Thursday, 22 March 2018

Bernadette, the Kremlin and the mining of her data




Bernadette had been dressed from the heart of the Kremlin since the day she opened her eyes. And to decide what her clothes would be, her keepers would watch her eyes every minute of the day. If her eyes lingered on the night sky, dark velvets with embroidered silver points would be her next gown. If she waved her little fists excitedly at the sound of rustling leaves her next little cape would be the finest, starched cotton chintz. Her debutante ball gown was the result of observing her adolescent joy at the finest spiders’ webs. (Needless to say, this dress was banned by her mother and replaced with a dress inspired, instead, by Bernadette’s secret fascination with monasticism.) The point is that it was Bernadette’s data, the information about her behaviour provided by none other than herself, which was closely watched and cleverly employed by the Kremlin. This, of course, secured her commitments to, originally, Russia and, later on, the Russian Federation. She was a national treasure.


When Bernadette came of age she was told a heart breaking story. Her mother, prodigious scholar and inimitable sage, having long resented the social frippery and popularity of Bernadette’s father, was determined to turn their daughter against him. So, when Bernadette discovered one day, to her horror, that everything she thought was private about herself, had in fact been used like a commodity, her mother seized the moment. Bernadette falling at her mother’s knee, her body wracked by tears, wailing loudly that she hated the Kremlin and the Kremlin’s enemies alike, was then told the following tale.  
Facebook was a wonderful story book, written by its own readers about themselves, started her mother. One day there was upset about the readers’ stories in Facebook being used to further the political aims of The Great Tzar. But, as Bernadette’s mother reminded her, all the readers knew already that Facebook mined their stories to make a great big, Uber story told to all the other readers. So, it should not have been surprising that The Great Tzar might get hold of it to use for his own ends. It is, after all, useful to know what one’s subjects think, is it not? It is useful to know what another’s subjects think. Are they plotting revolution? And it is particularly useful to be able to influence all of them.

Her mother suggested that Bernadette’s horror at the Tzar’s mining of her story as opposed to Facebook’s mining of it is, of course, because of the human intent behind the Tzar’s mining and the ends for which it was used. It is one thing when an inanimate thing like a story book uses its own stories to suggest beautiful fabrics, pretty chandeliers and new friends to its readers and writers. It is quite another when an outsider’s mind, free and with its own motives and will, uses these stories to win political favour. Bernadette’s mother cautioned that, like her father, her fickle and social ways, her desire to have many friends, would always lead to compromise. Her story will always simply be fodder for another’s aims.


Do only Tzars from the Kremlin do such evil things, asked Bernadette, drying her tear stained face on her Vyatka lace cuffs. Her mother, a committed nationalist, patriot and, eventually, comrade, caressing Bernadette’s dark hair, assured her this was not the case. Their Tzar is certainly not the only one doing this. Nor is he the only one fabricating reasons for warring in other people’s countries. Nor is he the only one getting in, and staying in power, on the whiff of the strange new fangled idea of democratic election. Nor is his inconvenient election by his people the first to be called corrupted by the West. No, says the scholar and sage, the Russian Tzar has given the Russian people a name again. And this name is a strong and uncompromising Russian one, not an adoptive Western one. It is one which falls easily off the Russian tongue. The moral of the tale was not meant for the Tzar, it was meant for Bernadette, warns her mother. Do not bare your soul and then be surprised when it is scrutinised. Zazdarovje!


Important notice: The Glenwood Restaurant will be cooking, on the odd occasion, at The Glenwood Bakery from after the restaurant’s closing date on the 19th of May 2018. If you are keen to be kept in the loop about such events, by email as opposed to by Facebook, please send your email address to carin.b.robinson@gmail.com

Saturday, 3 February 2018

Cooking for France



Mr Robinson, chef and proprietor of The Glenwood Restaurant, has been invited by the French Embassy (SA) to participate in a week celebrating French cuisine. This week is an international event, organised by the French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs.

The French, as we have all realised by now, are unapologetic champions of their culture and central to their culture is food. Now, it is tempting, as I have just done, to use ‘French cuisine’ in a nearly generic sense. But this is very far from accurate. There is the north of France and the south of France. There is haute cuisine and classical cuisine. There is what the French eat at home and what they eat in restaurants. But what holds true through all these distinctions is that the French took their primacy in European cuisine to be absolute for at least 150 years until, relatively recently, people started noting Italian and then Spanish cuisine, and so on. And even in parts of the world which are not Europe it has been expected, for some bizarre reason, that the French would be the judges of how others fair with their own conceptualisation and execution – we have had Michelin judgements since 1926.

