Life After Boris
Posted: 1st March 2017
The better side of February began late in January with the launch of Colman Andrews’ tantalising new cookbook at Quo Vadis in Soho. It was a joy not only to see Colman again after a lapse of many years, but other familiar faces.
Colman Andrews is the former editor-in-chief of Saveur magazine and an internationally acclaimed food and travel writer. He is the author of numerous classic and definitive cookbooks and has written extensively for major newspapers and food and travel magazines including Saveur, Food & Wine, Bon Appétit, Metropolitan Home, the Los Angeles Times, and many more.A leading authority on the food and culture of Spain’s Catalonia region, Andrews has also been a restaurant critic since 1972. Andrews is listed in “Who’s Who of Food and Beverage in America,” and is a member of the James Beard Foundation, a James Beard Foundation Awards Judge, and a recipient of five awards from the foundation, including the M.F.K. Fisher Distinguished Writing Award. He is the recipient of the International Association of Culinary Professionals’ Bert Greene Award for magazine food journalism. He is also a member of Share Our Strength’s Culinary Council, and gave the keynote address at the 2005 Oxford Symposium on Food & Cookery.Under Andrews’ leadership Saveur magazine was nominated for 16 National Magazine awards and won the honor three times, including the award for General Excellence in 2000. Andrews lives in New York City and Riverside, Connecticut. (http://www.harvardcommonpress.com/)
Similarly, a Boisdale Life Editor’s Lunch in Belgravia brought together a large majority of the people who have contributed to Ranald Macdonald’s new and successful magazine.
Otherwise February was chiefly remarkable for the fact that, for the first time in ages, I was ten days on the road. First came a working week in Welsh Wales. I am embarrassed to say that all I had hitherto known of this part of the country was what I had gleaned from the windows of the ferry train to Hollyhead. Leaving aside dubious charms of Milton Keynes and Crewe, the journey becomes spectacular after you reach Chester: not only are there impressive beaches that seem to lie right under the lee of the train, but after the Telford-designed suspension bridge from Llandudno you pass below the magnificent ruins of Conway Castle. Look out to the left and the peaks of Snowdonia rear up, while rapid streams come gushing down the hills like an image from a late Victorian watercolour.
My destination was another of Edward I’s strongholds: Caernavon – a short journey from the nearest railway station at Bangor. Out of season Caernavon did not give the impression of being the most gastronomically inspired town in the British Isles. A well-informed local taxi-driver later told me I might have found Betws-y-Coed more inviting, but the town has a remarkable number of pubs and fish and chip shops and on Saint Valentine’s Day I had a good Indian meal at the Curry Scene in Bangor Street (the only lovers present seemed to be a man in his eighties and a woman who was perhaps ten years his junior) and on our last night we had a copious meal at a proper old pub – the Black Boy – within the walls of the old English citadel.
Strolling around Caernavon I found a number of promising shops, however. Palace Street is clearly the centre of Caernavon chic with its artisan ice cream-maker and chocolate shop and a baker selling bara brith fruit bread (like an Irish barm brack) and Victoria sponges. Opposite an effigy of the ‘Goat’ Lloyd-George was a shop selling wax-bound Welsh cheeses. Elsewhere in the little town I found three butchers purveying good black beef and local lamb. The one in the Bangor Street had faggots and excellent pork pies. It was more or less next to a more workaday baker. In all of these shops I was greeted cheerfully in Welsh and virtually everybody I met communicated in that language. Welsh seems to have taken over in the last generation. How different to Ireland where despite huge efforts on the part of the government for the best part of a century, real Irish-speaking is still confined to a few distant corners of the west, and has made no significant progress towards a meaningful revival.
I had the briefest of pit-stops in London before heading down to the Domaine des Anges in Provence on the train. Where North-West Wales showed some more advanced plant life than London, the almond trees were white with blossoms in the south and in the time I was there we languished in the brightest of sunlights and the balmiest of temperatures, with the midday sun at around 17 degrees. So much midnight oil was burned on Saturday night that no one was fully awake before noon on Sunday and there was a small-scale crisis finding anything for dinner. However, one of our number managed to squeeze through the door of the butcher in Carpentras before the last rolled shoulder was put away and round the corner we found a charming Arab shop which provided us with hot roast chickens, courgettes, floury potatoes, onions, garlic and tomatoes. The more we bought the more presents we received: a bunch of parsley, a chicken salad with olives and potatoes flavoured with cumin and finally a small loaf of bread. All this might have been happily consumed outside on the communal table but it had been freshly oiled so we ate inside instead.
It was half-term in the region, and many shops were closed as their owners had gone to the mountains and snow, there was nonetheless a good showing in the market in Bédouin. Some of the traders have become old friends over the years, from the spice girl who provided us with all we needed to curry the left-over hens to the various men and women selling tomme and comté cheeses. There was the lady with lavender soaps incised with an image of Mount Ventoux, the two or three honey stalls and a woman selling gnarled and pitted potatoes from her garden who thrust a pungent truffle up my nose when I wasn’t looking.
In Mazan the Irish-educated publican Jerôme let us taste the wine he has been making in Argentina. We stopped to mop up the sun and the plates of pâté, ham, chips and cheese he set before us. There was a magnum of 2009 Grand Corbin d’Espagne with the curry that night. Despite its unfortunate name (‘Jeremy’s more impressive Spanish cousin’), it proved an unctuous St Emilion and a great treat.
Some hunters had killed a boar on the estate and we had been left a haunch in payment. This new ‘Boris’ was steeped in wine for forty-eight hours. It must have been only half grown and was as soft as butter by the time we cooked it on Tuesday night. I made a sauce by thickening the marinade with flour and smoked bacon. We had some potatoes roasted in goose fat and sautéed baby turnips. A magnum of Hautes Côtes de Bourgogne saw Boris off but the winemaker Florent had also produced barrel samples of the 2016s and after the white and rosé (en apéritif) we blended the reds up and produced some impressive wines. Florent is clearly very proud of his work – and with good reason.
After Boris, the rest of the month has been mildly anticlimactic. February passed away with Shrove Tuesday pancakes – heavily steeped in sugar and limoncello.