BL16 - Page 54

food in a not-too-comfortable setting,
and not taking phone calls? I love it, not
because it is a French provocation for
tourists, but because of the purity of the
food; the truth in the taste of it. The
dishes are as close to their roots as they
can be, loved by generations, on a menu
that only changes with the seasons.
Rose Prince calls time on restaurant dishes served,
supposedly, ‘with a twist’ – particularly when their
true objective is to please the smartphone camera,
rather than our tastebuds
Rose Prince wants chefs
to go back to the roots
of cooking, rather than
obsess over novelty
ou’d never get away
with this in London.”
My friend and I are
sitting in a tiny
restaurant in Old Nice,
amazed by what we have just eaten. La
Merenda is a thirty-year-old restaurant,
seating no more than twenty at its small
tables, serving a short menu of local
Niçoise dishes: Tarte aux oignons de
Menton – a thin, yeast-based crust
spread with sweet, cooked onion; a dark
and glossy daube de boeuf; and panisse
– a pillow of fried polenta. It may not
sound remarkable, but the restaurant –
as I discover on repeated visits – is
packed for every sitting.
La Merenda does not take credit
cards, and several diners simply sign for
their food on account. They come, if not
every day, then many times each week.
It is closed at weekends, because the
chef likes to enjoy his own time. To
book you have to put your head round
the door and ask – and this ties in with
my friend’s point: Would such a place in
one of the great dining capitals survive
even for a week? Serving mainly brown
fear that such food has become
irrelevant, or shortly will be; because
while a chef or restaurant’s reputation
was once spread through a critic’s word
of mouth, now the process happens
word of eye, so to speak. To be relevant,
a plate of food must be photogenic or
Instagrammable. Worse, the instinct is
to alter or ‘twist’ a recipe just to make
it interesting. I challenge you to watch
any TV cooking show, with the possible
exception of Rick Stein’s, and not hear
the dreaded words, “This is my twist
on…” From shepherd’s pie to tarte tatin,
osso buco to Eton mess, authentic
recipes are twisted every which way,
though very rarely made better. As a
technical art, cooking is rarely improved
by redesign. If a new model of a
motorcar did not work, no one would
want to drive it. But with food, it seems
interest is only sustained by novelty.
By now anyone who loves the heady
visualisation of food on social media or
television would be forgiven for judging
me a Luddite. Yet I have no problem
with the millions of food photographs
circulating on Instagram or Twitter. But
if you come, as I do, from a generation
who read about food, rather than just
looked at it, then protecting prototypical
food traditions – the roots of cooking the
world over – is important. The
cookbooks on my mother’s shelves
rarely had images. She cooked as told to
by writers whose research in the Fifties
and Sixties brought authentic European
provincial cooking to British readers.
Praise for Elizabeth David, Jane
Grigson, Marcella Hazan and Claudia
Roden might have become clichéd, but
Authentic recipes
are twisted
every which way,
though very rarely
made better

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