You're cooking food; just make nice food!*
When did jelly become so fancy anyway?
"I think Glaswegians’s can’t be bothered with the wank; they see it through it and don’t want to spend money on it.”
Couldn’t have put it better myself, Rosie Healey, head chef and co-owner at new restaurant Alchemilla in Glasgow, as she references her locals' rebuttal of posh jellies and foams. Traditional fine dining doesn’t resonate culturally in Glasgow says Rosie and so she set up her own restaurant (ex-Ottolenghi’s in London), on her own terms. A place where she offers honest mediterranean inspired food that’s worth paying for. The menu changes daily according to what is going to taste the best (i.e it’s in season because the Lady really in charge, Mother Nature herself has made it available. Alchemilla also serves natural wines (meaning nothing is added, or that there is very low celllar intervention). Another step to help further the no nonsense buzz while simultaneously supporting small, artisan winemakers that create this 'wilder' tasting vino.
Chefs as we know them (or should I say, those that are given most air time) are generally male with a fairly aggressive stage presence - think of the macho, belligerent Marco Pierre White and Gordon ‘women can’t cook to save their lives’ Ramsay, or the less power heavy but still none the less, male - the late Antonio Carluccio, Jamie Oliver, Michel Roux, Rick Stein, Heston Blumenthal, Giorgio Locatelli, Tom Kerridge, Gino D’acampo or who are male but who are hilarious and just cannot stop drinking red wine Keith Floyd (HIYOS loved you dearly). An odd representation isn’t it given that it was traditional for ‘er indoors to be chained to the oven or waiting for him to come home so she could eat her own dinner (until the clever BT ad men helped her to stand up for herself - “dinner’s in the dog, dah-ling”. Or as the saying goes, having a child hanging off her ‘apron strings.’ It’s slightly horrifying to think that back in the 50’s adverts like this were acceptable.
Are both knees on the floor darling? I might not be able to digest my breakfast if they're not....
How many female leading chefs can you namecheck that have or had their own (usually short-lived) show? A few, yes, Mary Berry, Rachel Khoo, Lorraine Pascale, Rachel Allen and more recently the brilliant Nadiya Hussain but I’d hazard a guess you could not name as many female chefs as male. The thing is there’s been women in the background cooking all along - often (but not always) being shouted at, controlled, or stopped in their tracks from promotion by shouty power hungry males throwing their weight and loose sexist tongues around the kitchen. And in so doing, creating a hostile environment where actually it’s easier to choose sticking to chopping the veggies than face humiliation or the sack. Let the power hungry guys take the glory of cooking up what you’ve spent all day chopping. The new wave of women chefs are cutting all that nonsense out, advocating a strictly non-hierarchical kitchen with a focus instead on going somewhere ‘nice to work.’ As the title suggests, the common denominator is the desire to want to cook and serve nice food - not channeling energy into innane kitchen politics that don't matter.
On closer inspection, these women have been doing it for some time now. They just didn’t get the privilege (if you can call it that), of exposure to make it into common household parlance, (maybe it’s the TV executives and newspaper editor’s we need to be talking to). Think of the perambulatory and quirky Two Fat Ladies (yes maybe we really do need to talk to the TV people), the late Jennifer Paterson and Clarissa Dickson Wright who kicked off proceedings in 1996. And the wonderful River Cafe founders, Ruth Rogers and the late Rose Gray who took the very brave step of serving delicious, no fuss food out of a scenic cafe in London’s Hammersmith. That was back in 1987 when the food scene was in a definitive ‘I am not worthy’ Gallic shadow. But that ‘caf’ is now considered to be one of the firmest culinary cornerstones in the UK and still doing a roaring trade 31 years later. Ladies, what a total humdinger.
The change is visible beyond the hipster capital of Glasgow (Finnieston) where Rosie and other purveyors of delicious food have set up eateries (The Gannet, Ox and Finch, the Kelvingrove cafe). More very talented female chefs are being afforded the exposure they so deserve. Clare Smyth, owner and head chef of Core in Notting Hill is the first and only female chef to run a restaurant with three Michelin-stars in the UK - oh and did I mention she was also chosen from a long list to be the wedding caterer at Harry and Meghan’s wedding. Skye Gyngell at Spring, Angela Harnett at MURANO, Monica Galletti at Mere. The ladies have stepped out of the kitchen back benches and the revolution is finally underway.
The female is pervading into the critics space too with Grace Dent replacing the stupendous late AA Gill at the Sunday Times and Faye Maschler still chomping her way around London town at the Evening Standard since 1972. But there’s still some catch up to do - Giles Coren, Jay Rayner watch this space.
And to all female chefs - even if you don’t run a restaurant or a beautiful chic cafe somewhere hip or you’ve not quite got around to arranging that enviable twinkly light pop up space, but most days you plan, shop, cook and labour over a hot stove because you love to feed your family and you too love to eat, then you too are the best chef you can get - real and honest. And let's be honest the only jelly in sight is one from a packet jammed to the rafters with e-numbers. Let’s celebrate our grandmothers and mothers that taught us, let’s celebrate food, let’s celebrate what sharing a meal means. And let’s pass it on to our own.
And most importantly, let’s have loads of tasty food whilst we’re doing it.
Nom Nom Nom.
Just add lashings of gravy to everything
*Very wise words uttered by Rosie Healey, she of Alchemilla