To celebrate 200 issues of Observer Food Monthly, Nigel Slater revisits and updates 10 of his all-time favourite dishes, including roast lamb and couscous, scallops with yuzu and apple bread and butter pudding
The recipes that appear in my column in OFM have always mirrored what I eat at home. They start their life around the kitchen table. An idea. A possibility. A whim. Something I have made to eat at home that I feel is worth developing and sharing. There are no test kitchens and teams of home economists and chefs here. Everything comes from my home kitchen. That said, I don’t work alone. James Thompson has worked on the recipes with me for almost a decade. Jonathan Lovekin has photographed them for even longer. After cooking and shooting, the three of us sit down and eat.
I started, enthusiastically, picking my favourite recipes from the last 200 issues. A task that soon found me frustrated at having to leave out so many much-loved recipes. (At one point it was pretty much a collection of pork recipes.) Like choosing your desert island discs, it becomes easier to choose by making a list, closing your eyes and sticking a pin in it.
The regularly updated selfies on the Instagram account of Angie Mar are, more often than not, met with a blaze of fire emojis from her 16k-plus followers. How else to respond to this cool New York chef whose personal style signifiers include white goat fur by Rochas, combat boots by Chanel, arm candy by Vuitton and – the killer touch – a hulking great dry-aged prime rib by New York’s best butcher, Pat LaFrieda? Badass should do it.
I catch up with Angie over vegetable juice (her daily dalliance with herbivorism) and steak tartare – it never lasts long – in London on a flying visit to cook at Hawksmoor’s annual charity dinner in aid of Action Against Hunger. Angie adores London – her Taiwanese mother grew up here – and plans to open in the city one day but for now her focus is The Beatrice Inn, the West Village chophouse she took over from Vanity Fair editor-in-chief Graydon Carter in 2016 after two years in its kitchen.
For New Yorkers, ‘The Bea’ holds a host of associations. It began life in the 1920s as a speakeasy where F Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald would hang; for the next 50 years it was a wildly popular Italian red-sauce joint; then, from 2006 to 2009, it was the centre of the universe, an after-hours den frequented by everyone from Chloë Sevigny to Lindsay Lohan, Kate Moss and the late Heath Ledger. “It was insane,” smiles Angie. “I definitely wasn’t cool enough to get in.”
Now, in the glittering light of the club’s original disco ball, The Beatrice Inn enters a new chapter. “I want to make it one of New York’s classic restaurants,” she tells me. “You go to New York, you go to Keens, you go to Per Se, you go to Carbone, you go to Beatrice.
“I’m all about New York, this all-embracing, all-encompassing ‘come as you are’ city,” continues the Seattle-born chef. “I want The Beatrice to be a representation of that. You can walk in on any night and you’ll see a table in black tie, another in backwards baseball caps.”
Angie, now 35, came to professional cooking just eight years ago, having quit commercial real estate in Los Angeles to pursue her passion in New York. She’s acutely aware of what a privilege it is to be doing what she loves: her Chinese-American family had little choice but to work in kitchens. It went well for them – her aunt Ruby Chow was a Seattle restaurant legend (who famously employed Bruce Lee as a dishwasher) – but it wasn’t their dream for Angie. “As a kid I’d be told ‘go to college, make something of yourself, don’t do this’, so it’s kind of ironic going back to it. It’s in my DNA.”
As a result, perhaps, she’s brilliantly unapologetic about her choices. “If I’m going to cook, I’m going to cook food that takes you out at your knees. You’re going to leave that meal and think ‘what just happened?’. I’m never going to put a cut of salmon on the menu because someone told me I should. My goal is to make the restaurant very singular. The menu’s a reflection of what I personally love to eat.”
There are groaning crustacean platters, slabs of beef (often aged and butchered by Angie), whole animals, historical dishes (“I’ve never met a medieval dish I haven’t loved”) and a version of the braised pork shoulder she’s been making since she was 15. As for vegetables, “we have parsley”, she laughs.
I’ve never seen a menu quite like hers. Here’s a sample: whole applewood smoked rabbit, rhubarb, snail butter, elderflower, laurel; milk-braised pork shoulder, jasmine rice soubise, hen-of-the-woods mushrooms, sage; ‘Sea Pie’, an 18th-century pie of smoked boar, lamb shank, pork cheek and duck leg; 160-day whiskey-aged tomahawk, lobster butter, smoked vanilla, truffles, thyme. This last dish, served to the whole table, involves tipping a bottle of single malt over the beef each week, hence its $700-1,000 price tag (there’s a waiting list).
