Jez's Blog

The Strange Story of How I Found a New Band

A Salute to My Influences

Celebrating Our Differences

Daring to Use the Four-Letter Word

What Is The Real Olympian Spirit?

Watching The Olympics Opening Ceremony

How Good Service Turned into a Speed Trip

Blurring the Line Between Fact and Fiction

How Creativity Keeps Moving On

How an Artist in the Kitchen Revealed my Inner 'Foody'

Synchronicity - an Everyday Sort of Magic

Does This Make You Laugh?

The Magic of Storytelling

How Good Design Serves the User

Learning to Love Creative Blocks

Creating The CLUB

How a Kiss Missed Its Target at a Posh Do

How Bob Dylan refused the Box labelled ‘Protest Singer’

The ‘Get Back in Your Box’ Syndrome

What’s all the fuss about?

Reflections on Learning and Teaching

The Third in my Triptych of Entries about Thought

Happily disconnected in Cornwall

The Best Way to Sell is to Do Something Well

Life is Good

Zen & the Art of Birdwatching

How an Artist in the Kitchen Revealed my Inner 'Foody'


Are you a meat eater? If so imagine, if you will, going out to eat and having to ask the waiter: ‘Do you serve carnivores?' On hearing the reply ’Yes, we have a special option just for you - a meat pie,' I would imagine you might think ‘Is that it? No choice at all!' (This ‘option’ means you either eat vegetarian or this one meat dish) Perhaps you are lucky and you fancy meat pie that night, but even if this was so would you not look jealously at the long list of vegetarian choices on the menu and feel a bit disappointed with your eating out experience? This frustrating scenario is what I usually face when I go out to eat; but that all changed when I discovered the Selbourne Arms in Hampshire.


At least once a year my sister Philippa and I have a date where we catch up on our news. We live quite far from each other and so these meetings take place roughly halfway between our respective homes. One year we visit Jane Austen’s house at Chawley in Hampshire; after a morning of ducking under low-beamed doorways (people really were shorter back then) we are ready for some lunch. At a local village called Selbourne we find a small, unassuming old-fashioned pub. An item on the menu outside entices me in:


Welsh Rarebit, made with Olde Sussex Cheddar and Suthwyk Ale, toasted on our homemade white bread and served with our own green tomato chutney.


‘It’s my lucky day’ I think – one vegetarian ‘option’ that I quite fancy, but much to my surprise closer scrutiny reveals that there is another vegetarian dish and it sounds equally delicious:


Mushrooms on Toast - sautéed Selborne Wild Mushrooms in a Madeira Cream sauce on toasted homemade Brioche bread


And another:


Lightly poached free-range egg served on Bubble and Squeak with a chive butter sauce


In fact there are at least five delicious-sounding vegetarian starters and, not wanting to miss out, we order them all with a view on sharing them between us. (My sister is not a vegetarian but these all sounded so good that she is happy to ignore the meat options).


As we wait for the dishes to arrive I realise that the descriptions themselves are actually stimulating my taste buds: it’s at this moment that I realise I am a bit of a 'foody'. I probably always was but never really had the dining out opportunities to discover this fact. Along with the ‘vegetarian option’ which never is, pretentious food is another reason why I don’t eat out much.


Posh restaurants are often all about style over content and I can’t help thinking there is a ‘King’s New Clothes’ delusion to the attitude of those who frequent them - as if everybody is thinking, ‘Well this magazine said it was first class so it must be.’ There is a very hip restaurant near to where I live which boasts having Madonna’s ex-chef in charge of the kitchen. I once ate there with a friend and neither of us were impressed with the food which could certainly be summed up as style over content.’This was echoed in the service; throughout the meal the waiter continually asked ‘Is everything to your taste?' almost as if it was a nervous tick. Rather like when someone greets you with ‘Hello, how are you?’ I knew he didn’t really want to know my answer and so I bit my lip. At the end of the extremely average, pretentious and over-priced meal the waiter took away our plates and once again asked ‘Is everything to your taste?’ This time I couldn’t help but answer truthfully; this was a real ‘The King isn’t wearing any clothes’ moment. ‘Well since you ask,’ I replied, ‘actually no, everything wasn’t to my taste…’ I’ve never seen anyone looked so shocked as I proceeded to tell him what was wrong with the mean, badly put together offering we had been served in the name of haute cuisine. I'd like to report that everyone overheard my comments and suddenly realised, 'He's right, the King has no clothes, this food is awful!' but the reality was simply that I left with an unsated feeling in my belly, a much lighter wallet and the disgusted glare of the waiter on my back.


But the Selbourne Arms… ahh! The king is wearing clothes! My taste buds have not been duped by fancy words and overblown expectations; the starters more than live up to their enticing descriptions. These dishes are not poncy; Welsh Rarebit is a ‘pimped up’ cheese on toast and bubble and squeak is a kind of potato and cabbage fry up but, as with all artistry, it ain’t what you do it’s the way that you do it. The ingredients used are perfectly chosen; bland but juicy and nutty Kohl Ravi (now I know what that is!) shavings perfectly compliment rich, crumbly Stilton cheesecake. Tangy green tomato chutney is a wonderful accompaniment to the creamy, slightly alcoholic Welsh rarebit. (I could go on like this all day...) I suppose this is what the art of cooking is all about - the earth provides a wonderful array of vegetables, spices and herbs and the artist chef knows from this diverse choice what to put together on your plate so that it tastes and looks great. But it's not just about the practical skills of the chef; their attitude and intention during the cooking manifests in their creations. There is a famous chef whose cookery programme seems to be built around the emotion of rage as entertainment. Would you want to put that food into your body? Legend has it that the highest monks in Zen monastries work in the kitchen. I think that says it all.


So thank you Mr Chef at the Selbourne Arms, I never actually met you but I feel that in a way I have encountered you through your delicious food and I'm sure they wouldn't turn you away from any monastery kitchen. You may not have cooked for Madonna but your unpretentious artistry with food has brought out my inner foody.


Whatever you do, do it with beautifully and you will touch and enrich the lives of those around you.


January 2012

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