‘Chop Chop’

Simon Wroe’s debut novel ‘Chop Chop’ has caused a bit of a stir in the culinary world, with a few high profile chefs taking an aversion to some of Wroe’s tales of life as a chef. I think what needs to be pointed out, first and foremost here, is that this is a novel. Although some of the goings on in the book may be close to events he experienced, or heard of working as a chef, it still remains that this is a novel. He may not have been or seen people purposely burnt, cut and locked in walk in fridges. He may not have had a Head Chef from hell and been embroiled in shady events from Camden’s underworld. Who knows where he’s taken influence from his chefing days, embellished or made up a load of bollocks? It’s just a novel, for fucks sake.

Aside from that, I thought it a very good read. Having worked in kitchens myself, I felt he got the feeling of a kitchen completely spot on. Not only did he get the feeling spot, he also got the comedy and drama of a kitchen in there too: ‘At this very moment there are hapless, tortured chefs in some of the best restaurants in the city trying not to get their tears in the sorbet’.

He got the kitchen characters absolutely right too. Anyone who has worked in a kitchen professionally will be able to tell you stories of their own Racist Daves, Ramilovs and occasionally the Head Chef, Bob.

Reading it took me straight back into the kitchen. The heat, the characters, the feeling that time is constantly against you: ‘Kitchen time expected half an hour of work in three minutes that felt like thirty seconds’. Spot on.

The stories pretty good, too.

‘Feast and famine. Faith and heartache. Love and violence. Dark mornings and late finishes. Savage acts and smart apologies. Death or glory every night.’

Nice market goodies

Bought a mix of tomatoes and a young pepper crusted goats cheese from Nice market for our lunch yesterday. Absolutely unreal. Probably the best tomatoes I’ve ever eaten. Makes you realise how many varieties of tomatoes there are, as supposed to the boring, mundaneness on offer at the supermarket.

Nice Market

Sometimes just one ingredient spotted out of the corner of your eye can decide your dinner for you, and markets are superb for this type of cooking.

This is a rarity that few can afford. Most have to plan meals, not cook on a whim from an ingredient that’s got you going that particular day! Sometimes you just have to indulge it though.

Today when walking through Nice market in glorious Spring sunshine (sorry) I spotted some beautiful apricots. Almost instantly ideas started to form in my head about what delights I could do with them, baked with brown sugar or wrapped in Parma ham and baked with goats cheese. But after a little wonder I found a stall selling all types of spices and spices mixes as well as teas and more types of salt than you knew existed. Out of the visual barrage of spices I noticed they had Ras-el-hanout, and that was that. Dinner was decided.

I knew I had chicken legs and thighs in the fridge, onions, garlic, chopped tomatoes, everything I needed. All that was left was to pick up some fresh mint, a huge bunch for 1 euro, roots still intact, and I was wandering home knowing I had a treat in store.

Any North African worth their salt would probably kill me but I had some chorizo left over, so chucked it into the tagine for good measure. Not traditional, but everything’s better with chorizo, isn’t it?
45 minutes at 180, then chuck the quartered apricots on for the final 15 and jobs a good’un. We served it with Quinoa as we had some in, and mint sprinkled on top.

Annoyingly my phones broken so no wanky food pictures! I can hear the collective sigh of relief/scepticism.