Friday, November 25, 2016

Crime, Cookery and Craic


Welcome to Book Week Scotland

                                                   a wee  Shetland pony looking for food

Usually, it's a very busy week for me,  a 'trying to be everywhere at once' type of week. But thankfully the gods were looking after me this year. I wasn't keen on wandering too far away from home.

                                                And pulling a face when it did not get any

My big gig was on Monday night.

An actual Ghillie Dhu

At  twenty to two I was on my way to Edinburgh to the Ghillie Dhu to  to interview/arbitrate/ referee a chat between Ian Rankin and Mark Greenaway.

                                               the Ghillie Dhu at its most grand

Ian, you might have heard of before, he is one of those Scottish Crime writer chappies.

 Mark is an award  winning chef. I hesitate to use the  words 'celebrity chef' as he would hate that expression,  he is an unassuming guy, very passionate about food and about Scottish  food and local produce. He knows all kinds of things, and talks in that lovely way that really enthusiastic people do - suddenly I was immersed in a world where I couldn't speak the language.

                                 I have spent my life doing the wrong thing with a mandolin.

                                                    Both these above are mandolins!

Never mind the stuff you can get up to with an espuma gun!

                                                Mark, ready  top create!

Mark has written a beautiful cookery book called 'Perceptions', about Scottish cooking and how it is perceived abroad. ( not very well as far as he is concerned.) He is keen to get away from the ‘sick old man of Europe  image that Scots have with their diet – highest rate of all kinds of diet related diseases. The consumption of  deep fried mars bar and deep fried square sausage really rockets the cholesterol.  Mark wants to explore the fantastic recipes that  can be created  from the flora and fauna of this country- and we have plenty to be proud of. In the book he explains how the low level of sunshine and the high water table ( rain) means that everything takes time to mature, and therefore the flavour is deeper and richer.
                                                  The Ghillie Dhu ready for us....

Then he puts a twist  on the recipe, and then another twist on that.

As well as being packed with recipes and how to this and how to that without getting your fingers cut - especially with a oyster knife as oysters carry and very nasty type of bacteria and the cut, nestling in the skin fold between thumb, very often gets left to fester into a full blown septicaemia - Mark also writes about his career as a chef, right from the first day when he sank his arms into the sink as a kitchen porter… and was still there twelve hours later.
                                                        more than five a day  on here, it has an olive on it!

No matter how deep the conversation went culinary, it always reverted to death and murder. 'Oh Mark,  I do like the way you serve fresh prawns in a bowl of solid ice. A lethal weapon if ever there was one.' 
me, mouth open, in charge!

 I am a bit weird ( full stop ) food wise. It's a source of fuel, not an entertainment,  I do not like animals being degraded  so that  we can eat them ( a view that  most farmers and those involved in commercial animal welfare tend to  agree with ) . I can't stand chefs like Heston Blumenthal.. sticking spikes through mice and making a Christmas tree out of them...well I think that is what he was  doing.

                                                        cooking squirrels!

 But Mark is not like that, he knows exactly where every animal he cooks has  come from, exactly. He knows where every vegetable, every herb has been grown. he has cultivated ( pardon the pun) family farms to supply his kitchens,  some of those farms are run as social placement units for the vulnerable in society, to give them skills and trade, just help them get back on their feet.

There is non point in asking him for something out of season if it is out of season, if it's not fresh then you won't get it.

I asked him  all kinds of incisive questions , like OK if you are such as expert on Scottish cookery, why are there no recipes with Irn Bru?  Then Ian came up with his irn bru recipe… a glass of irn bru with  a vanilla ice cream floater and  then grated Mars bar on top of that.

                                          The inner cover of the Perceptions cook book  is full of his original notebooks, all stained and squiggled.

 I asked both of them what they would do with a mandolin? Play the instrumental bit on the middle of Maggie May or slice tomatoes finely, If you answered both, you may go to the top of the class.

 No questions were off limits, What is the point of celery I asked him. He struggled to come up with an answer. Ian suggested you can put it in a bloody Mary. I explained how a bloody Mary can provide 4 of the British government's five fruit/veg a day recommendation… ( lemon, potato, marmite, tomato—easy!)

                                         Mark getting on the bus, me in the queue

The bit I found  really interesting was where he talks about the creation of a new recipe – works of art in his case.

He takes inspiration from everywhere – a starting point, an idea, something else he has seen , eaten… something he had read,  saw on the net.. and it all mish mashes about in the back of his mind and he tries this, he tries that. It might be right, it might be nearly right. Then his team of chefs  look at it and suggest improvements …. And finally after many, many attempts – a new dish is born.

 And he talks about it in exactly the same terms and with the same passion that a  novelist talks about their plotting process. I think Mark starts a new creation as a plotter, but in reality is a panster!

There was a sense of slaving away them stumbling on something  rather marvellous.

                                            me,  nicking something off the table.

The book is beautiful, full of  lovely photographs by Paul Johnson,  I would have liked to have interviewed him about the ways and means of photographing food like that.

Mark at the front, me at the side.

And no, that's not eggs in the egg box. That  would be far too simple.

Caro Ramsay  25 11 2016


  1. Cook me a merder 'und Ah'll serv'ya a boody.

  2. You know, I really miss irn bru. Though, call me a nut, but I'm not quite sure how it goes with squirrel.