Friday, January 27, 2012

Down And Out In Padstow And London Pt 2


Whenever the subject of eBooks comes up in the media, it inevitably leads to another drawn-out, weary discussion about the future of the traditional publishing industry, and whether the rise of Kindles, iPads and other eReaders will lead to the death of printed books.

The short and long answer is, of course, no. But it's amazing how many people are paid to write 2,000 words to say it. There will always be folk who prefer the feel, smell, and tea cup stains of printed books. The dog-eared pages, the scribbles in the margin, the ability to store it in the bookcase and return to it like a lost friend at a later date. Or just the ability to store it in the bookcase with hundreds of other weighty tomes to make visitors think you're far better read than you really are.

You will hear statistics quoted about how four million Kindle Fires were sold in the US over Christmas, and how some indie authors are now selling 1,000 eBooks for every printed book they sell, and how many big name writers are turning their backs on publishing houses and all their middle men to take the far more profitable route of self-publishing.

Look on Twitter, and there's always some celebrity twatting about how they've just got themselves a Kindle, or why does it only want to connect with the US store, and is this normal? And fans are like sheep after all, so for every sleb that buys one, there are probably a hundred people who'll rush out and do the same.

But you don't hear so much about the underlying reasons for this change. Just a lot of hand-rubbing, gloating, and stat-quoting from geeks who seem to be allergic to paper for some reason. I used to work for a boss at an online news service who was the same about newspapers.

"This isn't a newspaper!" he would snap whenever his editorial judgement was questioned. We used to wonder whether his Dad had beaten him with rolled-up newspapers when he was a kid.

A friend of mine came to visit me in Cambodia before Christmas - before I began grappling with the formatting gremlins of publishing my own eBook, Down And Out In Padstow And London. He left me with a paperback, The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt, he'd bought to read on the plane.

It was a fantastic read, and I'd highly recommend it to anyone who's looking for a road trip-style novel featuring two hired killers set in cowboy times, somewhere between the California Gold Rush and the introduction of toothpaste.

But the thing that struck me most was the price - £12.99 for a paperback! I'd only been away for a year, what had happened? Surely they were £8 or £9 at most when I went away? Thirteen quid for a novel is a hell of a luxury for many people in these belt-tightening times.

The author's making little on it, so is the publishing house - which is why so many are haemorrhaging cash these days. It's all down to the increasing scarcity of the world's precious resources. It costs a small fortune to produce and distribute a paperback these days - the electricity, the diesel, the paper, the ink - not to mention paying off everyone else in the supply chain suffering similar rising costs.

EBooks on the other hand cost virtually nothing to produce and deliver, and are so ecologically friendly (if you forget about the puppies that have been drowned in hydroelectric dams to create them) they make you feel wonderful and saintly when you buy one.

If you consider that the whole point of books is to spread knowledge and entertain, then the rise of eBooks can only be a good thing - however much you miss the dusty, fusty, library smell of a 'real' book. Because you can get two or three for the same price, and in some cases with all the 'Indian curry secrets' and diet books selling for pennies on Amazon, should you ever want them - about 20.

Knowing that most regular authors get a quid or two for each paperback they sell, I priced my Kindle book accordingly, which means after Amazon have taken their generous cut, I can sell mine for the price of half a lager to make the same return, whereas I'll have to sell the printed version for £7 or £8, or the price of half a lager in Reykjavik.

As I say, the relative cheapness of eBooks can only be a good thing. If you looked at the news yesterday and saw Nick Clegg jumping up and down like mop-haired, cheese-botherer Alex James at a KFC processing plant about how great it was that McDonald's was creating 2,500 new jobs for young people in the UK, then you can see where the new jobs and wages are coming from.

Not skilled, well-paid sectors, but burger flipping and being forced to say "welcome to McDonald's" every few seconds. And as they'll be on a salary little more than minimum wage, how many of the next generation will be prepared to spend two hours' pay and more on a paperback?

But it's not just the price of eBooks - it's their transportability. I've been travelling around SE Asia for the past year or so hauling around a small collection of books - five at most is usually all I can cram into my laptop bag, and there's never any room in my rucksack.

I always keep my Far Flung Floyd book for old times, I can't bear to part with that. But when I've read them all, I trade them in for a fraction of the price I bought them for at the many second hand book shops they've got out here in Cambodia, and then buy several more.

But I can't tell you how many times I've wanted to return to an old book now filling the shelves in Phnom Penh or Siem Reap. But using a Kindle or other eReader means you can carry around half the British Library for the weight of, well, a Kindle. I just wish they sold them here.

Anyway, as I was finally getting round to saying, I'm very pleased with the feedback and sales of my eBook so far. But I was surprised just how many people said they would rather wait for the printed version.

So I realise you need to do both, and hopefully it should be available on Amazon et al in a couple of weeks. (Other people said they hadn't got a Kindle and wanted to know how else they could read it. There is a free Kindle reader app you can download for your computer, CLICK HERE - it was very quick and easy, and worked pretty well on my knackered laptop.)

The recommendations I've had for my book on Twitter and the online reviews on Amazon have been far better than I ever hoped. One of the most entertaining things has been checking the hourly-updated sales figures on Amazon's Kindle bestseller charts. After a flurry of good reviews last week, my book hit number nine in the Food and Drink chart. Number nine! Way above Nigella, Delia, and the two hairy bastards, and even higher than the Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook.

But counting chickens and all that, when I just checked it had slipped out of the top 40 to number 43. Anyway, I know it's a shameless plug, but without a marketing or PR budget, I need every bit of help and luck I can get. So below are the reviews and Twitter recommendations I've had so far in case you're flirting with the idea of reading it. And if you have read it, and liked it, please leave a review on its Amazon page.

Book blurb:

"Reading 'Down and Out in Padstow and London' is a serious test for any food writer. Not only has Alex Watts done what all of us say we would like to do, tested his mettle in a professional kitchen, he also writes about his experiences so well that you spend as much time being jealous of his writing skills as you do of his experiences. It's an annoyingly enjoyable read." - Simon Majumdar, author of two food/travel memoirs, Eat My Globe and Eating For Britain.

Twitter Comments:

"Two chapters in to Alex Watts' book & bloody LOVING it. Engaging, laugh-out-loud funny, incredibly readable. & TWO QUID!" - @chrispople

"It's a fab read. The Fat Duck chapters are class." - @Mcmoop

"If you claim to be a foodie you MUST buy this book." - @CorkGourmetGuy

"Just rattled through Down And Out in Padstow and London by Alex Watts in no time at all, what a great book." - @leejamesburns

"It's brilliant, a fine piece of work. If you've ever wanted to peer into a professional kitchen I can't recommend it highly enough." - @acidadam

"Fantastic read - the English Kitchen Confidential!" - @cabbagemechanic

"A great eBook to buy about serving your time (literally!) as a trainee chef." - @OkBayBach

"Great read." - @rankamateur

"Don't start reading it if you have things to do:)" - @NorthernSnippet

"Great book...couldn't put it down, read it non-stop on a train and finished it in one day." - @chunkymunki

"Really enjoyed your book. Thanks and good luck! As a closet wannabe chef it really hit the mark :) Good on you for taking the plunge!" - @el-duder

"Jolly good read, feel free to do one more." - @esbens

There are also nine reviews here on its Amazon page...

