I fucking hate food fads, I really do. I hate these food trend analysts and food marketing execs who make wonderfully talented chefs perform like dancing monkeys in search of their approval. So you work in food marketing do you? Amazing, how did you end up in this line of work? Were all the jobs in water and shelter marketing gone? What pointless course in what 3rd rate college do you have to hump your way through in a haze of pot smoke and self loathing to tell people vastly more talented than yourself what they should be doing. Marketing food is about as difficult as marketing life rafts on the Titanic.

For years we bought into it, we chased the trends. In the halcyon days of our youth we slavishly followed these gourmet gurus. Don’t lie, don’t pretend you had no part of, there’s proof. Upstairs, hidden at the bottom of the wardrobe in the spare room, in the place you used to hide your porn before the arrival of the internet, when grotty “gym” bags were replaces by suspiciously empty browser histories, there is a photo of you with a flock of seagulls hairdo and shoulder pads the size of balconies, sat in front of a piece of poultry so small it must have come from a budgie, a single carrot and a fanned out strawberry!

There are two things that should matter in a restaurant, the quality of the food and the calibre of the chef. Nothing else. All this talk about service, ambience, the style of the decor is utter bollocks. Service? As long as my food arrives hot, isn’t thrown at me from across the restaurant, or delivered by a waiter who has his thumb in my soup and his fly open that’s good enough. Ambience? Good food being eaten by happy people is the best ambience for any restaurant. As for style and decor, if the food’s good enough I will happily eat off an upturned milk crate while sitting on the floor. If some people want their food served with a stiffness usually only found in an episode of Upstairs Downstairs or a Viagra convention, while sitting in a photo shoot for architectural digest that’s been feng shui’d to within an inch of its life then that’s up to them.

Luckily I am not alone in feeling like this. Which is good, as the difference between being on the lunatic fringe and at the front of a wave of new thinking is numbers! Recently there has been a subtle rebellion against the media dominated world of fine dining. Its hard to pin down where it started and we could all Wiki till we go blind and develop hair on our palms trying to figure it out. What we do know is that people with a love of good food and a distaste for the trappings of high end eateries have started getting together to cook, eat and enjoy great food again.

This goes beyond the supper clubs of New York, the restaurante de puertas cerradas of Latin Amercia (ok, ok so I Wiki’d a little bit, its not like I have a problem, I can stop anytime I want), or the underground restaurants of London. These began as little more than dinner parties thrown by well intentioned people who wanted to share a love of food with friends. However, now established chefs are taking the chance to cook the food the want to cook and not simply expected to produce.

Nuno Mendes, formerly of Bauchus, has established The Loft Project in east London and has welcomed Clayton Wells and Ben Greeno, both previously of Noma, to take stints as chef in residence at the venue. Being freed from the shackles of expectation and allowed to cook from the heart is the culinary equivalent of the rock star playing a small acoustic gig in some back street dive bar.

As brilliant as many of these chefs are; if you examine the menus of any half dozen or so Michelin starred establishements you will find a core of dishes, which differ only in the chefs personal execution.This isn’t a slight on the dishes or the chefs. These dishes are classics for a reason and if nothing else offer a yard stick by which the talent of the chef can be measured but there is a strong sense of the menu being written and the ingredients being sourced to make the menu a reality. Fine dining is the glamorous leggy blonde of the culinary world. It is obvious that a huge amount of effort has been put in, it sure is fun to look at but you know that you would soon tire of the tantrums, the insecurities and the high maintenance.

This new underground food movement is like a cute bo-ho chick, relaxed and assured with a confidence built on knowing there is something of substance beneath the surface. Personally I cant do bo-ho. Firstly I don’t do relaxed, I can do lazy but that’s not the same thing. I also lack the emotional range necessary, I have annoyed, angry and “he was fuckin askin for it” but that’s about it. None of this stops me loving this kind of food, or for that matter claiming credit for coining Bo-ho food. Any menu that is arrived at because of the freshness of the ingredients is a menu I am going to enjoy.