“I want people to have this really beautiful elegant meal but at the same time there’s something so primal about it,” explains Angie, who earned her stripes at Andrew Tarlow’s Brooklyn restaurants and at April Bloomfield’s Spotted Pig. “When we’re putting dishes together, there are masculine and feminine influences in each dish. You have these big beefy pieces of meat, maybe smoked over French oak or cherrywood, then other influences that bring some sort of femininity to it, whether it’s elderflower, jasmine, marjoram, plums. It’s the contrast of ideas on one plate that I think is really beautiful.”
Her approach has gone down a storm. “We don’t have a Michelin star yet,” she says, but she has taken The Bea from zero stars in the New York Times (in 2013) to two and a peach of a write-up in 2016. However, all the glowing reviews, awards, photoshoots and celebrity fans won’t be how Angie measures her success. For this, she looks to her young chefs. “When they’re done working for me, they need to be ready to go and do something else and something better. Five or 10 years from now, when we look at everyone who’s in my restaurant now, my hope is they will surpass me. That will be the true testament of how successful I’ve been.”
Favourite dish: To eat, tortellini bolognese at Carbone. To cook, oxtail stew.
Most memorable meal My first James Beard dinner in 2015. We got all these illegal meats shipped in to the US from all over so we had all these amazing cuts. The most memorable part of the dinner, that people still talk about, was the bone marrow bourbon crème brûlée. No one had ever seen it or tasted it before.
Chef or food personality she most admires Nigel Slater – the way he talks about food and the way he writes about it, just a romantic air that I turn back to time and time again.
Guilty pleasure Chicken McNuggets.
Photographs by Annebet Duvall, Beatrice Inn
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Try some of the brilliant recipes created to celebrate our 200th edition
Every month since early 2001, here at Food Monthly, we have been shining a light on all that is worth celebrating about what we cook and eat. From that first issue, when we sat in the kitchen with Christopher Walken while he made dinner, to this, our latest issue full of recipes from our favourite contributors, we have offered stories, interviews, reviews and, of course, the words of our regular columnists. There have been memorable, heartwarming features, such as Jay Rayner’s story of a life-changing approach to school cooking, the odd controversy – mostly involving celebrities – and the occasional catastrophe, such as when a misprint in a recipe featured enough spinach to fill a bathtub.
It gives me great pleasure to welcome you to this, our 200th issue of Observer Food Monthly, and, of course, we must celebrate. With this special occasion in mind, we have asked some of our favourite cooks and chefs to offer a collection of recipes specially written for the moment including a glorious, seasonal cake from Nigella Lawson, a gorgeous roast duck from Fergus Henderson, caviar-bespeckled ravioli from Giorgio Locatelli and a delicious vegetable supper from Anna Jones. Food fit for any celebration. There is also a handful from me, mostly new, with a few of my favourites from the archive.
The great songwriter talks about politics, Toy Story and the Smiths – and why he’s never enjoyed the writing process
The prospect of lunch with Randy Newman straddles the line between exciting and scary. He’s one of the great American songwriters, no question, but from a distance he seems intimidating. His work is brainy and funny, but can also be brutal. Famously, he offended an entire subset of the human race in his most commercially successful song, Short People, which railed against their “little noses”, “tiny little teeth” and the “platform shoes on their nasty little feet”.
As any Newman-ologist (and the man himself) will tell you, the kerfuffle over those particular lyrics was rooted in a misunderstanding about the nature of his songwriting. While most members of the craft approach it from the first-person perspective, Newman usually writes in the voice of a narrator, often a person only their mother could love. It’s a simple, liberating device but it has caused endless confusion.
The England rugby player on trying anything once – even if it’s cod sperm, pig’s heart and strawberry custard
My first memory is being taken for Indian food at the Cookham Tandoori on the High Street – I remember the poppadoms, the onions, the chicken tikka. I remember being taken for my fifth or maybe my fourth birthday to the Pizza Hut. I hated school food. I love fish now but I just hated it then. And strawberry custard, something you never see except in educational establishments.
I was consuming the most food when I came to Wasps. I was eating six meals a day – 250-300g of protein, 300g of carbs, 250g of veg, six times every day. It was extensive, horrific. And tedious. We would cook while having breakfast – the chicken poached by my mum, me eating and cooking fish in the oven, my dad making potatoes. And it wasn’t creative cooking – poaching all that chicken was as dull as dishwater. I got bored of eating. Just chewing, thinking, “When is this portion going to end?”