In the fairness of balance, it is only right for me to mention the negatives as well. I've had two so far. The first being that the book is quite short (70,000 words), and the second was a tweet from Glasgow-born award-winning journalist and screenwriter Audrey Gillan, who described Rick Stein's executive chef's Glaswegian accent as "pure murdurr - nae Glaswegians speak like that - evur".

I've just checked again, and it's now number 47 - one place behind Farting The Beans by Clarissa Dickson Wright, but nine above Stein's My Kitchen Table: 100 Fish And Seafood Recipes.

Oh well, small acorns and all that, but if the book does ever get anywhere, they could always use Brad Pitt for the Scotch part.

MORE: Down And Out In Padstow And London Pt 1

Pitching Confidential: How Not To Get A Food Book Published

To buy my book, CLICK HERE.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Antony Worrall Thompson’s Cruise Ship Cooking Demo Axed After Shoplifting Arrest


Troubled celebrity chef Antony Worrall Thompson's cooking demonstrations on a luxury cruise ship have been given the chop following his arrest for shoplifting.

AWT was due to deliver his culinary tricks of the trade (first steal 1kg of onions...) on the MSC Splendida for its cruise in February, but the line-up was changed “with regret” following the news this month that he’d been caught stealing at Tesco in Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire.

The recession-hit cook will instead be replaced by celebrity chef Paul Rankin for the seven-night cruise visiting Barcelona, Valletta, La Goulette, Civitavecchia, and Marseille.

“In the wake of the coverage which appeared in the media and Mr Thompson’s own public announcement of his desire to seek appropriate treatment for his condition, we felt that his presence on board was no longer tenable at this particular time,” said a spokesman at MSC Cruises.

The firm said Rankin - who appears on Ready Steady Cook and Ten Mile Menu, and won Northern Ireland’s first Michelin Star - will “showcase some of his best loved dishes – and a selection unique to MSC”.


It said Rankin (above), 52, was a “passionate supporter of local produce, so much so that in 2002 he launched The Rankin Selection, a range of traditional foods now stocked in supermarkets throughout the UK.”

Not sure if they’re stocked at Tesco in Henley, but AWT didn’t nick any when he failed to pay for items at the self-service checkouts FIVE times in 16 days over the Christmas period.

Some goods were scanned and paid for while others, including blocks of cheese from the deli and bottles of wine, were sneaked into bags without going through the till.

Suspicious staff set up a hidden camera in the self-checkout area to catch the wily 60-year-old and prove he had not simply forgotten to pay.

Wozza - who is a fund-raiser for the Tories - was stopped by security guards in front of shoppers as he tried to leave the shop on January 6.

He was arrested on suspicion of theft and given a caution at a local police station after admitting the offences.

The cook is now receiving counselling to try to figure out why he stole the items, and has come up with a basketful of excuses from his abuse at boarding school to aliens invading.

He said after his arrest: “I am so sorry for all my recent stupid and irresponsible actions; I am of course devastated for my family and friends, whom I've let down and will seek the treatment that is clearly needed.

“I am not the first, and I certainly won't be the last person to do something without rhyme or reason - what went through my head, only time will tell.”

My new book on training to be a chef, including stints at Rick Stein's and the Fat Duck, is available on Amazon CLICK HERE

"Reading this book is a serious test for any food writer. Not only has Alex Watts done what all of us say we would like to do, tested his mettle in a professional kitchen, he also writes about his experiences so well that you spend as much time being jealous of his writing skills as you do of his experiences. It's an annoyingly enjoyable read." - Simon Majumdar

Haven't got a Kindle? You can download a free Kindle reader app to read it on your computer. CLICK HERE.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

'World's Most Expensive Hot Dog' Goes On Sale For $100


It’s difficult to get noticed these days in the increasingly competitive world of catering. But it always helps if you can come up with some sort of gimmick to separate you from the chaff, especially in the cut throat world of fast food and painfully fashionable food trucks.

Burgers have been done to death, even though the London food literati never seem to tire of twatting about them. But hot dogs? Well, there’s still some mileage to be had out of the good old dog isn’t there - that great American sporting tradition of stuffing your face with ice cold beer and something pink and meat-like in a roll?

At least, one restaurant owner in Vancouver, Canada, hopes so after launching what he claims is the world’s most expensive hot dog - at a ridiculous price of $100 (£67).

So just what do you put in a hot dog to command such a ludicrous price tag? Truffles? Foie gras? Caviar? Sea cucumbers poached in Armagnac? Endangered, satellite-tracked southern river terrapin? How about flesh from the world’s last bluefin tuna?

No, they’ve all been done to death.

The current purveyor of the world’s most expensive hot dog is US celebrity chef Stephen Bruce, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. His $69 Haute Dog served at Serendipity 3 restaurant in New York comprises a beef sausage grilled in white truffle oil, and served on a pretzel roll with duck foie gras, and caramelised Vidalia onions.

But Dougie Dog owner Dougie Luv says his foot-long "mouth-wateringly delicious" Dragon Dog is the first sausage in a bap to sell for three figures.

The gimmick? It contains a bratwurst infused with 100-year-old Louis XIII cognac, which costs more than $2,000 a bottle, as well as Kobe beef seared in olive and truffle oil, fresh lobster, and a ‘secret’ picante sauce.

Luv said he wanted to come up with something "super tasty and high-end" that stays true to the traditional identity of the hot dog. Oh, and to get into the Guinness Book of Records and attract a whole load of PR, of course.

Just think if the brilliantly-named Joey "Jaws" Chestnut, winner of the World Hot Dog Eating Contest’s mustard-yellow champion's belt for the fifth year running, got hold of them. He’d get through $6,200 worth in 10 minutes. Only in America...



My new book on training to be a chef, including stints at Rick Stein's and the Fat Duck, is available on Amazon CLICK HERE

"Reading this book is a serious test for any food writer. Not only has Alex Watts done what all of us say we would like to do, tested his mettle in a professional kitchen, he also writes about his experiences so well that you spend as much time being jealous of his writing skills as you do of his experiences. It's an annoyingly enjoyable read." - Simon Majumdar

Haven't got a Kindle? You can download a free Kindle reader app to read it on your computer. CLICK HERE.

Monday, January 23, 2012

MPs Moan Their Soup Bowls Are Too Small & Their Subsidised Crisps Are 10g Too Light


I once was fortunate enough to be taken for lunch at the House of Commons’ swanky, subsidised restaurant The Terrace. I was working for a weekly paper at the time and a week before had been invited to a speech Brian MaWhinney was to make to the local Conservative Party.

I went along on that Friday evening, when I should have been in the pub, only to find that MaWhinney had had a change of heart and didn’t want any press there. Apparently, he wanted to give a less guarded speech, and got one of his lackeys to tell us the good news.

But, of course, I couldn’t just leave in case he said anything important, so I had to wait there for hours until he finished and then try to badger the local members into giving me a few snippets. When I approached MaWhinney afterwards, he cut me dead.

“You haven’t got a story,” he barked.

My editor - a deranged woman who once screamed “file copy” down the phone until she was so hoarse and exhausted she fell off her chair - was furious. She called the local Conservative Association, and screamed at them down the phone about why I hadn’t been allowed in the meeting, and threatened to make her reporters Conservative Party members to ensure they got into future events.

