Oh the times, they are a changin’
This is a musing on current times rather than my usual blog which features a seasonal recipe idea, hopefully interspersed with a little humour, although there is nothing wrong with that format and I shall return to it many times.
Sixteen years ago, I downed tools in an office environment to pursue a career as a chef. I started in the best restaurant I could find, with the best mentor with the best ethics cooking-wise, and it really has stood me in good stead. It’s the cleverest decision I ever made and has brought me much joy in life.
When I started out it was all about classic ways of cooking: making roux, béchamel, stock – or bone broth as it is now trendily known, fish filleting, butchery, terrines, parfaits, pastry – you get the picture.
… Which brings me to the present day. After eight years clawing my way up the highly competitive, bitchy and at times, downright unpleasant and greasy culinary pole, I made it to Head Chef level and when I’d run out of good places to work, I decided to start my own catering business as a private chef. In that time, (another eight years on) the landscape has changed practically beyond recognition, probably largely due to social media and the sheer number of disillusioned chefs and/or chancers (me included!) who have opted to strike out on their own.
I started out mostly using dishes and techniques learnt during my time in restaurants and a lot of these will never die, but the times, they are a changin’ and I must go with them. People’s dietary preferences have altered massively, with a huge leaning toward veganism. I don’t follow this, rather I prefer to eat good food, including a little meat, fish and dairy, but, to quote Michael Pollan, ‘mostly plants’.
Changing the way I eat personally (I’m in week two of cutting out refined carbs and sugar which is a huge change for me) has been a breath of fresh air and has presented the perfect opportunity to discover new recipes and dishes for myself. I’ve just had a delicious lunch of never before cooked and invented on the spot, tofu with garlic, runner beans, basil oil, tomatoes & black olives (see idea no. 2).
I’ve changed my mind, I can’t write a blog without the odd recipe thrown in. Here are three quick ways with tofu (better make sure it’s organic and non GM though). Tofu is inherently tasteless so hit it hard with as many flavours as you can.
- Tofu marinated with tamari, sesame & greens with a spring onion and ginger sauce: just cut the tofu into half inch thickness and marinate in Tamari (a little goes a long way). When you are ready to cook it, press into an abundant quantity of sesame seeds and fry in sesame oil. Make the sauce by chopping garlic, ginger & spring onion finely and cooking gently for about 10 minutes in a little sesame oil. Serve with greens of your choice, such as kale, green beans or whatever is good right now.
- Tofu with garlic & runner beans, tomato, basil oil & black olives: Season the tofu well with sea salt and a good extra virgin olive oil. Find some ripe tomatoes (plum or heritage tomatoes are good here, just don’t’ buy insipid refrigerated tomatoes from the supermarket). Fry the tofu in a very hot pan with olive oil and when it’s browned, sprinkle on a liberal amount of finely sliced garlic – be quick so it doesn’t burn and become acrid. Serve with warm runner beans, basil oil (basil leaves whizzed up with extra virgin olive oil, salt and a splash of red wine vinegar) and black olives.
- Sweet tofu with figs, thyme & honey. Coat the tofu in honey and leave out of the fridge for at least an hour. Find some juicy figs and blacken them on a griddle or in a pan with a fruity extra virgin olive oil. Sprinkle the griddled figs with some freshly picked thyme leaves and serve with the tofu.
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Tara is an award-winning chef and author, who started out in top restaurant kitchens in Bristol before setting up her own business in 2010. She is a Judge at The Taste of the West Awards, and in her private life, Tara is an avid cook, fermenter and eater and loves teaching others how to do the same! Tara published her first book, 10 Years of Food Fads, in 2020 to celebrate 10 years of business.