What’s for Supper – LOVE!

I often reflect on the amazing skills we have in our group of Leiths and Cordon Bleu trained teaching chefs. Not just the rigorous, classical training, but years of cooking for ourselves, for partners and children, and now, for ageing parents. Never has it been more obvious than now, that home made food is an expression of love, of care and of nurturing and never mere sustenance.

Love underpins and defines home cooked food and also the amazing food created by people who are passionate about extending the same level of love to guests in independent cafés, bistros and restaurants up and down the country.  This love is a stark contrast to the big global chains of fast food and, sadly, increasingly of smaller chains representing more “exclusive” brands, purporting to replicate what the initial flag ship restaurant once made.

You will all have visited places where the name above the door and the prices of the menus reflect a more upmarket original restaurant but where, unbeknownst to customers, every single dish will have been shipped in from a central production kitchen, even down to cartons of already whisked and seasoned eggs for scramble, and where the “chefs” behind the scenes cook nothing from scratch. Customers are not lied to outright – the beef is beef and the sour dough is a sour dough – simply helped – wrongly as it happens – to assume that the dishes carried out to the tables have been made by chefs in that kitchen, when they have in fact been mass produced in some distant industrial style kitchen, delivered and then assembled and re-heated.

Having the training from institutions such as Le Cordon Bleu is a bit like going through the Royal School of Ballet – it instils rigorous, sound, proven skills on which more experimental, modern creations can be built. It means that our team conveys the absolute best and most solid of skills which we combine with, between us, more than 200 years of cooking both at home and commercially! Best not reflect for too long on how old that makes us. There are 6 of us so you can do the maths…

We love sharing what we know, that is why we teach. The aim is never to show off or, god forbid, intimidate. The aim is simply to be as generous as we can, and fit in as much as is humanely possible of culinary skills, in the 4 hours we have at our disposal in any given class. We want to inspire and we love it when we witness that Eureka moment of “ah…I get it! THAT is why my bread was dense/my pastry collapsed/my soufflé sank/my sauce split/my pork is dry…”etc etc

Good food is love. It brings well being. It underpins our health. It has never been more important than now to reflect on how we eat, and what we eat. We have grown reluctant to make food for ourselves and for our families, and we choose instead to rely on, and to unquestioningly trust, mass produced, processed food made out of sight and for which the sustainability, quality and nutritional levels are unknown and completely out of our control.

It is the willing surrendering of control, of input, which I find so surprising. Freedom of choice, making decisions for every aspect of our daily lives is something we take for granted and cherish in a welfare democracy. Yet, for that most vital ingredient, the daily food we give our children and ourselves, we surrender all control and ask no questions.

Instead, we are easily and readily seduced by every new fad and trend, hungry and hopeful for some kind of miracle food flown in from far flung countries, which will deliver eternal life, when the simple fact is that, alongside a bit of regular exercise, cooking normal, every day food from scratch, using sustainable, local ingredients is your best bet for a long and healthy life.

When we cook, we see the raw and unadulterated ingredients that you use. It simply isn’t possible to add levels of salt or sugar which could be bad for our health because the ensuing dish would quite simply be inedible. Just revolting. However, the many artificial sweeteners in ready made sauces, the salt added even to sweet foods such as cereal, you can’t taste. All we taste are the savoury, fatty and sweet flavours which the big food manufacturers know will give the brain a high and keep all of us coming back for more.

To stay healthy, we must cook our own food. To stay engaged, we need to reconnect with food.

To sustain ourselves and our children, we need to take back control of what we put through our bodies.

I absolutely do not buy the argument that cooking from scratch is a privilege only the well to do can afford. A little bit of knowledge is all it takes to cook and to do so on a modest budget. I regularly cook food with a per portion price well below £1, often below 50p. Obtaining food at such low cost is simply not possible if the food is processed ready meals, or deliveries from chains. Lend me a tenner and I will promise you I can buy ingredients from which I can create delicious meals for a full week.

This is why cooking, taught in a relevant and enjoyable way, needs to be put back on the curriculum in schools. Government initiatives have so far failed to curtail the all-powerful global food industry. If we get our children involved in cooking with us at home, helping working parents by preparing for suppers, and shift the focus to teaching the next generation how to cook we will help them to love and expect the taste of normal home made food. That in turn will lead to a change in shopping habits which will benefit producers of ingredients, not meals, that is to say farmers, in particular small scale ones, sustainable fishing, and outlets such as green grocers and markets, rather than large scale manufacturers of processed food and pan global supermarkets whose unholy alliance have been undermining our health over then past decades. It is not just our personal health which is undermined, it is the environment. Mass produced food, quite simply, is the opposite of love and life.

So what are we waiting for? Let’s get cooking and let’s get the kids and teens cooking! Dig a little vegetable garden, plant some seeds for the windowsill, accompany your kids to the entrance of your nearest food shop, with a tenner worth of credit on a card, and ask them to come back out with ingredients for at least 2 family meals.