The Tories quickly tried to smooth things over, and as some sort of fig leaf, my news editor and I were invited for lunch at the House of Commons by Norman Tebbit's long-time secretary, Beryl Goldsmith. She was splendid company, filled with gossip about the Commons, which was all sadly off the record.

But the thing I remember most was just how good the food was - easily as good as most fine restaurants I’d been in at the time. But it was the cheap prices in Parliament that really blew me away. It was like a soup kitchen for hungry MPs. My salmon with hollandaise sauce was the price of a Big Mac. No wonder the plush restaurant was filled with MPs greedily stuffing their faces, and filling their pockets with sandwiches, so they wouldn’t have to eat on the way home.

Indeed you might think they’d be grateful in this age of austerity that the taxpayer shells out £5.8m a year so our hard-working MPs don’t have to pay the full price for food like the rest of the population.

But far from it. A list of their petty gripes published by the Daily Telegraph today after a freedom of information request shows what a whinging bunch of tossers they really are.


MPs and their aides dining in Parliament’s 28 eateries complained that their beer is too expensive, their chips are not arranged in jenga-style towers, their eggs are too watery, they receive change in coppers rather than whole five pences, and the crisp packets from the vending machine are ten grams too light.

According to a log of dozens of pedantic complaints from the restaurants' suggestions trays, one unknown politician in the Members’ and Strangers’ dining rooms wrote: “’The bucket’ of chips, while attractive to some and no doubt trendy, makes for soggy chips. The tower arrangement is better.”

Another pampered MP said eating in The Terrace restaurant - with its stunning views of the Thames - was a “dismal experience”.

“The room is gloomy with no soft lighting to make it more welcoming. My starter of beetroot and pumpkin salad consisted of one piece of beetroot in a puddle of pumpkin puree and was tasteless. My main course of fish cake was far too dry to eat and both main courses were far too salty,” he said.

Another miserly diner demanded an inquiry into the weight of a packet of Walkers Light ready salted crisps. “The normal weight for a packet of individually bought crisps is 34.5g (38p supermarket price), the packet I purchased from the vending machine was 24.5g (50p).”

Others moaned that the soup bowls were too small, that a tart came with too meagre a serving of couscous, and that a vegetarian dish arrived ‘”dredged in Worcestershire sauce [sic], which is not vegetarian (anchovies)”. Commons staff pointed out that it was, in fact, balsamic vinegar.

Someone else wrote: “Just wondered if you’re doing the scrambled egg in a different way now? Tastes kind of watery – not nice!” And another saw red over the kedgeree. “The boiled egg had been cut into THREE quarters – no sign of the fourth.... Petty and insulting way to save a buck.”


One MP accused staff of making them feel like “second-class citizens” because they had run out of breakfast at 10.30am, and there was fury that beer had hit £2.60 a pint - when it is nearer £4 in most central London pubs.

You might think they’d be grateful, given that they can enjoy pan-fried red mullet with carrot purée and a soft boiled quail’s egg for just £4.15, an artichoke and tomato salad with truffle dressing for £2.05, and braised pork belly with black pudding bonbon and apple salad for £2.70.

A rib eye steak with hand cut chips and béarnaise sauce sets them back a massive £7.80, chocolate and orange torte £2.05, and a selection of fine cheeses only £3.10 - which is almost as cheap as Antony Worrall Thompson gets them for at Tesco.

It’s appalling that they have the temerity to complain at all when many taxpayers are struggling to feed their families, and can’t afford luxuries like fresh fruit, let alone red mullet or rib eye steak.

It’s time these subsidies were axed to set an example - £5.8m might not seem much in the context of the billions the Government needs to shave off the deficit, but it’s the image it portrays of MPs being greedy, penny-pinching, self-important ingrates, especially when people are still furious over the expenses scandal, and are facing sweeping cuts to public services.

Talk about the Westminster gravy train and eating like a Lord, you only have to do the sums to see the injustice. A £5.8m subsidy for 650 MPs works out at nearly £9,000 a year per politician. When you consider they sit for 150 days a year, it works out at £60 per MP per day.

If Cameron and Osborne really want to make cuts the public can stomach, they should look down the corridor at the MPs gorging themselves on steak and halibut at the taxpayer trough. It goes to show how insulated Parliament is from the concerns of the real world.

My new book on training to be a chef, including stints at Rick Stein's and the Fat Duck, is available on Amazon CLICK HERE

"Reading this book is a serious test for any food writer. Not only has Alex Watts done what all of us say we would like to do, tested his mettle in a professional kitchen, he also writes about his experiences so well that you spend as much time being jealous of his writing skills as you do of his experiences. It's an annoyingly enjoyable read." - Simon Majumdar

Twitter Reviews:

"A rattling good read." - @chrispople

"It's a fab read. The Fat Duck chapters are class." - @Mcmoop

"If you claim to be a foodie you MUST buy this book." - @CorkGourmetGuy

"Bought your book and am hugely enjoying. Funny, engaging, interesting, lively." - @oliverthring

"A great read about the reality of working at The Fat Duck & other less famed restaurants." - @alanbertram

"Very funny, very close to the bone." - @AmeliaHanslow

"A great read and must have book for anyone in the industry." - @philwhite101

"Thoroughly enjoyed it." - @rosechadderton

"Excellent!" - @MissCay

"Just finished your book, and loved it! Thanks for ending on a happy note; it needed it after all the reality ;-)" - @voorschot

"Fab account of psycho chefs, plus work experience with Heston and Stein." - @Laurajanekemp

"Excellent read & loved the ‘scary duck’ tale! I look forward to the follow up book (no pressure ;D). Great memories of first being addressed as chef." - @granthawthorne

"Sensational account of a chef’s life, couldn't put it down. Get it from Amazon now!" - @Fishermansarms

"I'm loving your book. Very enjoyable. Some great one-liners. "His legs wobbled like a crab on stilts" had me chuckling." - @griptonfactor

"Highly recommended. A great book about changing careers for his love of cooking." @Whatsinmymouth

"Downloaded the book last Sunday and finished it the same day! Great read." - @MTomkinsonChef

"Very funny." - @SkyRuth

"Any of you who have flirted with chefdom, go and immediately download this book from Amazon - Down and Out in Padstow and London. Great read." - @el_duder

"Truly brilliant." - @kcassowary

"Just rattled through Down And Out in Padstow and London by Alex Watts in no time at all, what a great book." - @leejamesburns

"It's brilliant, a fine piece of work. If you've ever wanted to peer into a professional kitchen I can't recommend it highly enough." - @acidadam

"Fantastic read - the English Kitchen Confidential!" - @cabbagemechanic

"A great eBook to buy about serving your time (literally!) as a trainee chef." - @OkBayBach

"Great read." - @rankamateur

"Don't start reading it if you have things to do:)" - @NorthernSnippet

"Great book...couldn't put it down, read it non-stop on a train and finished it in one day." - @chunkymunki

"Jolly good read, feel free to do one more." - @esbens

There are also 12 reviews on its Amazon page.

Haven't got a Kindle? You can download a free Kindle reader app to read it on your computer. CLICK HERE.

Masterchef & The Myth Of The Celebrity Chef

(Pic: Celeb Dirty Laundry)

If you want to see how ridiculous the whole celebrity chef phenomenon has become, then look at the mansion Gordon Ramsay has just picked up the keys to in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles.