Robinson, as we know, is a stickler for making food he likes to eat. His leanings are also towards that part of France, Provence, which belonged to Italy till as recent as 1486. Provence is that incredible place so lauded and loved by Elizabeth David and her hero, Marcel Boulestin. It is home to where France meets Italy. Provencal food is rooted in the terrain of the produce, and these are used according to classical rules. The French love rules; they have rules for everything. This type of food is fresh, accessible and simple, but by no means easy to produce. There is no chance of subterfuge – of hiding behind mousses and jellies, or under blobs and swirls. There is no chance of baffling with things very esoteric. There is no smoke, nor are there mirrors here.

This is the food you eat at The Glenwood Restaurant and is what has won Robinson the invitation to participate. Over this week we shall also have French wines available, as is required of participants.

Here is something about the cultural week. And then to follow is the menu (R290 per head) we are serving over this week (21 to 25 March, for us). You are welcome to book by the usual means.

GOÛT DE FRANCE (a symbol of good France)

“Cuisine - French cuisine - represents joie de vivre, lightness, optimism and pleasure, ideas which are central to the image of Destination France”. Alain Ducasse, event creator alongside the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs  The spirit of Goût de France / Good France follows this founding idea with the aim of including all categories of restaurant throughout the world. This international event, which was first held in 2015, follows UNESCO’s decision to put “gastronomic meal of the French” on the intangible cultural heritage list. Thus on 21 March every year, participating restaurants offer guests the experience of French art de vivre and pay tribute to its capacity for innovation and the values that it represents: sharing, pleasure, and respect for good food, good company and the planet.   In 2017, over 2,100 participating restaurants in 150 countries, 250,000 meals and 8,000 guests in 156 embassies. Vitality, modernity, responsibility: gastronomy will be used to showcase France's positive values, with the warmth associated with the pleasures of good food.

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On arrival:
Olives and Bakery bread with anchovy butter
(Et du pain de la maison avec di beurre d’anchovois)
------------------
Starters:
Deep fried courgette flowers stuffed with house made ricotta
(Fleur de courgette farci au fromage)
Or
Steamed oysters with tomato and tarragon butter
(Huitres au vapeur, beurre de tomate et l’estragon)
-----------------
Mains:
Impala stew braised in red wine with mash
(Civet de chevreuil “Grandmere”)
Or
Open ravioli with ratatouille and basil butter
(Pate fraîche a la ratatouille et du beurre de basalic)
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Cheeses:
Local farmhouse cheeses with Bakery walnut and raisin sourdough bread
(Plateau de fromage fermiers servi avec notre pain de noyer et raisin)
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Puddings:
Choux pastry fritters with ginger ice cream and hot chocolate sauce
(Biegnets soufflés de chocolat chaud et dela crème glacée de gingembre)
Or
Plum and almond tart with vanilla ice cream
(Tarte aux bruneaux et amandes avec glace a la vanille)
----------------------

Café et petits fours

Saturday, 16 December 2017

Bernadette becomes a vegetarian



Even though Bernadette’s parents were not animal rights activists, nor kind people, they did love horses and dogs. Also whales and dolphins. And lastly, lions and elephants. They were, naturally, vociferously posed against hunting for sport and also against eating dogs and horses. On the other hand, they always maintained, while presenting some rather startling lines of reasoning, that one could eat cows and sheep and could hunt salmon and tuna. 
 
Now, despite Bernadette’s meticulous schooling by a posse of classically trained monks, on her mother’s appointment, she found it difficult to live with her parents’ incoherent beliefs about animals. Despite the fact that she had been taught to argue deities into existence, her will out of existence and to make injustices just, she simply could not make head or tail out of how her parents thought about other sentient beings. The inductive leaps, the contradictions, the strange favouritism and, generally, just the tension between their hedonism and their compassion left her awe struck.
Bernadette, when she was awe struck, preferred it to be due to dresses, food or wine. She was her father’s child in this regard.

It was, therefore, with some trepidation that Bernadette decided to try her hand at vegetarianism. A sort of designer type, which permits the consumption of anchovy. One of her tutors, a breatharian (who, naturally, has recently shuffled off this mortal coil), had instructed her as to how one makes a transition from one set of values to another. Given that there are many, many sets of values, none of which have any firmer factual foundation than the next, he always became very flustered when Bernadette asked him what was right and what was wrong. What was good and what was bad? His eyes would widen and he would breathlessly reply: ‘It is impossible to tell, Bernadette, with any certainty. So, it is best to be flexible about good and bad. As long as your beliefs all fit together nicely.’

