Sunday Lunch Campaign: Bin the meat and two veg - get some natural food on the table

'Masterchef' presenter John Torode calls for a change in the way we think about mealtimes
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The Independent Online

The traditional Sunday lunch - a fixture of the British week since the late Middle Ages - is in need of a facelift if it is to avoid dying out altogether, one of television's most high-profile chefs has warned.

John Torode, presenter of Masterchef and owner of one of London's best-known restaurants, said the ailing institution of the Sunday meal urgently needed to move past its mundane "meat and two veg" stereotype if it was to reverse its decline.

The chef, who runs London's Smiths of Smithfield restaurant in Clerkenwell, is a believer in the benefits of a weekend meal with friends and family but says more people need to realise that the food need not be predictable - or difficult to prepare.

"The most important ingredient of Sunday lunch is the conversation. Without that, it's dead and gone," says the 41-year-old Australian.

"We need to think beyond the classic meat and two veg scenario. The problem is you say 'Sunday lunch', and everybody thinks: 'oh, that's a roast'.

"Let's be honest, we all love a roast, but Sunday lunch could be a huge plate of salade niçoise; it could be eggs benedict; it could be a barbecue. The important thing is you're making an effort, and you're all together.

"Sunday lunch should be about sociability, about conversation, about general stimulation and the education of the youth. I've got young children: if we don't sit around the dinner table, how are they going to learn about the world? How are they going to learn about adult conversation, about table manners? You have to have an ability to interact, and Sunday lunch is one of the best ways to teach that."

Torode is the latest celebrity chef to throw his weight behind our Sunday Lunch Campaign - an ongoing initiative to reinvigorate the dying tradition. A recent poll by internet company Lycos found 60 per cent of Britons do not have a weekly family Sunday lunch. Indeed, 25 per cent of us do not even own a dining table.

Torode is one of a growing list of chefs, commentators and health experts who thinks the problem is serious. But all we need to do, he says, is change our perspective of what "Sunday lunch" is. The father of four, who lives with his partner Jess in south London, says: "It doesn't have to be at lunchtime, does it? It could be Sunday morning, Sunday evening, or even Friday night."

Torode believes the decline of the traditional Sunday lunch is yet another symptom of the fast-paced lives and weakening family ties that are characteristic of modern Britain.

"The old concept of community has broken down," says Torode, who moved to Britain from Melbourne 15 years ago. "There's no longer a Sunday morning routine, so what do you end up doing? The natural thing is, 'let's go to the shops'. People go to Brent Cross, Bluewater, Oxford Street, wherever they want - but usually not for Sunday lunch with their family."

Torode is so passionate about the big weekend meal that his New Year's resolution was to make more time to sit around the table with friends and family.

"The answer is very simple: people just need to stop. Should there not be a time in our lives where we stop the life that goes on around us and start to live? We're all so busy we don't make time to enjoy our lives, good company and good food."

Torode, who presents a new series of BBC1's Celebrity Masterchef from 11 September, joins the list of big-name chefs who back our campaign. Others include Heston Blumenthal, Aldo Zilli, Antonio Carluccio and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. The campaign, launched in January, is also backed by experts from Childline, Relate and leading hospitals.

RECIPE: SALADE NIÇOISE

From John Torode's 'Relax it's Only Food' (Quadrille Publishing)

1kg fresh tuna trimmed; 1 carrot, halved lengthwise; 1 celery stalk; white of 1 small leek, slit lengthwise; few sprigs of thyme and flat-leaf parsley; 1 chilli, halved and deseeded; 4 cloves of garlic; 2 bay leaves; salt and freshly ground black pepper; about 1 litre olive oil; 4 eggs; 200g green beans; 150g pitted black olives; 12 small vine tomatoes, halved; handful basil; 16 boiled small new potatoes, halved; 1 small red onion; about 20 anchovy fillets

For the dressing:

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar; 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard; 1 egg yolk - optional; 250ml olive oil

Put the tuna in a pot with the carrot, celery, leek, thyme and parsley stalks tied in a bundle. Add the chilli, garlic, bay leaves and seasoning. Cover with olive oil and place over a slow heat until big bubbles break the surface. Take off the heat and let cool.

To make the dressing: process the vinegar, mustard and egg yolk until the mixture turns white. Season and, with the machine still running, slowly add the oil.

Boil the eggs for 3-4 minutes, cool under cold running water and take off shells. Blanch the beans briefly in boiling water, then plunge into cold water. When the tuna is cool remove it from the oil. Strain the oil mixture and keep a little back for the dressing.

Break the tuna into shards and mound up with the remaining ingredients. Drizzle with dressing and scatter with parsley.

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