Ramsay has suffered a year of woes in the UK, was forced to close several restaurants in his crumbling empire, and proved that he is one of the world’s worst actors when he appeared in a dreadful flop about a chef who moves to the country and finds love.

But his TV career in the States has gone from strength to strength, with Masterchef returning for a third series and a new show Hotel Hell launching on Fox in March.

And the celebrity chef clearly plans to spend a lot more time there after forking out a staggering £4.3m for the five-bedroom family home, near his friends David and Victoria Beckham.

Four million big ones! It just goes to show the ludicrous gulf between a celebrity chef and someone who actually cooks for a living.

I’ve written a lot about the number of young cooks going into the trade because they can’t be footballers or rock stars, and they think cheffing is the next best thing to be famous in.

A whole generation of ultimately-disappointed hopefuls convinced you can just learn the trade and be the next Ramsay or Jamie Oliver. Programmes like Masterchef do nothing to dispel the myth.


As I wrote in my book...

The whole show was a farce. The prize was a job as a trainee chef at a top London restaurant. They didn’t say how much you’d get, or what the hours were, or what to do when you’re thrown out on the street because you can’t pay the rent.

“Maybe the prize didn’t exist at all. I mean, who the hell would take them up on it? The whole thing was about getting on the telly, and society’s mushrooming obsession with fame. I couldn’t see any of the contestants swapping their cushy jobs for 16 hours a day of back-breaking toil on a wage just enough to keep them alive. Not if there weren’t any cameras about anyway
."

Forget Beverly Hills, it’s more likely to be Butlin’s. If you want the reality, then look at the pay packet of a chef in the UK. A lowly commis chef gets about £13,000, whereas an experienced sous chef trousers as much as £28,000 a year - about the average salary in the trade.

It would take the average chef exactly 204 years to save up enough cash to buy Ramsay’s LA mansion - and that’s assuming he never went out, lived on bread and water, and slept in a cardboard box.

Just remember next time you’re watching Masterchef, cooking doesn’t get tougher than this...

My new book on training to be a chef, including stints at Rick Stein's and the Fat Duck, is available on Amazon CLICK HERE

"Reading this book is a serious test for any food writer. Not only has Alex Watts done what all of us say we would like to do, tested his mettle in a professional kitchen, he also writes about his experiences so well that you spend as much time being jealous of his writing skills as you do of his experiences. It's an annoyingly enjoyable read." - Simon Majumdar

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Night The Roux Brothers Had Bread Rolls Hurled At Them


It is a little known fact, but before the Roux brothers arrived in Britain, people were sitting around in puddles eating mud, completely unaware that ovens even existed, let alone the complexities of the sort of soufflé that would engender begrudging Gallic approval.

No one knew how to cook, animals were eaten raw, and the Government was so concerned about the nation’s eating habits, they flew in the two Frenchmen to save the British people before it was too late.

Or at least, that’s the impression you’d get if you read today’s Daily Mail interview with Michel and Albert Roux, who modestly claim they single-handedly transformed British cuisine, turning the UK into the celebrity chef-obsessed, great food Mecca it is today.

“It was the dark ages,” said Michel, 70, shaking his head in disgust at the memory of the British culinary scene when he moved to London in the late 1960s.

“Nobody was serving decent food. I'm not even talking about good food. You would go to the Lyons Corner House where they would give you bleached bread and vegetables saturated with water. It was inedible. You have no idea what it was like.”

But by first opening Le Gavroche in Chelsea in 1967, then The Waterside Inn at Bray in Berkshire, and several brasseries, the brothers changed all that and showed the British how to eat, apparently.

“The Roux legacy is a lifetime of hard work which transformed food in Britain. We now have a food heritage to be proud of,” boasts Albert's son Michel Roux Jr (pic below) in the interview to plug the Good Food Channel’s new series - called funnily enough The Roux Legacy, and featuring the family's celebrity chef chums and a whole lot of tedious back-slapping.


But it wasn’t all plain sailing. A friend of mine - who’s retired now after making a fortune running racecourse catering firms across the UK - remembers a disastrous night in 1985 when the Roux brothers were pioneering a very modern cooking system known as sous vide.

They catered for a special function at the Royal Albert Hall for 2,500 members of the advertising world using only vac-packed food cooked under pressure, so all they had to do was reheat it just before service, which they claimed would make it very easy in the kitchen.

My friend, who helped run the event, had voiced his concerns beforehand, saying he’d had problems in the past with sous vide, and the Roux brothers were restaurateurs not caterers and were used to knocking out grub for 200 people not 2,000.

But Michel Roux reassured him: “It will be a wonderful way of introducing this cooking system to a lot of people. We are opening a restaurant in the City which will only use sous vide and this dinner will be a showcase for us.”

But the evening couldn’t have gone worse.

Because of the complexities of the new system and all the equipment (no, not just scissors) that needed to be brought in to solve the logistical problems of getting food out at the same time to all seven tiers of the Albert Hall - a place that Albert Roux had half-joked was named after him - the main meal was so late, the guests had polished off most of the wine before it arrived.

“The highlight,” my friend recalls, “was Albert and Michel Roux on the stage at the Albert Hall being jeered and pelted with bread rolls by all the luminaries of the London advertising world.”

Wonder if that will appear in the programme?

MORE: Coq Au Van: In Defence of Gordon Ramsay

My new book on training to be a chef, including stints at Rick Stein's and the Fat Duck, is available on Amazon CLICK HERE

"Reading this book is a serious test for any food writer. Not only has Alex Watts done what all of us say we would like to do, tested his mettle in a professional kitchen, he also writes about his experiences so well that you spend as much time being jealous of his writing skills as you do of his experiences. It's an annoyingly enjoyable read." - Simon Majumdar

Twitter Reviews:

"A rattling good read." - @chrispople

"It's a fab read. The Fat Duck chapters are class." - @Mcmoop

"If you claim to be a foodie you MUST buy this book." - @CorkGourmetGuy

"Bought your book and am hugely enjoying. Funny, engaging, interesting, lively." - @oliverthring

"A great read about the reality of working at The Fat Duck & other less famed restaurants." - @alanbertram

"Very funny, very close to the bone." - @AmeliaHanslow

"A great read and must have book for anyone in the industry." - @philwhite101

"Thoroughly enjoyed it." - @rosechadderton

"Excellent!" - @MissCay

"Just finished your book, and loved it! Thanks for ending on a happy note; it needed it after all the reality ;-)" - @voorschot

"Fab account of psycho chefs, plus work experience with Heston and Stein." - @Laurajanekemp

"Excellent read & loved the ‘scary duck’ tale! I look forward to the follow up book (no pressure ;D). Great memories of first being addressed as chef." - @granthawthorne

"Sensational account of a chef’s life, couldn't put it down. Get it from Amazon now!" - @Fishermansarms

"I'm loving your book. Very enjoyable. Some great one-liners. "His legs wobbled like a crab on stilts" had me chuckling." - @griptonfactor

"Highly recommended. A great book about changing careers for his love of cooking." @Whatsinmymouth

"Downloaded the book last Sunday and finished it the same day! Great read." - @MTomkinsonChef

"Very funny." - @SkyRuth

"Any of you who have flirted with chefdom, go and immediately download this book from Amazon - Down and Out in Padstow and London. Great read." - @el_duder

"Truly brilliant." - @kcassowary

"Just rattled through Down And Out in Padstow and London by Alex Watts in no time at all, what a great book." - @leejamesburns

"It's brilliant, a fine piece of work. If you've ever wanted to peer into a professional kitchen I can't recommend it highly enough." - @acidadam

"Fantastic read - the English Kitchen Confidential!" - @cabbagemechanic

"A great eBook to buy about serving your time (literally!) as a trainee chef." - @OkBayBach

"Great read." - @rankamateur

"Don't start reading it if you have things to do:)" - @NorthernSnippet

"Great book...couldn't put it down, read it non-stop on a train and finished it in one day." - @chunkymunki

"Jolly good read, feel free to do one more." - @esbens

There are also 12 reviews on its Amazon page.

