QUICK ONE: (A Comically Small Portion of) Food for Thought

Auguste Escoffier in pop art colours.

In 1973 the food critic Henri Gault published ‘The Ten Commandments of Nouvelle Cuisine’, crystallising the new movement then sweeping French gastronomy:

  1. Thou shall not over­cook
  2. Thou shall use fresh, qual­i­ty prod­ucts
  3. Thou shall light­en thy menu
  4. Thou shall not be sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly mod­ernistic
  5. Thou shall seek out what the new tech­niques can bring you
  6. Thou shall elim­i­nate brown and white sauces
  7. Thou shall not ignore dietet­ics
  8. Thou shall not cheat on thy pre­sen­ta­tion
  9. Thou shall be inven­tive
  10. Thou shall not be prej­u­diced

(This is the trans­la­tion giv­en by Paul Freed­man in Ten Restau­rants That Changed Amer­i­ca, 2016. There are many sub­tly dif­fer­ent ver­sions around.)

From this side of the 1980s, Nou­velle Cui­sine is a bit of a joke – huge plates, tiny amounts of sil­ly food, very expen­sive. What yup­pies ate. But that list made us think about changes in beer that were tak­ing place in the same peri­od with the rise of micro-brew­ing and ‘alter­no beer’.

Of course some of those com­mand­ment don’t direct­ly map (over­cook­ing, sauces) but how about if we rewrite them a bit?

  1. Thou shall not stew good hops.
  2. Thou shall use fresh, qual­i­ty prod­ucts.
  3. Thou shall light­en thy beer.
  4. Thou shall not be indus­tri­al.
  5. But thou shall seek out what the new tech­niques can bring you.
  6. Thou shall elim­i­nate brown beer (UK) and yel­low beer (US).
  7. Thou shall be trans­par­ent about the strength and ingre­di­ents of your beer.
  8. Thou shall not prize mar­ket­ing over qual­i­ty.
  9. Thou shall be inven­tive.
  10. Thou shall not be prej­u­diced.

Of course there are a mil­lion excep­tions to each of those ‘rules’, as there were in Nou­velle Cui­sine as actu­al­ly prac­tised, but that doesn’t feel to us like a bad sum­ma­ry of where – in the very most gen­er­al sense – people’s heads were between about 1963 and, say, 2015. (We say 2015 because, in very recent years, some­thing seems to be chang­ing. But that’s just a gut feel­ing which we’re still prob­ing.)

This feels like a con­nec­tion Michael Jack­son, Char­lie Papaz­ian, Gar­rett Oliv­er or even Sean Franklin must have made at some point but a quick Google (time is short this morn­ing) doesn’t turn any­thing up. Point­ers wel­come in com­ments below.

To fin­ish, here’s anoth­er quote from Freed­man:

Nou­velle Cui­sine of the 1970s… had two mis­sions that have since gone sep­a­rate ways: to exalt pri­ma­ry ingre­di­ents sim­ply pre­pared, and to advo­cate vari­ety result­ing from break­ing with tra­di­tion – new com­bi­na­tions such as Asian fusion.

That sounds a bit like the break between ‘real ale’ and ‘craft beer’, doesn’t it?

Ham Rolls in Clingfilm

There’s a lot wrapped up – pun intended – in the ham rolls you see on the back bar of a certain type of pub.

Roll. noun. A round indi­vid­u­al­ly por­tioned bread prod­uct usu­al­ly split before eat­ing. Syn­onyms: bap, cob, batch.

They are not in any sense ‘arti­sanal’. The bread is usu­al­ly of the soft, gum­my white and processed vari­ety – eight for a pound. The ham is from a pack­et, pre-sliced, rub­bery and pink. If there is but­ter, it isn’t but­ter, though you may not believe it. Instead of waxed paper they’re bun­dled up in cling­film (US: Saran Wrap) – con­ve­nient, cer­tain­ly, but prone to sweat­ing and squash­ing the rolls into faint­ly obscene shapes. And, most impor­tant­ly, they don’t cost £5 but more like £1, or per­haps £1.50 if they’re espe­cial­ly sub­stan­tial.

Some vari­ants: the roll might be crusty; there is some­times mus­tard, or raw sliced onion; and there might be cheese rolls too – mild ched­dar, prob­a­bly pre-sliced.

This is how we remem­ber pub food when we were kids – piles of rolls like this, kept under plas­tic cov­ers, and slung across the counter with pack­ets of peanuts, the inten­tion being to soak up beer in the bel­ly, and keep bums on ban­quettes, pound­ing pints.

