Toss, Turn and Twitter

1:11 am. @gordon_ramsay: Bollocks, sorry for not using this. Someone’s showing me how it works. Hopefully this will…”
1:11 am (seconds later) @gordon_ramsay: “Fuck me. It worked.”

(Celebrity Chef Gordon Ramsey’s first posts on Twitter)

The world’s never been this small. Access has never been this easy. Celebrities have never been this real.
Twitter has opened up a whole new world of food networking, effortlessly bringing together Chefs, Food celebrities, home cooks and foodies. With more traditional forms of media, people like Gordon Ramsey, Martha Stewart and Jamie Oliver seemed distant, despite being everywhere. You could read about them, watch their shows, even read their blogs, but as familiar as they were – for all practical purposes – they were really just about as accessible as Mr Potato Head. Suddenly, thanks to twitter, they’re morphing from two dimensional, larger-than-life, pedestal-occupiers to real, living, breathing people with tempers, quirks and spelling mistakes.
The food world’s never been more exciting.
Now you get recipes directly from Martha Stewart. She’s even managed to master recipes that fit into Twitter’s 140 character limit. Like “GUACAMOLE Mix juice 1 lime, 4t crushed garlic, 5 chop scallion, 1C chop cilantro, 1 mince jalapeño + 3 ripe avocado.” Jamie Oliver, who comes across as warm, friendly and incessantly upbeat can help you figure out why your last pudding failed. Gordon Ramsey’s as refreshingly brash on twitter as he is on his shows, making for some fabulous stories from behind the scenes. “April Head chef at Claridges set the fucking kitchen on fire, we had to evacuate, Clooney and Pitt stood outside saying ‘fucking chefs’.”
Then there’s Heston Blumenthal, who made waves in the culinary world with his award winning Fat Duck restaurant, famous for food like Nitro-Scrambled Egg and Bacon Ice Cream. He transforms from celebrated culinary alchemist into a quirky real person on Twitter. While his first tweet ever announced “pickled herring with lemon rice garnished with grated brie for lunch,” he goes on to state not all his meals are cutting-edge culinary experiments. “Ever since my TV shows everyone expects me eating hogs heads and sheep brains for lunch. Ha ha… I usually end up with a simple soup and a roll at lunch if I am working. Soup is under rated you can make almost any flavour and its light.”
Most of these celebrity Chefs follow each other. Except for Gordon Ramsey, who follows just one person, despite having about 6,400 followers. This person’s Lennie Nash, or Chef Sandwich, who says he’s “writer blogging about retraining as a chef.”
In an e-mail interview Nash says Twitter has helped him as both a chef and food writer because it’s enabled him to get in touch with chefs across the world who would normally be very difficult to contact. And certainly impossible to stay in contact with on an everyday basis. “Just within food blogging there are many spheres – and you are able to find people with your exact outlooks and experiences. It’s also good for getting ‘breaking news’ and rumours on restaurant/cheffing topics,” he says.
Gossip? It’s simply delicious on Twitter to be honest. There’s Nash’s story about how Prince Philip phoned Heston Blumenthal to ask for his fish and chips recipe after eating at the Fat Duck. Then there’s the tweet about Curry Lounge, in Nottingham, creating the “world’s tallest poppadom tower. 1,052 poppadoms and 4ft 11in tall, beats record by an inch.”
Since the celebrity Chefs are on Twitter, and Twitpics, without their entourage of PR people, makeup artists and publicity managers, they seem so much more fallible, and thereby endearingly real.
Jamie Oliver for instance has two principal weaknesses. His cute daughter, who surfaces on twitpics besides pictures of his painstakingly hand labelled Gooseberry jam and freshly made potato pizza. “Bless look what my little daisy cooked. A daisy pudding. And she loves it and loves eating it even more.” And his spelling, which is far from perfect. (A word of advice though. Don’t point it out to him. The last person who did got this “Get lost you idiot I’m dislexic and I can’t spell so stick that in your pipe and smoke it!!! It’s better than being smug.”)
Blumenthal’s worried about his waistline. “Going for a suit fitting tomorrow. I hate it. There always seems to be more tape measure required every time.” And he’s also far from impervious to the inevitable twitter boors. “Half of the tweets are just insults and I have a temper problem at times and don’t want to get anything heated,” he says.
So why stay in?
Well, for starters everyone seems to be having so much fun. Blumenthal says he loves reading what other people are doing around the world. “Everyone’s doing and thinking something different.” He adds that its size and diversity also makes it a great sounding board for ideas.
Nash says it’s great from capturing and connecting with a specific audience or online community because it is so direct and immediate. “You can just put an idea out there, and it can quickly snowball into a ‘trend’ with everyone able to throw in their ideas rather than just celebrities or pundits. It is much easier to gauge what interests people, rather than just what interests you.”
So Blumenthal tells us when he’s “trying a new way of smoking deer with a blueberry smoke and serving with lemon and thyme covered garden peas.” And Ramsey gives us the inside story on his TV shows. “Taking live cook-along to the US, on Fox network, but I’ve been warned to watch my language. No cursing, that’s the deal. Bollocks.”
While the celebrities are the most obvious face of food networking, they’re just one slice of the pie. As Nash says this is “definitely the best tool I’ve come across for food networking because it is largely recommendation based – and therefore the best sites tend to shine through and attract followers. The mobile aspect using iPhones etc means people can blog or send pictures directly from an event rather than wait to get back to the office to write them up.”
As a result there are a bevy of colourful food writers who keep the site alive with great ideas. Like PuddingQueen who talks of wedding cakes made with Buttermilk, wild strawberry and more than 24 eggs. Or “Lemon and lavender sandwich biscuits with lemon cheese and lavender lemonade – its going to be a floral tea this afternoon!”
Things can only get better. Already Blumenthal’s running a competition on his page. “Doing a Harry Potter themed meal around October time for about 50 people 10 of which I will choose from twitter (UK only).” He’s likely to get flooded with replies, considering how many food nuts there are on the site, judging by the handles: MsMarmitelover, GingerGourmand, ThePorkyDrunk, TheMeadmaker and even LambshankRdmptn!
As for happy endings? Who can resist the story of Gregg Wallace, TV star ingredient-expert, who’s calls himself the “cooking woman’s crumpet.” and goes by Pudding Face on Twitter. Pudding Face made contact with Heidi Brown, who’s 17 years younger, on Twitter. “@Heidipopps You’re very special./ @Heidipopps missed you, but then you know that. Xxxxxxxxxxxx.”
They’re now married.
So what’s a celebrity foodie romance like? Champagne and caviar on a private jet? Not quite, according to Pudding Face’s twitter update. “Very romantic evening with my lady. Dinner from Tesco Metro, eaten on a balcony in Crewe overlooking Mc Donalds. Sun setting on Large fries.”
Honestly, who needs reality TV?

