Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Where is this going?

I sometimes have to ask myself, where am I going with all this?
I write about food and take photos of food. I have even turned to a food stylist to help me improve the photos I take. Originally, this was intended as an outlet for my culinary passions. I have also participated in food events for which I have killed myself cooking for massive amounts of people, but the markets aren’t necessarily the arena in which I shine. I don’t make much money at them (or in some cases I lose money). This is not a reflection of the food, which either sells out or comes close each time – it’s a reflection of the business model. I don’t think the markets work for me or my style of cooking.
Do I want to open a pub or a something as simple as a café perhaps? I think so. This is why the markets may not work for me: I prefer the idea of someone sitting down, enjoying a pint and then eating their meal with a knife and fork. What could be more pleasurable?
Currently, I have a well-established career as a media research analyst. It’s a little boring, but it pays the bills and it gets me home in time to have supper with my wife and kids each night. I get weekends off and a few weeks of vacation a year. Why would I trade that for long hours, high-stress, lack of sleep and a dubious proposition with a high risk of failing?
An excellent question.
Yet, I feel updating a blog a few times a week…discussing what I ate for supper for crying out loud…just doesn’t feel focused. So I need something on which to focus.
So I wrote a menu. Well, I write a lot of menus. It is a meditative activity that clears my cluttered mind of day-to-day detritus. I have a pile of work on my desk that requires attention, but all I’m thinking about is crumbled Stilton and bacon and hard boiled hen’s eggs. So, I wrote a menu. I’m branching beyond the ‘pub’ concept and aiming more for what I like to call a ‘Canteen’.
So what is a canteen? In the UK, the term ‘canteen’ could be compared to what we in North America might think of as a cafeteria. When I think 'cafeteria', I envision the sort in high school – squeaking chairs, plastic trays, the smell of fryer grease and spoiled apples. The food was always suspect, but not lethal. However, there is something---how should I put this---’unintimidating’ about a cafeteria. The word Canteen is even more interesting, because it has a suggestion of something vaguely militarial.  I like that. There is one concept though that unites cafeteria and canteen; the format of food acquisition. You wait in a line, have your food placed on your tray over a steamed-up glass sneeze-guard, scootch it down one of those meandering metal-tube shelves that lead to a cash register where you will identify what you have and pay the required cash. It’s all very efficient. However, I want to use the term Canteen in an ironic sense. I have no interest in little glass boxes for which you open a door and extract a small carton of milk. I will provide real table service. Instead, I want the word ‘canteen’ to connote a concept; to provide a feeling of normalcy and a real lack of intimidation. I thought of spelling it with a ‘k’ as in Kanteen, but then thought better of it. The K would make it seem Cyrillic for some reason to me, as if the K should be backwards. People would come in looking for blinis.
In any event, I wrote a menu; and this is what I intend to do: I will test every dish on this menu until they are all perfect. I may adjust them, I may scratch them right off, but I will make it perfect. It may take me a year to do, but at least now I have something to focus on. This will be the main thrust of my blog from henceforth.
So, where to start? At the top I suppose.

Post Script:
Yes, I know Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has a River Cottage Canteen, in fact, three of them in Axeminster, Bath and Plymouth. I would be lying if I said this had nothing to do with my attraction to the word ‘canteen’. So there you have it, I’ll give Hugh some credit – as if he needs it. He is the man.

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