This new attitude to food places all the importance where it should be. It doesn’t mean slapped together and slung on a plate. It certainly doesn’t involve cook by numbers slavish adherence to a cook book. To stand in a market and choose a menu from whats in front of you takes skill. It takes an understanding of how to cook and what to cook together. It takes confidence in a chefs own ability to veer away from the fillet and pick cheaper cuts of meat, who’s longer more relaxed cooking method fits perfectly with the whole ethos of this idea. This type of cooking invokes conversation, and discussion, coupled with the practice of strangers dining together gives the whole evening a somewhat celebratory feel. I am not going to trot out some line about “arriving as strangers, dining together and leaving as friends”. For one thing I am not the type but mostly you’re just as likely to want to stab the guy next to you with a fork as you are to invite him round for lunch. That’s not the point of the exercise, this isn’t a way to get your friend’s numbers up on Facebook or get a some fresh meat for your next swingers party. The only thing the people who go to these events need to have in common is a love of good food. Profession, political views, social status and who’s the most talented member of McFly should not enter into the equation, anyway its Danny and I will fight anyone who says any different!

A menu typically consists of considerably more courses than you would get at a traditional restaurant, not necessarily sticking to a theme or type of cuisine. There should be slow cooked meats, fresh seafood and at least 3 things you’ve never tried before. The menu itself should take you on a culinary journey through old favourites and new experiences and ideally leave you stuffed and contented.

The number of diners at these events tends to be small but not in an exclusive way, reservations are open to everyone and its a first come first served method of obtaining a booking. I’ve never liked the term “exclusive” when applied to food, the idea of an exclusive restaurant has always seemed sort of wrong. Food should be inclusive, it should bring people together and the skill level of the chef shouldn’t shouldn’t mean he is cut off from the public and made to cook like some trophy chef in a gilded cage. No one is saying that these chefs should ply their trade for a handful of beans and a slap on the back. They are entitled to make the best living the possibly can from their profession but for all their elitism, exclusivity and status very few fine dining restaurants actually make money. The money, if there is money to be made, comes from media tie-ins and this is where the PR types get their hooks into chefs. If the relationship was limited to a sort of business manager role then fine, no one wants to see these people end up in an old chefs home, or drifting down the culinary chain like a footballer working his way from the Premiership to the non leagues.

The problem arises when advice becomes instruction and that instruction moves from the PR companies area of expertise (if there is such a thing) to the chefs areas of expertise. When your PR guy tells you that you should really be using more goji berries and this years must have melon is cantaloupe it’s time to toss the i-Phone in the fryer and get back to cooking.

The irony of the whole scenario is that at a time when the food business is so dominated by marketing and PR firms, where chefs are touted around like reality TV rejects and where profile is more far important than professional ability so many high end restaurants are going to the wall. There used to be a formula that the right cost for a plate of food was 4 times the cost of the ingredients, that was to cover overheads, salary and leave the owner with some profit. That formula didn’t allow for, interior designers, feng shui experts, publicists, PR gurus, marketing teams and fucking ice sculptors or any other of the immensely annoying things that get in the way of me enjoying a great meal prepared by a great chef.

I have great hopes that this new trend towards bo-ho food, that it will bring excellent food to a more accessible place. That it will stay true to show casing the quality of the ingredients and the skill of the chef with none of the trappings that food of this quality tends to come with. However all of this hope, all of this rejuvenated spirit, all of this confidence that we are not doomed to a culinary existence dictated to us by faceless, nameless marketing suits took a massive blow when I turned on the TV one day to find Jim Haynes flogging crappy mints while a bunch of theatre school drop outs cavorted round his Paris home trying to look like Bohemian dinner party guests. The ad it seemed was supposed to paint a picture of these wonderfully unique and free spirited individuals enjoying the sophisticated taste of a thin chocolate mint after what we can only presume was an incredible gastronomic experience. It came off more like a bunch of mentally mal-adjusted street performers terrorising an old age pensioner in his home while eating all his chocolates. A sort of Clock Work Orange meets Last of The Summer Wine but with more confectionery.

I am not a food critic, I don’t believe food should be criticised. Food is like money, it is by itself neither inherently good or evil. Its what people do with it that determines if its good or bad. A piece of steak is a piece of steak, a bad chef can ruin it and make it leathery and drier than a camels arsehole in July, a good chef can make it into a wonderfully succulent, meaty delight. If left to concentrate more on cooking many more chefs could ensure their diners could leave their restaurants happy and hoping to return again soon.

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