To those of you that know me, it will come as no surprise to hear that when invited to a cooking demonstration at Jan Harmsgat with Laura Truter I was somewhat hesitant … would I have to actually participate? History has not been kind in this regard*
My apprehension was not helped by the howls of laughter from Mr G who greeted the suggestion with huge derision. Stung by his response, it was pointed out gently that Amy Kleinhans would also be present, at which point he stopped laughing and mounted a vigorous argument as to why HE should be the one to attend.
But Jan Harmsgat has long been a special favourite place of mine, with wonderful wine, people, ambience and food so when it was mentioned that ‘A Long Table’ was being set up at the end of the interactive (eek) demonstration, for all to join in and EAT, that clinched the deal. ‘Mrs Gram’ was going to learn how to cook a summer feast. ‘Mr Gram’ would pay for his lack of confidence in her by being forced to eat the results of her learning curve at a later date.
The comfortable perception of the cottage-loaf shaped rosy cheeked farmer’s wife, with her wrap-over floral overall and her cottage-loaf bun hairstyle, has definitely been eroded by the influx of glamorous chefs, (Nigella Lawson I say unto you) and the effect of the competitive edge of programmes such as Masterchef, the Great British Bake off and their global spin-offs. And never was this more apparent today.
Laura’s audience was comprised of extremely chic, beautiful women who were all businesswomen as well as mothers – had they not also been utterly charming, friendly and amusing, I would have been intimidated (being more of the aforementioned cottage-loaf shaped, rosy cheeked persuasion). However, later, over lunch at the Long Table, we discovered friends in common, talked books, found similar ground in political viewpoints, and had stimulating discussions about food, culture and wine.
(Press Control +R if the photos are not showing)
Except on this particular day – the only thing ‘cool’ was the iced champagne and chilled facecloths with which the attentive staff at Jan Harmsgat plied the willing students. It was 41 degrees, and whoever had suggested it would be a good idea to hold the event outside was possibly eating their words – except that there were far more interesting things to eat.
Poor Laura – the ultimate professional: as the fans that had hastily been installed to cool her down proceeded to crash the electrical circuits, she never faltered, her enthusiasm and passion shone through and her calm handling of the challenges was a wonder to behold.
(One wonders how some of the ‘Celebrity Chefs’ who have made their name as much for their colourful language, bad tempers and abusive behaviour as for their food would have coped under such pressure.)
But first … the food had to be created, and these same sophisticated ladies were certainly not reticent about stepping forwards and getting their hands in!
Needless to say, this pusillanimous creature behind the camera used it as an excuse not to help out in the preparation – it was not necessarily going to be helpful to the cause.“You have ‘previous’” as Mr Gram likes to say***
After the food was prepared, we convened in the gorgeous dining room to sip some champers and cool down prior to entering the Hallowed Hall which is Jan Harmsgat kitchen so that we could learn the finer art of plating and presentation
(Some beautiful Berry Recipes right here)
I am sure that you would love me to post the recipes from the day- but I am not going to. These pieces of magic are staying firmly in my personal arsenal of “How to Impress your Friends and Neighbours at Christmas” and, as such, will be loaned out to Mr Gram to prepare under my instructions in the blink of an eye. (You will need to wangle your own invitation).
I had a wonderful day. I will definitely make a plan to attend the next event and maybe, just maybe, I may be brave enough to volunteer to chop a cabbage.
Being an ‘academic’ at my girls’ boarding school, it was not considered appropriate for me to join what were known as ‘the thickos’ in the Cookery class. (Later renamed Home Economics, then ‘Domestic Science’, followed by ‘Food and Nutrition’ and the last time I was anywhere near an educational establishment, I think it has graduated to an ‘ology’ Food Technology?)…
Anyway, I was allowed, in the Sixth Form, to join the “Leisure Cookery Course” which took place in the evenings. (In retrospect, I think it was introduced as a desperate measure to ensure there was a back-up plan if we academics didn’t make it as independent women – we would need some basic skills to keep our husbands happy. (hollow laughter)
So for my first ever attempt at the culinary arts, I decided to do pork chops in cider sauce. However, the rare opportunity to taste alcohol proved too tempting for this 16 year old, and I downed the cider in unseemly fashion, then left the pork chops in the oven overnight to burn to a crisp, and was forbidden to return anywhere near the Cookery Room ever again.
Cooking was never, ever a ‘cool’ thing to do for many women of my generation. The leading proponents of kitchen chic were Fanny Cradock and Mrs Beeton, and for a 60’s chick like me at the very pointy end of the bra burning antics of the first wave of women’s lib, it was really not the way we wanted to go.
“An overwhelming urge for coconut cake: not a good plan when you don’t possess cake tins, scales, beaters, measuring spoons or proper mixing bowl. And when your glasses fall in the mixture so you can’t even read the recipe, it’s probably time to admit defeat…..”
When I resentfully told my daughter about this rejection, she finally admitted to me (20+ years later) that she and her friends had actually thrown the cake out of the window of our flat, rather than hurt my feelings by not eating it. Their only concern was how much damage it could have done to a passing neighbour, or indeed, the surface of the road.
I would love to say that I find cooking a joyous experience, but I do think that joy comes when you know that you are going to make people happy with your creative efforts, and mine seem to have the opposite effect.
However, I have found that my early experience with the cider has been something of a feature if I am to enjoy the experience, so making sure that the brandy for the Christmas cake is flowing in my direction, and waving a rolling pin around while Mr G does all the actual work – now that’s what I call Joy.