Haven't got a Kindle? You can download a free Kindle reader app to read it on your computer. CLICK HERE.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Restaurant Crowned By Gordon Ramsay As Best In Britain Goes Bust

(Pic: Ramsay with Pheasant head chef Jay Scrimshaw, left)

Gordon Ramsay has again confirmed the view that chefs make rubbish food critics after a gastropub he crowned Britain’s best local restaurant went into liquidation.

The Pheasant made it to the final of The F Word three years ago with Ramsay heaping so much praise on the eatery, you’d think he’d just necked a fistful of Prozac and found himself slumped in a trough full of dove-fetched ambrosia.

With his usual wide-arsed bluster straight from the TV producers’ bumper book of overdone-to-the-point-of-cremated sound bites, he ranted and raved over chef-owner Jay Scrimshaw and his trendy nose-to-tail eating.

But his judgement was seriously called into question when restaurant critics then visited the thatched inn in Keyston, Cambridgeshire, and found it more of a turkey than a pheasant.

Far from agreeing with the celebrity chef that it was the best local restaurant in Britain, the Daily Telegraph’s restaurant critic Jasper Gerard questioned whether it was even the best restaurant in the sleepy village of Keyston.

He called the decor “rubbish”, slated the service as appalling, and said the warm salad of confit duck tasted like road kill, and was so chewy he wondered whether they’d instead served up the Dunlop tyre that squashed it.

Of course, the TV exposure proved a big boost for a while, which Jay and his wife Taffeta were quick to seize on, even inviting customers to park their private planes in the next-door farm.

But media fairy dust only lasts for a while, and needs word of mouth rather than word of gobshite to fall back, so it’s perhaps no surprise that the two Rosette pub (pic below) closed its doors this week, blaming the tough economic conditions.


The couple said on their Facebook page: “It is with a heavy heart that Jay and I must tell you that The Pheasant at Keyston Ltd has gone into liquidation.

"We have enjoyed every moment of our six-and-a-half years working here and have tried very hard not to let it go under. But unfortunately, due mainly to the current economic state, this has become harder and harder.”

They said the Pheasant will reopen on January 20 as part of Huntsbridge Ltd, which also owns The Old Bridge at Huntingdon.

The firm’s owner John Hoskins told local paper The Hunts Post: “Jay and Taffeta are a very nice young couple. They did very well in Gordon Ramsay’s competition but unfortunately their business has gone into liquidation.

“It is very sad. It is a tough time to run any business and people will be surprised that this has happened. It was well-known and seemed to be successful.”



But to be fair to the couple, the Pheasant is certainly not the first restaurant lauded by Ramsay in his many TV shows to close, and as long as he remains in the media spotlight, it will be far from the last.

His TV mission to rescue ailing eateries on both sides of the Atlantic is more like the kiss of death than a recipe for survival.

At the time the Pheasant was crowned, half of the 20 restaurants taken on by Ramsay for his Kitchen Nightmares USA show had closed, and a further 12 out of 22 eateries in five series of the UK version had either shut or been sold.

The owners of the Black Pearl seafood shack in New York dubbed Ramsay a "jerk" after it closed, and said they hoped naively they would gain from the nationwide publicity.

"The sad fact is, from the beginning, it was clear that the show was a joke," they added. "From the very first day they were initiated, the changes Gordy Ramsay made were ridiculed by the press, hated by our regular customers and were the direct cause of a 50% drop in revenues. We were never able to recover financially."

The harsh truth is a restaurant needs bums on seats and effective cost control rather than the meddling or endorsement of a celebrity chef to succeed.

And you only have to look at Heston Blumenthal’s failed makeover of Little Chef, which has announced it is to close 61 of its 161 outlets and shed up to 600 staff, to see that in full beam.

No doubt the sacrificed wage slaves now heading to the dole queue will be delighted that the millionaire chef will remain on the payroll as a consultant despite the mass redundancies.

MORE: Gordon Ramsay a cut above the rest?


My new book on training to be a chef, including stints at Rick Stein's and the Fat Duck, is available to buy on Amazon for Kindle, iPad, iPhone etc. CLICK HERE to buy for just £2.05, about the price of half a lager.

"It's a bargain and an easy read, I didn't want to put it down." @Mcmoop

"Should be required reading for anyone who has ever dreamed of leaving the monotony of the 9 to 5 rat race to open their own restaurant." Breil Bistro

"A great read and should be a set text if you're considering a change of career, or God forbid, applying to Masterchef." richard

McMouse On Menu: Big Mac Vermin Video


Two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, on a sesame seed bun. Oh, and a mouse, if you’re unlucky enough to buy a Big Mac from a McDonalds in the US.

A former employee at the West Oak Lane restaurant in Philadelphia has posted a disturbing video of a rodent scurrying around in a bag filled with dozens of McDonalds burger buns.

Karruim Demaio says he pulled out his mobile phone to film the creature in a back room store, and was so appalled by the footage he’s released it as a warning to customers.

“That wasn't the first time. That was about the sixth or seventh time. That's what made me like, I got to get video of this,” he told Fox News.

“I was going back there to get something else and I heard some rustling, so I turned around, and I look, I seen a mouse inside the bread. Not on top of the package, but inside of the package.”

Demaio said the baps were contaminated with droppings on numerous occasions.

“I was working there from October of 2010 to January of this year. There hasn't been a time when we couldn't go in the back and see mouse droppings on the bread,” he added.

He says his boss told staff to brush off the droppings, and serve the baps to customers - a claim denied by the female manager. Fox News said a second employee has confirmed Demaio’s allegations.

Raw Video: Mouse In Bag Of Big Mac Rolls: MyFoxPHILLY.com


Ken Youngblood, owner of the McDonalds franchise, initially said he hadn’t seen the TV station’s news report, but later sent out a statement.

“After viewing the video, we are going to continue to investigate this claim to make certain we have all the facts.

“I want my customers to know that I am taking this matter seriously and will immediately address any issues that may exist. Therefore, if necessary, we will work with the appropriate authorities to get the facts,” he said.

The restaurant has a string of health violations over the last 18 months including live flies found in the food prep area, food not being kept cool enough, and fridges not working properly, according to the Philadelphia Health Department.

MORE: Waiter! There's a snake in my broccoli

MORE: Baked mouse in malt loaf


My new book on training to be a chef, including stints at Rick Stein's and the Fat Duck, is available to buy on Amazon for Kindle, iPad, iPhone etc. CLICK HERE to buy for just £2.05, about the price of half a lager.

