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Monday, 7 January 2013

On The Kitchen Cabinet

There was something of a homecoming / end of term feel for yesterday's recording of Radio 4's The Kitchen Cabinet at Clare College in Cambridge.

The programme - broadly a light-hearted foodie panel show - was at the end of its second series and many of the presenters had a connection with Cambridge.

Perhaps best-known locally is Tim Hayward who, with Alison Wright, gave up a career in London to resurrect the iconic Fitzbillies bakery, restaurant and purveyor of Chelsea Buns.

Resident food historian Dr Annie Gray is from just up the road in Ely, whilst chef Angela Harnett once studied in Cambridge.

Completing the panel was US-born 2011 Masterchef winner Tim Anderson, whilst the programme is hosted by restaurant critic Jay Rayner.

On arrival at Clare, drinks were provided, but as it was basic college undergraduate wine served from Paris goblets, after the first couple of slurps I did not go back for more; not offensive, it was merely rather basic and not the stuff of High Table.

I was lucky enough to have been included on the guest list which turned out to mean that firstly I found out beforehand who was on the panel but was also guaranteed a seat - the BBC it seems knows the same trick as every up-market restaurant about creating a buzz: there is nothing so powerful as turning a few people away to make people want to come along and so they give out rather more tickets than there are places available.

So I was honoured to find myself in the company of Michelin-starred chef Mark Poynton of Alimentum, albeit I quietly noted he had been rather more assiduously encouraged to come along than I.

The programme runs for 30 minutes, but recording takes just over an hour what with re-takes and fluffs and, inevitably, what makes for amusement in a live environment perhaps does not so work well for a pre-recorded programme, so it will be interesting to see what makes the final cut.

The show's format is a mix of pre-written material, audience participation and panel banter - a bit like Christmas panto, really.

This being the BBC, the pre-written material, read out by Jay Rayner, was cleverly done and included my favourite line of the afternoon: an introduction of Tim Hayward as being "the man with the best buns in broadcasting".

"Those" buns - in all their glory
And with the show being in Cambridge, there turned out to be not one, but two people in the audience who has eaten swan; one had had to go to China to do it, but my respect goes to the second who had it served at a St John's college dinner in 1981.

This led on to a comment by Tim Hayward about High Table and college rituals. He made the observation that High Table was not old-school formality for the sake of it, but rather an opportunity for great minds to meet, discuss and bounce ideas off each other.

This type of inquiry perhaps suits cutting-edge sciences more than anything else but, Tim explained, represents a conscious focus on inter-disciplinary stimulation by the University that I rather admire.

Many of the other topics discussed were more pedestrian in nature - what to do with left-over cheeses and left-over port: these came from two different people and had they but known of each other's dilemma, they surely could have solved it between themselves.

For me, left-overs of either cheese or port do not exist as a concept, but I did put up my hand to contribute to a question on what to do with celeriac.

Sadly the box for audience participation had been left unchecked for this question, so I did not get a chance to explain how celeriac is a key ingredient in tafelspitz on national radio.

For the uninitiated, tafelspitz is an Austrian dish of boiled beef and is far more appetising than it might sound: cheaper cuts of beef, ideally streaked with fat, are very gently boiled for several hours.

Then, the cooking liquid is clarified and slices of root vegetables (carrots, kohlrabi and of course celeriac) are added and the dish slow-cooked for a further hour or so.

The liquid and vegetables are served as a soup for a first course, whilst the beef makes a main course and comes with salty matchstick chips, apple and horse-radish sauce, sour cream and chives and creamed spinach.

The best place to eat tafelspitz is at Plachutta in Vienna - the branch in the 19th district was my local for many years when I worked in Austria, but I also used to go to the one in the Vienna's historic 1st district.

Chatting to panellist and food historian Dr Annie Gray afterwards, it turns out she had also been to Plachutta and described it as "like the C18th was alive and well on my plate".

File:Franz Joseph of Austria 1910 old.jpg
Franz Joseph I - a lover
of tafelspitz
Of course, tafelspitz is essentially a simple peasant dish, rather like the French pot au feu, so it is perhaps not surprising that it was a favourite of the bluff, militaristic Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I, but did not register with the middle class, cutting-edge metropolitan chefs of the panel as an option for this lovely root vegetable.

And with that, it was all over bar the re-takes which, incongruously, included the initial introductions.

For those not on the guest list, the panel is kept secret until recording starts, so we had to feign surprise and enthusiasm in our repeated welcomes for the panellists - but it did give me a chance to hear the line again, "The man with the best buns in broadcasting - Tim Hayward !".

Later that weekend, I read this insighful, wide-ranging and thoughtful piece on a related theme from Cambridge blogger Heresy Corner: Obesity and Sin.

The programme airs on Tuesday January 8th at 3pm on Radio 4 and is available as a podcast on the website.

Other related articles
The Best Tafelspitz In Vienna: Plachutta
Families and Friends Dinner at Fitzbillies, Cambridge

The Kitchen Cabinet on BBC Radio 4 - website
Fitzbillies - website

Image Credits: Photos of Jay / Panellists by Robert Abel; Tafelspitz by Robert K.

1 comment:

  1. I am surprised that one who dares to give themselves a tag as a blogger can write such uninteresting stuff on their blog. Ok the bit about Tafelspitz was mildly interesting - but after all that was about something you knew about. The Kitchen Cabinet (which i had to humbly queue up for - like most) was a breath of fresh air.
    Jay Rayner - yes he had a script, but ad libbed away from script a good deal of the time, which provided the raucous laughter on several occasions. Tim Anderson I thought was the star of the day as he didn't come with any of the stuck up Cambridge preconceptions that availed in the room that day and said some interesting stuff.
    The recording was fun(something Cambridge needs to have more of); mildly informative (it wasn't a uni lecture after all); free and a great way to spend the miserable first weekend in January!
    BBC - thank you for brightening our afternoon. Sorry for the people that can't just say thanks for a glass of plonk - yes it was plonk, but it was unexpected and got people in the right mood!
    More recordings in Cambridge please.