Heston Blumenthal on how British produce and recipes give us cause to celebrate
PUBLISHED: 16:59 18 April 2016 | UPDATED: 16:59 18 April 2016
Looking back on it now, when I opened The Fat Duck in 1995, the UK was on the cusp of what has become a modern, culinary revolution.
In the Seventies when I grew up, and around about the time of The Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977, it was rare to find great food outside formal, fine-dining restaurants – mainly French or Italian based too, and the sort you were only ‘allowed in’ wearing a jacket and tie!
We were really lagging behind our European cousins on that front.
Flash forward 25 years, when I was in the thick of my research into British historic gastronomy, I remember feeling so excited to have discovered not only a whole host of forgotten ingredients, but also a recipe bank from 200 to 300 years ago that could have stretched the techniques used in modern-day kitchens and, simultaneously, some skills of present-day chefs as well.
We had been – historically at least – streaks ahead of our contemporaries. I was totally hooked... if not a tad disappointed, that we’d somehow lost our way.
Round about the same time as I was on this odyssey of discovery, there seemed to have been a nationwide, grass-roots movement with a rise in artisanal and smaller quality producers. As UK chefs, we always knew we had some of the finest produce in the world on – and in the seas around – these islands, but up until recently the supply chain had been a problem.
Now we are spoilt for choice with the range, quality and consistency of the produce we can source, practically on our own doorstep.
We are making specialist cheeses, jams, bread, curing meats, preserving, pickling and letting chickens run free. Small-scale farmers are growing heritage vegetables and resurrecting forgotten fruit varieties. Farmers markets have started to spring up everywhere. Food festivals are now a ‘thing’. Even street food has taken a new direction and we have annual awards, just for that alone. There is a whole movement throughout the country in celebrating British ingredients and produce and our cultural culinary history.
As a result, this has filtered down into not only specialist delicatessens and suppliers on the high street, but also our ‘Big 5’ supermarket chains, so everyone can again access at least some of what’s great about British produce. As a nation we can embrace and celebrate at every level our own produce and producers.
The world, and indeed the UK, has changed immeasurably since Her Majesty The Queen was born in 1926. What makes me most proud as a British chef in this, her 90th year, is not only have we reconnected with our own rich culinary past, but also can take pride once again in a gastronomic history that rivals – and in parts, outweighs – any country in the world.
Happy Birthday Your Majesty!
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