So, Bernadette did not become a vegetarian because she thought it was morally better. She became one because she believed her parents were paragons of unreason, and she could not abide it. Like not abiding people who wear stretched purple velvet and many bracelets, Bernadette could not abide the sentimental underpinnings of her parents’ world view about animals. Neither of her parents would ever wear such things, of course! They had better sense than that. Her father, as we know, was a style icon, clad only in shades of black all made of either of the finest Egyptian cotton or Chinese silk. Her mother, eminent scholar and formidable intellect, wore mostly hooded capes of roughly hewn cloth, in dark brown. Her only luxury being the satin slip between that and her brown skin.

No, Bernadette’s vegetarianism would be analogous to crisp white shirts with starched collars. It would the bedfellow of finely crafted wine and slow fermented sourdough. It would be the favourite peer and confidante of a perfectly roasted little quail. Metaphorically speaking.

On that day, the 16th day of December, Bernadette became a vegetarian. One who eats anchovies; thus rendering her vegetarianism like a Persian carpet.*

*The real reason is that she simply could not forego Caesar salads nor spaghetti puttanesca.

Important notices: The bakery will be closed on Christmas Day, Boxing Day and on New Year’s Day. The restaurant will be open as per usual over this time (i.e. closed on Mondays and Tuesdays and open for the rest). But the restaurant will close for two weeks from the 15th of January, and open again on the 31st of January.  

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Letters from friends

From Jo Corrigan to Adam Robinson

To follow is a beautiful letter sent to Mr Robinson by his friend, Jo Corrigan. Ms Corrigan cooked with Robinson in London, during the 90s. Her current occupation is working with her partner to forage for wild things for the kitchens of knowing chefs.
 Shared here, with her permission.



" I'm sitting on a beach on Phu Quoc Isle, Vietnam, having had ten splendid days here with Matt. The flowers and the fruit are on steroids. The sea is bath warm and roars on happily outside our villa. It's monsoon and, whilst our fellow travellers struggle, their humour noisily suspended by the constant downpour of inches and inches of tropical rain and the absence of hot water due to solar interruption we are both just- well - very content. 

We are cocooned in the heat and the sheer luxury of swapping our Macedon Ranges home, which currently battles snow and ice, for this life of freedom in the shape of an old motorbike, beautiful people, night fish market feasts of razor clams, grilled squid and pho, plates of sautéed morning glory, whole days motionless... reading and reading... and sleep- the kind of sleep it's hard to really have unless you momentarily hang your life on a high shelf. 

Life at home has finally settled into a beautiful yearly rhythm where we do exactly what we planned we always would - pretty much the length of the year. 

From February onward we go into mushroom season. Matt and the team start in the Blue Mountains in some of the most beautiful old forests I've ever seen. Towering, they are miles from civilisation. We see few folk through there, the odd cattle farmer who shares the boundary with the forestry commission. These forests are rich in all wild mushrooms, blackberries, river mint... Their slopes are high. They test the spirit and the legs. 

I travel between there and Melbourne with early loads then I catch further tonnes off overnight freight in one of the vans and deliver to the wholesale market and the restaurants. It's a great sustainable business. It can be demanding, however. The light at the end of the tunnel is this period in July, August/September when we can ramble happily and live without a plan. 
We are often joined on our mission by travellers eager for an experience of food in the wild. The last lot boasted a very good fisherman. This made for some pretty memorable suppers. 

We finish in NSW when the local season starts on Mount Macedon around April/May. 
We spend a couple of weeks changing spots into south Australia where we have a cabin for 3 months a year, a beautiful spot with koalas, a lemon tree, a pub and about 20 huge forests that offer kilos and kilos of mushrooms at a time of year that others find it difficult to source them. Sometimes we head into Adelaide, catching a game of our beloved Collingwood and driving happily through the Adelaide Hills and a favourite spot, Basket Range, where wild watercress is delicious right from the stream. We found lovely Porcini here one year... under a set of swings in a park! 

Spring. September offers us morels. We head to the snow country after the thaw. We're still yet to crack the tonnes that we experience with the other varieties but we get a little better every year. Matt is such a happy camper if we can come home with 40 kg. They don't taste as strong as European morel but they're thrilling to sleuth out and always sell well. 