And that’s the point: they are func­tion­al acces­sories to beer, sat­is­fy­ing in their own way but with­out being a culi­nary expe­ri­ence.

No-one plans to eat these rolls. They’re a side effect of being in the pub and not want­i­ng to leave for what­ev­er rea­son, and of the munchies that strike after a round or two. You see them and you just fan­cy one, just as in the ter­mi­nal phase of the same evening you might fan­cy a kebab you wouldn’t touch with a broom-han­dle while sober.

Fictional book cover: The Ham Roll Pub Guide.
Not a real book from 1975.

In the 21st Cen­tu­ry they’re a way for a pub to sig­nal that it is unpre­ten­tious but not uncivilised; old-fash­ioned rather than rough. If you’re going to drink ten pints here, mate, which you’re very wel­come to do, then make sure you don’t do it on an emp­ty stom­ach.

But they’re becom­ing rare these days as pubs become ever more polarised between haves and have-nots and as envi­ron­men­tal health reg­u­la­tions make it hard­er for a pub­li­can to knock up some­thing even this sim­ple with­out a ded­i­cat­ed food prepa­ra­tion area.

Which is a shame because we’re begin­ning to think that Ham Roll Pubs™ might be the best pubs.

Quick, Clint – to the Pub Grub Mobile!

Though there had been pub food before the 1960s (see the forthcoming Big Project for more on that) it was in this decade that it really took off, and Guinness got stuck in.

The sto­ry is told in the Spring 1963 edi­tion of the in-house mag­a­zine, Guin­ness Time, and also in a short essay by Edward Guin­ness in The Guin­ness book of Guin­ness, 1988, nei­ther of which can be con­sid­ered entire­ly objec­tive. Any­way, here’s how it went.

In part­ner­ship with the Nation­al Trade Devel­op­ment Asso­ci­a­tion, in Novem­ber 1961, the brew­ery pub­lished a book called The Guide to Prof­itable Snacks (many copies are avail­able on Amazon/Ebay – we’ve got one on the way). It con­tained recipes and cost­ings for bar snacks in an attempt to address a spe­cif­ic prob­lem where­by, as Edward Guin­ness put it

many ladies start­ed [pro­vid­ing food] with enthu­si­asm but were dis­ap­point­ed by the lack of return either due to inex­pe­ri­ence in pro­vid­ing what the cus­tomers want­ed or more often as she had no idea how to cost the oper­a­tion and fix the appro­pri­ate retail price.

In 1962 Guin­ness fol­lowed that book up with a film, Food for Thought, which is sad­ly not avail­able any­where online, star­ring Pearl Hack­ney and Car­ry On star Eric Bark­er. (You’ll know him when you see him.)

These were suc­cess­ful enough but Edward Guin­ness felt that face-to-face demon­stra­tions would be even bet­ter so, in Octo­ber 1962, the new­ly-formed Snack Demon­stra­tion Team hit the road in this fab­u­lous Mys­tery-Machine-alike:

Guinness Snack Demonstration Unit van.

Four days a week for the lat­ter part of that year, lec­tur­er Jo Shel­lard (an actor turned cater­er) and his assis­tant Clint Antell toured the North West of Eng­land (where pub food was par­tic­u­lar­ly want­i­ng, we assume) speak­ing to groups of pub­li­cans ‘and their wives’:

The van con­tains the full equip­ment for show­ing the film-strip, tables, cut­lery, cook­ers and oth­er items nec­es­sary for the demon­stra­tion. it also con­tains sets of the basic snack equip­ment required by licensees, priced from £5 per set upwards. In addi­tion, the van car­ries sup­plies of the book… and note­books for each mem­ber of the audi­ence, con­tain­ing a pré­cis of the lec­ture, recipes, and space for the licensees’ own notes.

The talks got busier and busier and Edward Guin­ness reck­oned that, by the time the GSDU was demo­bilised in 1966, more than 20,000 peo­ple had attend­ed its lec­tures. One licensee in Black­burn, he said, told him that he’d dou­bled his lunchtime tak­ings by offer­ing soup and a ploughman’s and thus lur­ing local work­ers from the fac­to­ry can­teen. By this time, most big brew­eries had a cater­ing train­ing divi­sion, so Guinness’s work was done.

The motive for all this was nev­er quite self­less – ‘Guin­ness pros­pered if the trade pros­pered’ – but ads like this from a few years lat­er make you won­der if they didn’t also take the chance to push Guin­ness more direct­ly, as the classy choice to accom­pa­ny meals:

Guinness Ad for steaks from 1966.
From 1966. SOURCE: Illus­trat­ed Lon­don News.