Seeking culinary Utopia

Writing love notes in History class? After all, you figure, the past can bury its dead. It’s far more important to get yourself a date for dinner, right?
Well, it might surprise you to know how dramatically your dinner – irrespective of what you’re eating – has been influenced by history.
Every kind of cuisine — whether it classic French, hip Californian or traditional Indian — is shaped by its past. By invaders, traders and rulers. Peace, wars and politics. Love.
Think that sounds like the voiceover to some cheesy historical drama (preferably accompanied by a sweeping Oscar-winning musical score)? Well, then take the story of Catherine de Médicis, a princess from Florence, Italy. When she married King Henry II of France in the early-1500s, she moved with an entire entourage of talented Italian Chefs, who proceeded to impress everyone with their sophisticated food. Of course what was served and eaten at the palace set the tone for dining tables across the country.
Food is arguably the most powerful expression of culture. However since food customs are so sensitive to external influences, traditional recipes, ingredients and cooking methods are rapidly being influenced by quick-fix methods and the addictive all-pervasive trend of global cuisine. The most accessible foods of every culture — Mexican nachos, American burgers, Indian curry — are conquering dinner tables the world over.
But, simultaneously, taste-tourists are travelling the world in search of food thrills, culinary epiphanies and cooking discoveries.
So where’s the next food frontier? Try the relatively undiscovered countries of South Eastern Europe. Also known as the Balkans, stretching across Albania, Bulgaria, Montenegro etc.
Countries like Bulgaria unwittingly managed to preserve much of their traditional food culture thanks to Communism, says gorgeous Chef Vita Bozadzhieva, who travels the world introducing people to the food.
At the Raintree Hotel, in Chennai, where she’s conducting a Balkan food festival, she talks of growing up in a very different environment where people worked hard, ate at home and used only local products and produce. “I am 33 years old now,” she smiles, “When I grew up, it was like Coca Cola, ‘Wow!’ Restaurants then served mainly either Turkish or Balkan food. “The Turkish were in our city for about 500 years. So we have super-mixed culture,” she says, adding that nevertheless, even now the Balkan countries have a cuisine culture that is distinctly different from the rest of the world.
“Our country is not so economically developed,” she says, “Still we believe that the wife must cook for her husband. I’ve grown up in that culture.” As a result, she says, their food is more homey. After all, it evolved in kitchens, not restaurants. In the hands of housewives not Chefs. And because of Communism, it marinated in tradition, undisturbed by outside influences for about three decades.
“Till about 15 years ago, it was very closed,” says Chef Vita, “People were not travelling so much. It was also very difficult to go out of the country.”
Hence the cuisine, influenced by a host of ancient invaders including the Romans, Greeks and Turks, had time to steep and simmer for a while. Appropriately enough, that’s how a lot of their food is prepared. “We use lots of herbs, and the food takes a long time to cook, to soak in all their subtle flavours,” says Chef Vita. “We also bake a lot. Every kitchen has lots of ovens.” They’re also one of the few places left in the world, besides India, where they set their own curd, instead of just buying tubs from the supermarket.
This food is necessarily rare right now. After all the Chinese and Indian emigrants travelled the world with baggage bursting with of home-made spices and recipes, thus getting huge chunks of the world enamoured with their food. Meanwhile, places like the USA, Britian and many Europian coutries (think Greece, Spain, Italy) gain converts thanks to mix of pop-culture and tourism Meanwhile, dishes like Chef Vita’s fragrant stewed lamb, served with chunky potatoes in thin gravy, remain undiscovered since it’s only recently that the people of the Balkan’s started to travel, and welcome visitors. There’s one more hurdle. “We’re a small country. For example you take a car and drive for six hours and you have reached the other end,” laughs Vita.
This, however, means Chefs like her have a distinct advantage that sets them apart.
“For me, I believe we are born and grow up, where we must be born and where we must grow. If I was born in a Communist regime, it was because that was what was right for me,” she says. “Now I realise it is an advantage. I’m different!”
Which is really the most exciting thing about food cultures, when you come to think of it. This is history that you can actually taste.

Sho-Buzz

August 2009
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