Monday, 30 July 2012

I have been given a hard time by pub chefs twice in recent weeks - Inapub June 2012

Readers will be distraught to learn that I have been given a hard time by pub chefs twice in recent weeks. Not, I hasten to add because I have complained, made a nuisance of myself or attempted in any way to abuse the privileged position that having my face beaning out from the top of this page potentially gives me. I’m British, we don’t do that sort of thing.

My crime, in each case, was to order a steak. You might think that’s not an unreasonable course of action when faced with a pub menu, but apparently it’s the culinary equivalent of asking Michelangelo to slap a coat of eggshell white emulsion on the ceiling, or Beethoven to bang out a few tunes on the old joanna.

“A steak’s just a steak, it doesn’t tell you anything about how good our food is,” said the chef in one of the pubs in question – and you have to imagine it being said in a petulant midlands accent to get the full effect. 

Firstly, the idea that a couple of decades writing about the business of selling food in pubs has turned me into some sort of gourmet is frankly laughable. A pint of bitter and a pork pie is about the right level for my palate, so pub chefs who think I’m out to have my gastronomic horizons stretched are wide of the mark..

Secondly, I enjoy a decent steak and I see no reason to apologise for ordering one. Particularly when, as in the cases in question, I’m paying for my meal rather than, as does happen from time to time, taking advantage of the generosity of the pub’s owner.

Finally, I have, on occasion, been served some truly horrible and very badly cooked steaks. So any chef who feels that cooking one properly is somehow not a proper test of their culinary skills is talking though their toque. 

The experience highlights a problem that a number of pub operators have mentioned. “We have to rein the chefs in regularly,” was how one put it – a nice way of saying that that the kitchen team were continually trying to drizzle the gravy, carve the veg into fancy shapes, and call the steak pie a beef wellington.

This can be a double-edged sword. The licensee of a pub which has won a couple of food awards tells me that he regularly has to explain to customers who turn expecting Michelin starred cuisine because of the publicity, that what’s was actually on offer is pie and chips. In this summer of celebrating all things British, let’s never apologise for pub food.

We all know that we need to widen the range of fish we eat to conserved stocks of overfished species, so all credit to Chef & Brewer for its recent Flavour of Seafood promotion, which featured dishes such as Cornish Megrim and Seafood Linguine. Since you ask, I had the Sea Bream Risotto, and very good it was too.

This 'Pub Food with Porter' column originally appeared in Inapub, June 2012

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