The nouvelle cuisine movement of the 1960/70s lightened up classical French food and often made it taste better when well done. But something was lost too and the worst excesses of nouvelle cuisine, meagre meals prepared by chefs with meagre skills, seem to me often to have been carried through to the sparse artistic creations you might expect today in many high-priced restaurants. Sometimes there might still be a great deal of skill in their creation but I for one, as any self-respecting tyke, expect it not only to taste good but not leave me hungry.
About a year ago in a reasonably good pub restaurant I ordered something like a fruit crumble with ‘creme Anglais’. There was one of those silly smears on the plate so I asked the waiter for “more custard”. “It’s not custard”, he said, “it’s creme Anglais”!
It’s why so often I cringe when I see, in a restaurant review, the photographs of a fragile construction, complete with smears, decorating a plate and then read “The meal was good value at £70 for two”. What?
In the 1970s I used to go to the Box Tree in Ilkley, West Yorkshire. I wouldn’t go now in these days of the cult of ‘celebrity chef’, one of whom suggests that the only way to make a steak taste good is to rub it with a well known brand of stock cube (which indicates to me that the Box Tree might now buy its meat from the local chain supermarket).
So, having guests for dinner, I decided that – at least for the main course – I’d go back to my cooking of 35-40 years ago and do something I hadn’t done in all that time, the classic Tournedos Rossini. Admittedly I had to make one or two concessions: apart from ethical considerations, the cost of genuine foie gras is now a bit beyond my pocket (so’s fillet steak, but once in 30 years?). So I made my own ‘faux foie gras’, which really was in the spirit of my teacher book as it isn’t a two-minute process (but isn’t difficult either). Truffles were also beyond me so I substituted a few mushrooms (cepes and shitaki) ‘laced’ with truffle oil. And I chose to lay the steaks on second choice canape rather than artichoke hearts.
I was amazed to discover after I’d decided to make this dish that a furore had sprung up about foie gras being included in a dish in the tv programme ‘The great British menu’. I haven’t seen the programme so don’t know what this was about, but I’m at a loss to know what is British about ‘foie gras’. Celebrity chefs at it again I suppose.
Able to cook English Sunday dinner type food from the age of seven, I learned to cook French style much later from a book: Mastering the Art of French Cooking (Simone Beck, Louisette Bertholle and Julia Child). First published in 1960, it preceded the 1970s nouvelle cuisine movement.
If you don’t have access to the book from which I learned then there are plenty of recipes on internet, but one which also gives you access to real French ingredients if you can afford them is at:
The faux foie gras recipe I used is an American one (I haven’t worked out why it’s on a site with Thai cooking in the header – been eating British foie gras I suppose). Of course I did not include the jelly topping which you’ll find in this recipe. Compared with a real foie gras from France (about £35) it’s incredibly cheap (about £1.50) but delicious. Cut down in quantity from the originator (who is credited), you’ll find it at:
If making four tournedos there’ll be some of this pate over and it’s great spread on a plain cracker.
My book’s suggestion for accompaniments are butter sauteed potato balls, buttered peas and asparagus tips. Despite my comments about modern ‘pretty plates’ I do take presentation seriously so wanted a colourful plate. As I had asparagus in my starter I went for a simple option of the mis-shapen but delicious Anya potatoes (plain boiled) I find only in Sainsbury, mange tous, broccoli (for an intense green), cauliflower (which I think tastes better than its green cousin) and a baby carrot with its curly head on – my five a day plus one.
The tournedos went down a treat with my guests and I was pretty pleased with them too considering I hadn’t done them for three or four decades.
Footnote. This might be a good place to mention the meal (or course) I was most impressed with ever. I was lucky enough to attend the last dinner or lunch (can’t remember which) on the Queen Mary before she was decommissioned (1968?). The big, jolly cockney chef served up a souffle (I think Grand Marnier) for desert – I think more than 100 of them, simultaneously and perfect. Hell, I have enough problems doing one!