"It's a bargain and an easy read, I didn't want to put it down." @Mcmoop

"Should be required reading for anyone who has ever dreamed of leaving the monotony of the 9 to 5 rat race to open their own restaurant." Breil Bistro

"A great read and should be a set text if you're considering a change of career, or God forbid, applying to Masterchef." richard

Sunday, January 15, 2012

On The Trail Of The Elusive Coconut Man


I first heard about the Coconut Man during a late night conversation in a bar with a strange man who claims to be an ex-forces agent, wades through swamps with king cobra serum in a holster on one leg, and viper serum on the other, and has “fired every Goddamn weapon on this earth”.

He’s been living in SE Asia for the past 40 years, helps run a charity clearing land mines, and is a partner in a security firm transporting millions of dollars of payroll cash to factories across Cambodia. Or so he claims. The last time I saw him, he was wearing a grimy bandana and eating cold chicken out of a plastic bag in a supermarket canteen in Phnom Penh.

That night he was lecturing me about how physically strong Khmer men are. He took a swig of beer and put his baseball cap back over his glass. He sounded like Bill Hicks, but more angry.

“This dude can climb trees and rip coconuts open with his fucking teeth man,” he said. “Can you do that? I know I’m Goddamn sure I can’t!”

I told him I didn’t think I could either.

“Damn right, you can’t! The Khmers are the toughest people on Earth! Pound for pound I’d put them up against any other nationality.”

He told me the Coconut Man lived in the jungle, somewhere along the Mekong River - a river that stretches 300 miles across Cambodia. When I pressed him further on the location, he admitted he hadn’t actually seen the Coconut Man, but had read about him sometime ago in one of the Cambodian newspapers.

“Were there pictures?” I asked.

“Damn right there were pictures! The man was ripping coconuts open with his freaking TEETH!”

The next morning, I did a few internet searches, and eventually found a feature about a man called Sai Song, who, according to the copy, lived in Preak Anh Chanh village, near the Kampong Cham border in Kandal Province.

It was hundreds of miles away from where I was, but I thought the story might make a few dollars. I found a Khmer taxi driver, who for some reason called himself Ian, and claimed to know the village. In fact, he said he was born in a village a few miles away. He spoke decent enough English, and said he sometimes works as a driver and translator for foreign journalists visiting the country.

He met me at my hotel in Phnom Penh the next morning and drove me in his old Toyota saloon into the flooded provinces along the Mekong River. We crawled down muddy tracks, built for oxen, with the worn suspension thumping away. But there was no sign of the village, let alone the Coconut Man.

Ian kept getting out to ask for directions. I could make out a few words. Occasionally someone would point up the road, or across rice paddies now flooded to the size of Lake Windermere, but with trees sticking out from the water. There seemed to be a lot of men who could rip open coconuts with their teeth in this part of Cambodia. But no-one had heard of the village.

Eventually I phoned the paper to try to get hold of the reporter who’d written the story. It took her a few minutes to remember the tale, and a few more to admit she’d probably written down the wrong Preak Anh Chanh village, and that it was nowhere near the Kampong Cham border. We headed back towards Phnom Penh, with Ian moaning much of the way about the “waste of gasoline”.

“Near Kampong Cham border!” he kept tutting.

We stopped at more communes, and I was about to suggest we head back to Phnom Penh and forget all about the elusive Coconut Man and his self-proclaimed “special powers” - invisibility clearly being one of them - when three young children fishing in a tiny trench pointed excitedly down the road.

From the slightly terrified look in their eyes, it was obvious we weren’t the only ones who’d heard about the Coconut Man’s incredible feats. We drove down the dirt track and asked more villagers, and they pointed at a wooden house with palm trees growing at the front. An old woman was sitting on the front steps with a baby on her lap. She was apparently the Coconut Man’s mother-in-law.

She pointed behind the house and we walked down an overgrown path, lined with ducks, chickens, and half-wild dogs, and stopped at the last barn. After a few minutes, a hugely muscled rice farmer appeared. It turned out he wasn’t the Coconut Man - he was just here to check us out. I began wondering about what they were growing in the barn. Then the Coconut Man appeared. He was much shyer and smaller than I’d expected, but his arms looked like they’d been made from smelted iron.


He took us out to the front of the house as word quickly spread round the village that a barang with a camera had appeared. Soon there were dozens of villagers crowded round the car waiting for the Coconut Man to work his magic. But Cambodians are a suspicious lot, and none of them were standing too close.



I began filming as he scaled a 40ft tree in just 15 seconds and then climbed back down carrying five heavy coconuts. He then ripped open two coconuts with his teeth – taking barely 40 seconds to remove the fibrous, brown husk of the first. And then just 50 seconds to shell the far tougher, green husk of the second.



His other stunts included flexing his neck muscles out like an angry, hooded cobra and ripping rope apart with his hands. I interviewed him through the taxi driver afterwards, but he was a man of few words.


“I knew when I was 12 that I was strong, and decided to start climbing trees and bringing coconuts down for my family and friends to eat. Then I trained myself to rip them open,” he eventually muttered.

I turned to the rest of the family in hope. Anything to break through his steely silence. His five-year-old daughter Yisoung simply said she was proud of her father. I asked the Coconut Man whether she had special powers too. He gestured at her, and she held her hands to her eyes and turned her eyelids inside out.

There was more silence, and then his wife Seap, 22, appeared from the back of the house. She said she was too scared to watch his stunts.

“I tell him not to do them because I’m afraid he will fall from the tree or break his teeth on the coconuts, but he does not listen to me,” she sighed.

A huddle of villagers were standing well away from the others. They said they were scared he was using “Khmer black magic”. “We worry he may bring evil spirits to the area,” said an old woman.

But when I talked to the monks in the local pagoda, they just laughed. They said his skills come in handy every year for the Pchum Ben festival of the dead, when they get him to climb trees in the grounds of the commune to collect coconuts, which are then left with rice and other foods as offerings to the ghosts of dead ancestors.

I climbed back into the taxi, not knowing whether we had a story or not.


My new book on training to be a chef, including stints at Rick Stein's and the Fat Duck, is available to buy on Amazon for Kindle, iPad, iPhone etc. CLICK HERE to buy for just £2.05, about the price of half a lager.

"It's a bargain and an easy read, I didn't want to put it down." @Mcmoop

"Should be required reading for anyone who has ever dreamed of leaving the monotony of the 9 to 5 rat race to open their own restaurant." Breil Bistro

"A great read and should be a set text if you're considering a change of career, or God forbid, applying to Masterchef." richard

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Floyd Movie Not Coming To A Cinema Soon


Keith Floyd’s former manager says he has no knowledge of plans to make a “major film” about the flamboyant celebrity chef’s life.

In a rather suspect story in the Daily Express this week, it was claimed Welsh actor Rhys Ifans was being lined up to play Floyd in the forthcoming movie.

The paper quoted unnamed producers saying: “Keith’s story is a remarkable one full of highs and lows. He put the modern day celebrity chef on the map and was a real pioneer in terms of making cookery shows such entertainment.

“There’s already strong producer interest and it’s felt Rhys Ifans would capture the essence of Keith perfectly. It’s hoped filming will begin in early 2013.”

But the story looks like it should be taken with several large buckets of salt because no-one has even sounded out Floyd’s former manager Stan Green, who looks after the late celebrity chef’s media and licensing rights.

