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)
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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)
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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)
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Café et petits fours