Signature dish? I want to cook everything well!
Thursday, 23 March, 2017
‘What’s your favourite food?’ is a question straight out of the junior school together with the one about your favourite colour and which boy in the year up you fancy. So why do I get asked ‘what’s your best dish?’ by decidedly grown up people?
Well, I ain’t no Heston Blumenthal so I’m not immediately associated with That One Dish – in Heston’s case it was the snail porridge. I bet he can’t bloody stand the stuff, not served at The Fat Duck any more, which figures.
Of course the people asking the question mean no insult – but clearly I’d rather think I can cook EVERYTHING WELL than just one or two odd strokes of luck. My mother could cook meatballs. They were delicious. Everything else she produced was at best edible. Would I like to be like her? Would I hell.
Of course, there are exceptions like the Sacher torte in the otherwise excellent Sacher Hotel café. The strudel there is to die for but does anyone ever visit the Sacher for a strudel (well I do but I’m not representative; you see I’m not that big on chocolate cakes. shock, horror)? Or the shrimp and live ants starter at the erstwhile Noma, Copenhagen; I’m sure they’d done a lovely steak too, and it would have been thoroughly dead. And the Waldorf salad has had a life of its own for so long, I’m not even sure the hotel still exists.
The very term ‘signature dish’ tends to create simplistic labels under which to place chefs and restaurants, something the English love doing so much. Take Delia Smith for instance – what is she famous for? Why, she taught the nation to cook eggs (and also got pissed at her own football club's game, three cheers for the lady)! Very commendable, but Delia has a back catalogue comparable to Larousse Gastronomique. Incidentally, Delia’s recipe for beef ragù does not incorporate white wine or cream and is a very authentic show indeed.
And it’s the same for poor Heston, although he did try to beat the snails on the head with the hidden clementine Christmas pudding (on special offer all last Christmas season; clearly not so successful). Rick Stein tries to cook curries but fish, fish, fish swims back to him always. Labelling is the national sport but it’s not that much fun to BE labelled.
‘Best dish’ - for ordinary people too it’s a completely wrong question to ask. Some things we all struggle with (I’ve yet to produce good fudge, sic) and other dishes shine every time but please, please don’t ask me what my best dish is. It’s the next one I’ll be cooking.