“Yes I read (the story), we here at the Floyd Estate have no knowledge or have been approached in regard to this item,” he told Chef Sandwich.

Sounds like Ifans - who played comedian Peter Cook to critical acclaim - will be in no rush to polish his cooking and wine-glugging skills.


My new book on training to be a chef, including stints at Rick Stein's and the Fat Duck, is available to buy on Amazon for Kindle, iPad, iPhone etc. CLICK HERE to buy for just £2.05, about the price of half a lager.

"It's a bargain and an easy read, I didn't want to put it down." @Mcmoop

"Should be required reading for anyone who has ever dreamed of leaving the monotony of the 9 to 5 rat race to open their own restaurant." Breil Bistro

"A great read and should be a set text if you're considering a change of career, or God forbid, applying to Masterchef." richard

Monday, January 09, 2012

TV Chef Antony Worrall Thompson Caught Shoplifting From Tesco


Things have gone from bad to decidedly worse for recession-hit TV cook Antony Worrall Thompson, the man Gordon Ramsay famously dubbed a “squashed Bee Gee”.

The Ready Steady Crook’s star was definitely on the wane after his restaurant empire went into administration in 2009, owing angry creditors thousands of pounds, and making 60 staff redundant.

But it appears things are far tougher than people thought for the tubby celebrity chef because he’s now been reduced to stealing cheese and wine from Tesco.

And it wasn’t a one-off, of the Richard Madeley ‘sorry I didn’t realise there was a frozen chicken stuffed down my trousers’ school of shoplifting.

Worrall Thompson was arrested in front of shoppers at the supermarket (pic below) in Reading Road, Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire - after failing to pay for items at the self-service checkouts FIVE times in 16 days.


Some goods were scanned and paid for while others, including blocks of cheese from the deli and bottles of wine, were sneaked into bags without going through the till.

Suspicious staff are reported to have set up a hidden camera in the self-checkout area to catch the wily 60-year-old and prove he had not simply forgotten to pay.

Wozza - who has appeared on shows including the BBC's Ready, Steady, Cook and ITV's Daily Cooks Challenge, and is a fund-raiser for the Tories - was stopped by security guards as he tried to leave the shop on Friday.

He was arrested on suspicion of theft and questioned at a local police station.

In a statement, officers said: "Thames Valley Police arrested a 60-year-old man from High Wycombe following a report of shoplifting offences. The man has been issued with a formal caution for these offences."

The father-of-four had to admit to the shoplifting offences - which are believed to have taken place between December 22 and January 6 - in order to escape with a caution.


Tesco declined to comment describing it as a "police matter".

But it’s criminal that a man of AWT’s wealth (although he’s been forced to downsize from his £2m mansion in Henley for a home in far less salubrious High Wycombe, he still has a range of branded cookware, a country pub called The Greyhound, two grill restaurants in Kew and Windsor, and a delicatessen in Windsor) should be able to duck justice with just a caution while some single mothers struggling to feed their kids are given prison sentences for the same offence.

If it was just a one-off, a moment of madness, or a genuine mistake, you might understand police being lenient. But as he’s a fairly well-known celebrity, they should have made an example of him and at least prosecuted him in the courts to ensure he got a criminal record.

As Peter Cook once said, there’s one law for the rich...in fact there’s several laws for the rich, and very few for the poor.

UPDATE: Worrall Thompson has now apologised for his “stupid and irresponsible behaviour” and said he would get “clearly needed” treatment following the thefts.

In a statement, he said: “I am so sorry for all my recent stupid and irresponsible actions; I am of course devastated for my family and friends, whom I've let down and will seek the treatment that is clearly needed.

“I am not the first, and I certainly won't be the last person to do something without rhyme or reason - what went through my head, only time will tell.

“Of course, I must also apologise sincerely to Tesco, with whom I'm had a long and genuine working relationship, and to all the staff at the Henley branch, many of whom I've got to know over the years.

“Once again, I am so sorry and hopefully in the future I can make amends.”

MORE: Antony Worrall Thompson puts dolphin on menu


My new book on training to be a chef, including stints at Rick Stein's and the Fat Duck, is available to buy on Amazon for Kindle, iPad, iPhone etc. CLICK HERE to buy for just £2.05, about the price of half a lager.

"It's a bargain and an easy read, I didn't want to put it down." @Mcmoop

"Should be required reading for anyone who has ever dreamed of leaving the monotony of the 9 to 5 rat race to open their own restaurant." Breil Bistro

"A great read and should be a set text if you're considering a change of career, or God forbid, applying to Masterchef." richard

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Prahok: My Secret Addiction To Cambodia's Infamous Fermented Fish 'Cheese'


For the past few weeks, I’ve been staying in a guesthouse in Phnom Penh, writing every day in the restaurant downstairs, and trying to get the printed version of my book sorted. It’s a relaxing place, filled with backpackers all tapping away on their computers and updating their Facebook statuses as modern day travellers seem to do now.

It appears a lap-top, iPad, or at the very least a smart phone, are up there on the trusty travellers’ check list with sunscreen, sandals and mosquito repellent, which is very definitely needed in this bug-filled, thatched roof canteen.

Every hour a bus or a packed tuk tuk arrives with more tourists, some old, some young, some hauling monstrous backpacks that a small elephant would turn its trunk up to. Some are on their way north to Laos, some down to the coast to Sihanoukville, some are heading east to Vietnam, or west to Thailand, and some are just killing a day until their plane takes them back to their normal lives again, and the drudgery of a 9 to 5.

It’s like sitting at a crossroads watching the world go by. Other times, I feel like that bloke who lived in a French airport for six years. I feel mildly jealous of their energy and meticulously planned itineraries, but all most of them seem interested in is ticking off places they’ve been to.

None of them stay anywhere long enough to find out what a place is really like. How anyone can “see” India, Thailand, Cambodia and then Laos in two weeks - as celebrity chef Raymond Blanc just did before losing all his luggage and “Zen” on the flight home - is beyond me.

Occasional snatched trinkets of conversation drift over, but mostly I just tap away on my computer in the corner of the room, or offer the odd vehement curse as I try to resolve a formatting issue with my book.

Every day I eat the same two dishes - chicken porridge soup (bo bor sach moan) for breakfast/lunch, and prahok ling for supper (pic below). The owner, a fellow prahok addict, cooked the latter for me one day after I told her I was learning how to cook Cambodian food, and I’ve been ordering it ever since.


I eat so much of it, she even calls me Prahok Ling now, and is threatening to make me up a T-shirt with “I Love Prahok” on the back (which admittedly is a lot more original than the ubiquitous “No Money, No Honey” T-shirts that wide-eyed men of a certain age wear over here). But I can’t stop myself - it really is splendid.

And whenever I think I’m being odd, or noses are wrinkled when my dish laden with prahok arrives, I just look round at the backpackers eating their cheeseburgers and garlic bread, and wonder what the hell is the point of travelling 6,000 miles to eat Western food every day?

Prahok ling is fish paste fried with hand-chopped pork, onion, garlic, egg, and chilli. And it’s so strong there are strict Government laws in place to ensure you only get a small saucer of the stuff, which you eat with boiled jasmine rice and a plate of raw vegetables to take the edge off the extremely pungent taste.


