Could we be heading for a 1970s food revival? At a car boot sale recently, I spotted a tool with a frighteningly specific purpose. It was a sardine and cheese platter, lovingly preserved in its original 1970s box. “You probably have the same sense of humour as me,” said the seller, noticing it had caught my eye. “I bought that because I couldn’t think of anything more revolting than sardines and cheese.” But whether revolting or surprisingly tasty, it epitomised the experimental attitude to food that flourished in the 1970s and 80s.
In this month’s Prospect, Adam Gopnik writes that the new cookbook from elBulli offers basic, homely fare, rather than the recently closed restaurant’s “techno-emotional cuisine.” Heston Blumenthal is another famously zany chef about to bring out a book of “do try this at home” recipes. But do we really need them? British home cooking has an unimpeachable track record when it comes to marrying family cooking with a sense of the spectacular, in combinations that sound insane but wow the crowds. Molecular gastronomy was born in the humble ranges of British housewives.
A quick flick through the old recipe books in our house reveals such treats as “Festive Fish Gateau,” described in Josceline Dimbleby’s Festive Food and Party Pieces (1982) as “a mixture of salmon, crab and prawns on a toasted base and ‘iced’ with thin slivers of cucumber.” Dimbleby adds: “it needs no accompaniment.”