Cooking is still my first love. However, I do not miss the shape of it in terms of restaurant life. Where did honest food go? I know it's on our table at home. It is in the homes of our friends. That's where we eat more and more.  I don't miss owning a restaurant. I don’t miss fielding a young chef’s desire to create something 'new' when all we really need is to combine a menu that reflects a good combination historically. A menu that will take into account the skill on board and the ingredients available locally. Then back all that up with good, honest warmth and hospitality. We supply many, many kitchens that champion these values, certainly values that The Brackenbury instilled in me. Since joining Matt in his quest to put hard to get gear onto the chopping boards of like-minded chefs I have so enjoyed walking into those businesses and seeing faces instantly light up as they chat excitedly about what they will cook with whatever we have brought them.

In previous summers we have lent our time to part time gigs, event catering and so on. Instead, this year, we are going to finally complete our dream of growing 12 different heirloom tomatoes on a large scale. We did a test amount last year in our back garden and produced a good 70 kilos which went to favoured chefs. Wonderful! I wrote a form letter last month and, being in winery rich/organic country I popped it through twenty or so letterboxes. I wasn't prepared for the response. 10 properties offered spare land, a tractor and bore water and so the project took joyous flight. We chose three of the local wineries and we start ploughing and preparing next week. They will receive vegetables for the house on return. One fellow, giving us the biggest area, has requested 6% of our total crop earn. A good deal in the end. 

To aid the size of all of this we finally purchased a beautiful big green house. We have this delivered the day after we get back and our seedlings will go in. Joy.


Hoping my yearly yarn finds you both well and enjoying both your businesses. I do check them out from time to time and do dream of visiting. I do know I'll find honest cooking there and it's not too far to go to find it."  

Friday, 8 September 2017

Bernadette fits a dress



When Bernadette turned 48 years old, she knew that she would not be able to go on as she had before. She knew then that all attempts at subterfuge and sophistry would come to naught. She knew that her web of beliefs had been exposed for the falseness and treachery that they were. She had been exposed. She had finally come loose from the firmament of middle class morality. Bernadette was undone.

Up until then it was of not much significance that the cost of a dress could be the same as another person’s monthly wage. It was of no real consequence that the cost of an airplane ticket might solve another family’s financial crisis. It mattered only briefly that to attend Shakespeare’s Globe comes at the same price as another’s heating bill. Naturally, Bernadette, did think about these things. Her mother, eminent scholar and formidable ethicist, had tortured the young Bernadette with confounding questions about morals since she could speak her first words. But, in the past, the denouement of such musings would, minimally, be a sort of vague uneasiness, a confusion about what is right. At best it would result in finding another charity or visiting her dying, senile aunt. Sometimes just watching Sir David Attenborough expound the nature of Nature would bring relief. Learning a new language, particularly of those least favoured by the world economic system, would positively induce feelings of moral superiority in Bernadette. The point is, a sense of well-being and moral ease, could be achieved with relatively little effort.

Bernadette, looking into the mirror, waiting for the French lotions to take action that morning, knew evil had set in. It had set in with the knowledge thereof. And the romantic poets knew this would happen long before Bernadette was a twinkle in her father’s beautiful and wandering eye. In the past, in Bernadette’s youth, when her body was nubile and milky white, and when her mind was like a sapling, yielding and filled with hope, she could find ways to approve of herself. But when she became 48, and the world presented as brittle stories with definite edges, a just world was not credible anymore. And her moral goodness was not credible either. For the likes of Bernadette, her evil nature reared its monstrous head; it rose like the truest scion of this defunct world in which everyone fights for a bit of light. A world where the light is just a chipped, plastic sequin dangling over a dirty dance floor. Nothing more than that.

If all this seems a tad dramatic, a little too dark, Bernadette suggests that you, you esteemed reader, look to Al Jazeera. Look to The Guardian. Look to The Beijing Review. Look to the International Socialist Review. Look to the Great World Wide Web. Look and tell the scribe how brilliantly astute Bernadette is. I shall convey your compliments to her. Presently, she is fitting a dress and eating mozzarella boconcini.  

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Elizabeth David again; this time on presentation




I turn again to the inimitable Elizabeth David for inspiration. Here she has written about ‘buffet’ tables. She seems to have quite a lot to say about what such a spread should look like. Buffets are, of course, reminiscent of the ‘harvest table’ that is now on offer for lunch at the restaurant, during the week. The wonderful thing about David is that, while everyone else was decorating platters in the most unfortunate and embarrassing ways, or trying to get everything onto, or into, silver and glass, she knew better. Her culinary and visual taste transcended her time. She should be forever deemed an Ultimate Judge; a final arbiter of good taste. Hume was wrong about only this one thing; what is aesthetically correct is not subjective. Elizabeth David’s advice on the vessels for salads and stews and soups rises above the fashions of the 50s, 60s and 70s in England; the decades over which she produced her incredible books.