But I’ve always been into bold, salty flavours, and for me it’s absolutely delicious, and is something I’m definitely going to try to replicate when I get back to the UK.

Knowing that prahok will be as rare as rocking horse manure in Blighty, I’ve been trying to figure out how to do this. I bought a couple of tins of anchovies the other day at a criminal price, chopped them up, and fried them in place of the prahok. It was pretty good, but not the same...

But anyway, this is how the guesthouse owner makes hers. She starts by hand-chopping about 500g of pork shoulder until it is minced but still has texture, and then thinly slices two onions, and chops four cloves of garlic, and two red bird eye chillies.

She heats a little oil in a wok and fries the pork for a few minutes until it is browned. She then removes it from the pan and sets it aside. She adds a little more oil to the wok, and then fries the onion for a couple of minutes until soft, and then throws in the garlic and chillies.

She cooks it for another few minutes before adding the pork and a spoonful or two of prahok, and some lime juice to taste. She then stir-fries the brownish mixture for 10 minutes, and sets it aside to cool. She keeps the mixture in a tub in the fridge ready for service.


When an order comes in (i.e. me), she heats a little oil in a wok, and then adds an egg. She stirs away furiously until the yolk has just cooked, and then adds about 100g of the pork and prahok mixture, and one or two whole red chillies, and fries it over a medium flame for three or four minutes (see pic above). She serves it on a saucer with a plate of raw cabbage, aubergines, onion, and cucumber, and a small mound of steamed rice.

I can’t recommend it highly enough. And if I ever do a Cambodian pop-up night when I get back to the UK, or run a barbecued cow (ko dut) street stall (see pic gallery below), or open a cafe doing the odd Khmer special, or indeed pursue any other of my half-baked plans that seem to change daily with the breeze blowing in from the Tonle Sap River, then prahok ling will definitely be on the menu.





My new book on training to be a chef, including stints at Rick Stein's and the Fat Duck, is available to buy on Amazon for Kindle, iPad, iPhone etc. CLICK HERE to buy for just £2.05, about the price of half a lager.

"It's a bargain and an easy read, I didn't want to put it down." @Mcmoop

"Should be required reading for anyone who has ever dreamed of leaving the monotony of the 9 to 5 rat race to open their own restaurant." Breil Bistro

"A great read and should be a set text if you're considering a change of career, or God forbid, applying to Masterchef." richard

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

TV Cook Rachel Allen Gets Hate Mail For Shooting Pheasants


TV cook Rachel Allen has received hate mail after posting a picture of herself at a shoot with dead birds draped over the bonnet of her Chelsea Tractor.

The Irish celebrity chef, dressed in a wax jacket, flat cap, and holding a shotgun, smiles as she poses with four shot pheasants on her Audi four-wheel drive.

She posted the photo on her Facebook account with the message: “Enjoyed a great day's shooting in North Cork recently where I managed to get a few birds for our St Stephen's Day lunch.

“I'm going to make game terrine, the recipe for which is below. Wishing you all a merry Christmas and happy New Year!”

But it seems the festive goodwill was in short supply with a number of readers posting furious comments on the 39-year-old's page.

“I hope you have a shooting accident, and the gun is turned on you,” wrote one internet user, who logged in as Caroline Fitzgerald.

Another, Christina Swan-Doyle, blasted: “Hey Rachel, just wondering what’s on the menu tonight? Fox? Or maybe hound? You are a disgrace, absolutely disgusting behaviour. I hope the new year brings you all the karma that your due (sic).”


Annemarie Lucas added: “Ur a disgrace u horrible person..killing animals in that manner stick 2 your cooking im sure that needs improvement..shame on you (sic).”

Some of the comments were far worse, and made hate-filled, defamatory references to her family. But most fans were either indifferent or supported her actions, with 70 people ‘liking’ her photo.

“Well done Rachel Allen...great shooting! Had one bird myself today!” said fan David O’Leary.

Rory Allen, from Ballymaloe House in Shanagarry, Co Cork, Ireland, where Rachel teaches cooking courses, defended her actions, saying it was not unusual for a chef to kill their own food and many people ate game birds.

The row came as a hunt at Ballymaloe was slammed by anti-hunting campaigners, who accused the cooking school of breaking a commitment not to use hounds at their annual New Year's Day event. Mr Allen said that hounds were brought along to the fox hunt without permission, even though an agreement had been made.

"We're very embarrassed about the situation," he told the Irish Independent, adding that foxes were viewed as vermin, and he had lost a number of baby pigs and hens to foxes last year.

MORE: Gastropub chef gets hate mail for putting rook on the menu

My new book on training to be a chef, including stints at Rick Stein's and the Fat Duck, is available to buy on Amazon for Kindle, iPad, iPhone etc. CLICK HERE to buy for just £2.05, about the price of half a lager.

"It's a bargain and an easy read, I didn't want to put it down." @Mcmoop

"Should be required reading for anyone who has ever dreamed of leaving the monotony of the 9 to 5 rat race to open their own restaurant." Breil Bistro

"A great read and should be a set text if you're considering a change of career, or God forbid, applying to Masterchef." richard

Monday, January 02, 2012

Keith Floyd's 'Last Ever' Interview For Sale On eBay


An unbroadcast video recording said to be the last ever interview with Keith Floyd has gone on sale on eBay.

The 15-minute tape is said to have been taken shortly before the TV chef’s death in September 2009, while he was visiting his friend Jean-Christophe Novelli at his £250 a day cooking academy at Crouchmoor Farm in Hertfordshire.

The seller Tony Eddison says he has the only copy in existence, and the footage has never been broadcast.

He told Chef Sandwich: "I filmed the interview as a favour to JC Novelli whom I was working with at the time. Floyd was due to collaborate in a cooking 'theatre' at JC's academy, but due to ill health this didn't come off. It was a huge buzz to meet my 'hero' in the flesh and chat with him like this."

So far, there have been 14 bids, with the current bid standing at £27. But with four days left until the auction closes, and Eddison claiming he had to relist the item on eBay following interest from overseas bidders, it’s likely the price will go much higher.


The scripted interview is said to contain Floyd’s views on British food, his thoughts on what it takes to be a chef, as well as some trademark anecdotes from the skewed bow tie-wearing roué.

“Floyd although visibly more tired than in his heyday keeps the twinkle in his eye and his zest for life is clear. The tape contains interview and out-takes and lead-ins and is the only master copy in existence, no other copies on any media exist. This interview was not broadcast,” the seller wrote on the item description.

Floyd’s former manager Stan Green, who has been appointed to look after the celebrity chef’s media and licensing rights for his two children Patrick and Poppy, was unavailable for comment.

(Pic: Stan Green Management)

But he may well be interested in the tape and its contents, especially as he’s producing a TV tribute to Floyd with Poppy (above) and her brother Patrick, himself a chef, later this year.

Poppy, an architect who lives in Hong Kong and a wannabe TV presenter, plans to visit the places visited by her late dad, recalling his adventures.

The tribute - provisionally titled Floyd On Floyd (what else?) - is said to have interest from a number of broadcasters. And, if all goes to plan, Poppy, 27, will follow in his footsteps and relive some of the best-known moments from the shows.

Anything to distract from that appalling, car crash TV documentary broadcast by Channel 4 on the night Floyd died.

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