We won­der if there’s any­one out there who remem­bers attend­ing one of Jo Shellard’s demos – they’d have to be at least in their 70s if so. When the book arrives, we’ll let you know what recipes it con­tains, and how close­ly it resem­bles the pub grub clich­es we know and love.

Repeat After Us: Pub. Grub.

We’ve been researching 1990s gastropubs this week which prompted a side question: when did the phrase ‘pub grub’ come into common use?

There are a few exam­ples of sim­i­lar turns of phrase, such as this from 1924…

Burnley News, 05/05/1924, via The British Newspaper Archive.
Burn­ley News, 05/05/1924, via The British News­pa­per Archive.

…and the Pea­cock Hotel, Bed­ford, called itself ‘The Pub for Grub’ in adver­tis­ing in the 1930s (e.g. Bed­ford­shire Times and Inde­pen­dent, 05/11/1937.) It’s kind of an obvi­ous rhyme, real­ly, and, as ‘pub’ was itself gen­er­al­ly con­sid­ered an uncouth con­trac­tion until as late as the 1950s, it’s pos­si­ble that peo­ple were riff­ing on it ver­bal­ly even if it wasn’t record­ed in print.

But, those caveats aside, we reck­on that the pop­u­lar­i­ty of the spe­cif­ic catchy unit ‘pub grub’ can be traced pret­ty pre­cise­ly to a Brew­ers’ Soci­ety adver­tis­ing cam­paign that began in 1967, an exam­ple of which, tak­en from The Times, you can see above.

It was ham­mered home with fol­low-up ads in 1968, a promi­nent men­tion in the sly­ly-spon­sored 1969 anthol­o­gy Pub edit­ed by Angus McGill, and by indi­vid­ual mem­bers of the Soci­ety in their own PR. Watney’s, for exam­ple, ran an exhi­bi­tion called Pub Grub ’71 in, er, 1971.

It’s almost dis­ap­point­ing to dis­cov­er that, like Beer is Best, this is anoth­er exam­ple of mar­ket­ing peo­ple train­ing pun­ters to use their lan­guage. It’s also rather impres­sive.

Book Review: Cooked by Michael Pollan

1899 illustration of brewing yeast.

Michael Pollan Cooked.Michael Pollan’s book is a mix of history, philosophy, personal memoir and cookbook, which amounts to an extended pep talk: cook more! Eat more dirt!

The book is built around the con­ceit that the four pri­ma­ry meth­ods of prepar­ing food each cor­re­spond to an ele­ment: grilling (meat) is fire; stew­ing is water; leav­en­ing bread is air; and fer­men­ta­tion with fun­gus and bac­te­ria is earth.

Pollan’s approach to under­stand­ing the act of cook­ing is hands-on, which leads him to ques­tion repeat­ed­ly why any­one both­ers to make their own bread, beer or sauer­kraut. One of his con­clu­sions is that prepar­ing at home, at great expense and with high­ly vari­able results, ver­sions of prod­ucts that can be bought at the shops for next to noth­ing is enjoy­able and med­i­ta­tive: it is ‘adult play’.

This is cer­tain­ly a fair descrip­tion of our own attempts at home brew­ing, and per­haps (no offence intend­ed) even of some small com­mer­cial brew­ing oper­a­tions.

In his explo­ration of ‘the Balka­ns of bar­be­cue’, we found echoes of the debate over cat­e­gories of beer in the UK. What ‘bar­be­cue’ means in the US, Pol­lan explains, varies from region to region, state to state, city to city – some ‘tribes’ use sauce, oth­ers don’t; sauces can be based on mus­tard, vine­gar or toma­to; they might use the whole pig, the shoul­der, the bel­ly, or spe­cif­ic cuts there­of. Each region thinks the oth­ers is doing it wrong. Those dif­fer­ences, he sug­gests, are a form of social glue – a way for mem­bers of one group to bond, while also exclud­ing out­siders.

When he quotes a friend say­ing ‘So bar­be­cue is basi­cal­ly kashrut [kosher food law] for goys?’, and bar­be­cue afi­ciona­dos dis­miss­ing the slow-cooked pork from the next town with, ‘Okay, but that’s not bar­be­cue,’ we hear the voice of a Cam­paign for Real Ale mem­ber or Brew­dog share­hold­er: ‘Okay, but that’s not real ale/craft beer.’

Back-to-basics artisan, or rock-star?

