon skin and garnished with crackling). In celebration of its creator's success, the dish is to become a regular feature on the menu at Auchterarder.

BACK in front of the television set, it was no surprise to subscribers to the BBC Good Food Magazine (who learnt the result a week early) when Derek Johns, a fine art dealer from Devizes, Wiltshire, won the Masterchef competition. His prize is a gastronomic holiday anywhere in the world.

Perhaps what endeared the jury to Mr Johns was the artful way he garnished his main course of turbot with slices of courgette and beetroot, cut into the shape of fish, a skill he said he acquired on a trip to Thailand. No doubt he will be tuning in to BBC 2 at 8.30 on Tuesday evenings to watch Far Flung Floyd. Starting next week in Vietnam, the intrepid Keith Floyd will spend seven weeks touring the Far East, ending up in Malaysia and Hong Kong, but lingering for three episodes in Thailand.

So impressed was Mr Floyd with Thai cuisine that he persuaded the Imperial Family of Hotels, which put him up during his stay, to let some of their cooks return to Britain with him. Now, at his idyllic country pub, Floyd's Inn at Tuckenhay, near Totnes in Devon, the smart new restaurant features an extensive Thai menu, and the bar dispenses satay and spring rolls instead of bangers and mash.

RARELY are supermarket chains eager to publicise the manufacturers of their own-label products, but in the case of its wonderfully creamy organic yoghurt, Sainsbury's wants the world to know that it is supplied by Rachel's Dairy, Britain's longest established organic dairy farm near Aberystwyth. Rachel and Gareth, the third generation to run the farm, began making butter, cream, then yoghurt a decade ago from the milk of their Guernsey herd. Demand has grown to the extent that they have had to build a new dairy to supply 100 of Sainsbury's larger stores.