To mark 200 issues of Observer Food Monthly, we pick the most significant books published in the years since the magazine launched
My most loved food books sit close to the stove, warped by steam from the kettle, sauce spattered, spines cracked and sticky taped, spilling pages torn from magazines.This hard-working reference library of about 40 books provides both instruction and inspiration and it just about squeezes into a small double bookshelf. Most committed cooks have something similar and when I’m in an unfamiliar kitchen I find myself drawn magnetically to these collections, propelled by a combination of professional curiosity and sheer nosiness. The selections are often more revealing of culinary personality than their owner cooks might like. This list of the really great books of the last 17 years may help fill some of the gaps on your shelves. They’re a mix of essays, recipes, reference and memoir, and they show just how much things have changed in the food-writing world. The mostly female scholar-cooks of the past have been supplemented by globe-trotting chefs and bakers, food scientists, polemicists, offal-eating restaurateurs and moonlighting novelists. Some of the more familiar names speak to us as friends, the kind who encourage rather than admonish.
These books have strong individual voices with something useful to say. Many breathe life into culinary tradition, rephrasing it and making it fresh and achievable. In the past few years, we have become more knowledgeable and discerning: we can now see past the latest TV tie-in or the posturing Michelin-starred chef blinded by his own fame. We crave new tastes alongside the familiar. We may not have the energy to honeymoon in a camper van and seek out unknown flavours in the eastern Mediterranean, but we love Sam and Sam Clark for doing it for us. In David Thompson’s Thai Food and Fuchsia Dunlop’s Sichuan Cookery we live vicariously through the long years of research these dedicated teacher cooks have undertaken. While Paula Wolfert and Claudia Roden go beyond the method to give you the anthropology, the history and geography of a country’s cuisine. Yet as much as we want to get closer to our idols and draw back the curtain, there is an extremity to some of these voices that’s good to experience at one remove, such as hard-living culinary star Gabrielle Hamilton.
Will a storm of sexual harassment allegations in America bring any real change to restaurant culture?
In the nearly 12 years since its publication, Bill Buford’s account of his adventures in the kitchen of Mario Batali’s restaurant Babbo has become something of a classic: a touchstone for food writers of a certain generation, as Helen Rosner put it recently in the New Yorker. And I suppose I understand why. Heat stinks to high heaven of blood, sweat and other intimate bodily fluids; it’s nothing if not intimately done, if that’s the kind of thing you’re after. But I, for one, have never been keen.
“Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential has a lot to answer for,” I wrote, when I reviewed Heat in 2006. “Even as he set out to demystify the commercial kitchen, he built it up as a place where only the most macho men could work – and Buford can’t help but follow the same path.” Both books were, I thought, only really interested in one thing: “This might be summed up, not very politely, as: look at the size of our dicks.”
To mark the 200th edition of Observer Food Monthly, top cooks and chefs offer treats fit to mark any special occasion
I had many run-ups to this cake before choosing the one that was fit to celebrate OFM 200. I wanted sweetness, light and beauty: a cake that felt special. And this does feel special, not just to eat and look at, but also to make. I felt encouraged towards a more whimsical creation than I might normally bake, but nothing too dauntingly difficult. This is not everyday baking – nor does it celebrate an everyday occasion – but the whisking of egg whites to make the marshmallow icing (inspiration for which I thank the ever-illuminating, ever-inspiring American baker-sleuth Stella Parks, author of the compendious BraveTart), the pulling out of the snowy spikes, and toasting with a blow torch brought such a smile-inducing element of playfulness to the kitchen that the very act of making it felt like an essential part of the celebration for me.
For Observer Food Monthly’s 200th issue, Rachel Cooke examines the food trends that have come and gone over the last 17 years – and what lies ahead
The first Observer Food Monthly came out in April 2001. On its cover was an effortfully moody-looking Marco Pierre White, smoking a fag and wearing a black trilby; inside were the chefs Nobuyuki Matsuhisa (“Nobu – the world’s sexiest restaurant”) and Ruth Rogers (“One of the most exciting moments of the year is the arrival of the first porcini”), and the actor Christopher Walken (“My brothers and I worked in our father’s bakery: I was the guy who put the jelly in the doughnuts”). Introducing the magazine to readers, Nigel Slater noted that the public’s interest in food-related matters had never been greater. “I am sure you will agree the timing is perfect,” he wrote, promising OFM writers would both debate the important issues of the day and sing the sensual praises of cooking.