Here she is in ‘South Wind Through The Kitchen’ in a chapter called, ‘Buffet food’. She speaks about catering for a party; and what is the harvest table at The Glenwood Restaurant if not a party? I have edited her words slightly, to fit our physical page.

“The presentation of party dishes, and of course of all food, is an important point. Cold food should certainly have a lavish and colourful appearance, but to varnish it with gelatine or to smother it with whirls of mayonnaise seems to me a misconception of what makes for an appetizing appearance. The effect needed is not of food tormented into irrelevant shapes but of fresh ingredients freshly cooked and not overhandled. The most elementary hors-d’œuver such as a plate of radishes with a few of their green leaves, a dish of green and black olives and another of halved hard-boiled eggs (not overcooked) with butter and bread on the table, is ten times more tempting than the same ingredients got up in a pattern all in one dish and garnished with strips of this and dabs of that. You are, after all, preparing a meal, not decorating the village hall.

As for hot food, if it has not acquired an appetizing look during the cooking, a few blobs of cream or a border of mashed potatoes will do little to improve matters. There are, of course, way of making good food look especially beautiful. The colour, size and shape of the serving dish is obviously important; food should never be crammed into too small a dish; serve rice and pilaffs on large shallow platters, not pressed into deep glass casseroles; for the serving of fish and of grilled chicken, which could be spread out rather than piled up, a long narrow dish is best.

Paesant and country stews of beans or lentils, deep brown daubes of meat or game, onion and oil-flavoured ragoûts of pimentos or purple-skinned aubergines lose some of their particular charm (and also get cold) when transferred from earthen pots to a smart silver entrée dish, and all the delicious brown bits on the bottom and sides of the dish are lost. Dark glowing blue china, the dark brown glaze of slip ware pottery and plain white always make good backgrounds for food.”

The Glenwood Restaurant, like the Glenwood Bakery, is now open seven days a week, in one way or 

Friday, 21 July 2017

Massimo at Osteria Francescana, Modena



The Robinsons watched Netflix’s ‘Chef’s Table’ few days ago. It was very interesting in parts. Very. What was particularly interesting was watching the episode on Massimo Bottura, an Italian born chef, working in Modena. There he is head chef for his restaurant called Osteria Francescana.

This restaurant was, during the early stages of its existence, so quiet that it sometimes fed no one. It now has three Michelin stars and is, as expected, fully booked for months. This is despite its home being a small and extremely traditional Italian village. Now, most will assume that it being in a small and traditional village is a challenge to its success because it is out of the way and populated with the non-cognoscenti one expects to find in rural areas. But, in fact, the reason why it is a wonder that it exists despite its surroundings is because the people of Modena, for a very long time after the opening of it, judged its extravagant and lawless reproduction of traditional Italian cuisine as unacceptable. What were those splotches, broken pastries and strange compositions which only remotely represented what they were used to eating? From where the audacity to mess with what has been firmly established and is, evidently, the food people have grown up on?

Of course, the Netflix ‘Chef’s Table’ sings the praises of Massimo’s self-belief, determination and his commitment to his vision; one which flies in the face of tradition. The Glenwood Restaurant too sings his praises for his self-belief, determination and his commitment to his vision. But we do not share his actual vision. We found ourselves strangely siding with tradition – with the people of Modena and not with the bedazzled Milanese making their way to Osteria Francescana to eat deconstructed tortellini en brodo. We found ourselves very sympathetic to the fact that there should be ten tortellini for every mouthful and not six marching on a piece of slate towards something which merely represents the brodo. Call us old fashioned, but we think the people of Modena have been robbed.

There are indeed many, many traditions which must go. Such as expensive wedding dresses and American movies with a Christmas theme. But do not mess with tortellini en brodo. Nor with lemon tart. So, if The Glenwood Restaurant ever closes its doors due to a lack of comprehension it will be because the supposed cognoscenti are looking for pieces of slate carrying food that looks like Jackson Pollock paintings (note, we are fans of Pollock paintings when done in oils on canvas). Such food, for good reason, will never, ever be found across our threshold.

Nevertheless, we genuinely love Massimo for his commitment to, and revelry in, cooking. Also for his evident skill. But we looked in wonderment, with much real entertainment and with not just a little horror at what emerges from his kitchen. Viva la cuisine!