Today is not about ending with a recipe, but about a challenge I want to put to you and about what makes up the recipes. When someone says simplicity, I have visions of pure artistry. Whether it’s the simple lines of a design, the fresh dewdrop covered leaves of a head of fresh old fashioned iceberg lettuce or the balance of tart and oil in a French dressing; that screams perfection. All simple, yet all elements that can make anyone wax lyrical when you truly experience it. Simplicity refers to something that is free of complexity and pretension. (Interestingly enough, it also means free from deceit).
We are living in such a complex world. Inundated with so many things; from messaging (necessary or unnecessary – compliments from the marketing fraternity), to being bombarded with visual stimulus, and flavour upon flavour of foods, ingredients, what you should and what you shouldn’t eat. Where you should eat it and where not and inevitably, who should be the best person to make it for you. I come from that same environment. Where we all strive to be the best chef to cook for you, create something for you that you will never forget. And we try every day to create something that will stand out above the rest. Be better, smarter, more creative etc. Along the way we might move so far away from what we started with. Because surely you have to be so clever to stand out from the others, right? However, I don’t believe this.
Once you start to manipulate those simplest of ingredients to become something that it wasn’t made to be in the first instance, that’s when we stray. As chefs we move so far away from what is truly the winner plate. And that is using the simplicity of good ingredients, their own flavours, textures, smells, origins and making that the focus of your dish. Rather than trying to manipulate them into something that you might think is genius.
I do realise that there will be a whole movement of people that will now want to stone me for the mere thought that I am saying we should move away from creating all kinds of foams, liquids, caviars etc to adorn a plate. But as strongly as each of those chefs and creatives feel about their foams, that’s how I feel about going back to simplicity. When you taste the perfectly created simple plate of real Spaghetti Vongole or Sole Mornay, what about the exact smooth, beautifully silky balanced Bechamel? Or the calves liver done simply in garlic, olive oil and butter? That is when you realise that food will always remain beautiful food when it’s in its simplest form. There where you can truly experience the flavours without having to try all different tricks of smokes and plates flown in from a designer in Milan or spoons that can perfectly fit into the smallest of little glasses that you can barely see on the plate.
That is not what makes the food. And I do believe that we should sometimes look at the ingredients with the level of respect that it deserves. And approach ingredients from a different point of view. With not what you expect from it, but rather what you can make of it, when staying true to its natural flavours. Almost like a child that tastes their first strawberry. Take it, touch, feel, savour – truly taste. And then decide what you want to do with it.
When I talk about ingredients like this, I am not romanticising and just saying that you can only live from market to market. Even those things you might buy at the local little vegetable corner store that’s been around for years and years. Yes, also those green beans that need a serious wash, as it’s not ready and prepped like we’re so used to getting from the shiny supermarkets, yes even those dusty greens can show you what you should do with them.
Digressing, but I am sure when you look at this, you will see the symmetry that you could get if you apply this lesson from ingredients on life? We become so very clever in everything we do. It has to be just that one step further, only then will it be better. Let’s work on that concept, adding layer upon layer of more elements. And while we’re at it, we’re sure there’s one more layer to this plan or programme or visual or plate that will make it just right. This might be what you do at your work, but until you open that cupboard and you see the skinny jeans that you know you won’t be wearing. Those magazines from 5 years ago that you know you will NEVER read. Layer upon layer of elements is what you keep on adding. Thinking you will need it. And you don’t. By adding those layers, that’s how we complicate our lives. Literally things and people can be stripped from your life. You will be extremely surprised how much lighter it is. And yes you might just taste a cucumber’s true flavours for the first time.
And you see, there is no recipe, because today is about the ingredients. I want you to go ahead and make your list of your favourite things to eat. Your favourite recipes, what you love, what works for you. What foods give you please in other words…..in their simplest form.
Or open that fridge and start tasting – I dare you – even blindfold yourself and truly taste it.