Pigs

Through­out the book, Pol­lan grap­ples with a few prob­lems which also affect the world of beer, such as the arrival of the ‘rock-star’ arti­san. When he meets world-famous bar­be­cue pit-mas­ter Ed Mitchell, he observes with some dis­ap­point­ment that not only is Mitchell a touch hyp­o­crit­i­cal (he uses both char­coal and propane for con­ve­nience, despite hav­ing railed against them), but is also a walk­ing ‘brand’ whose job is to sell a par­tic­u­lar vision of ‘authen­tic­i­ty’ (Mitchell is black) on behalf of the wealthy investors who actu­al­ly own ‘his’ restau­rant.

Some of this exists in beer already, and more of it is on the way.

Craft beer’ drinkers will also recog­nise the tale of how the $2.75 bar­be­cue sand­wich became the $8 ‘pre­mi­um prod­uct’: it takes more time and uses more expen­sive ingre­di­ents, and, as a result, only peo­ple in suits can afford to eat them, in sani­tised, theme park sur­round­ings. With pork prod­ucts, how­ev­er, the argu­ment is some­what more com­pelling – the $2.75 sand­wich uses fac­to­ry-farmed ‘com­mod­i­ty pork’, while the more expen­sive ver­sion uses fat­ti­er and report­ed­ly tasti­er meat from rare breed pigs. There is no such thing as bat­tery-farmed malt or hops, as far as we are aware.

Craft: instinct and fingers?

There are also var­i­ous com­pelling illus­tra­tions of ‘craft’ as a verb. For exam­ple, Pol­lan describes a miller knows when the grains are over­heat­ing because he lit­er­al­ly puts his nose to the grind­stone. Of a rock­star sour­dough pro­duc­er, he says this:

[Chad] Robert­son seemed to be sug­gest­ing that suc­cess as a bak­er demand­ed a cer­tain amount of neg­a­tive capa­bil­i­ty – will­ing­ness to exist amid uncer­tain­ty. His was a world of craft rather than engi­neer­ing, one where ‘dig­i­tal’ referred exclu­sive­ly to fin­gers.

Neg­a­tive capa­bil­i­ty’, just to be clear, means ‘lack of abil­i­ty’: it helps not to be tech­ni­cal­ly com­pe­tent. (See com­ment below.) We can imag­ine some brew­ers bridling at that, espe­cial­ly those who seem (to bor­row anoth­er of Pollan’s pithy turns of phrase) ‘less like… cooks than twen­ty-some­thing com­put­er geeks try­ing to mas­ter a new soft­ware plat­form’.

Else­where, Pol­lan tells a famil­iar sto­ry of the march of progress and the result­ing blan­di­fi­ca­tion of processed, indus­tri­alised food. He sug­gests that attempts by hip­pies to revive ‘whole grain’ bread in the nine­teen-sev­en­ties did more dam­age than good, pro­duc­ing black, indi­gestible bricks that cre­at­ed an image bread-mak­ers are still try­ing to shake-off forty years on. (We thought, once again, of ‘real ale’.)

The cheese and the sex’

When we final­ly got to it, the sec­tion on fer­ment­ing was, per­haps inevitably, a let down, though there were a few inter­est­ing nuggets which demand fur­ther research.

A long med­i­ta­tion on why peo­ple would vol­un­tar­i­ly eat rot­ting shark meat or cheese that smells like toe-jam – ‘the erotics of dis­gust’ – applies just as well to sour and oth­er­wise ‘funky’ acquired-taste beers. After con­sult­ing Freud, talk­ing to a cheese-mak­ing nun, and read­ing the insane web­site of an appar­ent cheese fetishist, Pol­lan con­cludes that humans fun­da­men­tal­ly love body smells (feet, shit, sweat) but (except in France…) are then social­ly-con­di­tioned to pre­tend they don’t.

While mak­ing mead with wild yeast, he is told that they typ­i­cal­ly ‘crap out’ at around 5% ABV, which leads Pol­lan to sug­gest that is arguably the ‘nat­ur­al’ strength for prim­i­tive­ly-pro­duced alco­holic bev­er­ages. Euro­pean beer cul­ture would cer­tain­ly seem to have decid­ed as much.

We were also amused and intrigued by his argu­ment for why drink­ing is insep­a­ra­ble from social­is­ing. When ani­mals are giv­en access to booze under lab­o­ra­to­ry con­di­tions, he explains, not only do they love the stuff, but they gath­er togeth­er to drink in group ‘ses­sions’, appar­ent­ly because being drunk makes them more vul­ner­a­ble to preda­tors, and there is safe­ty in num­bers. Sud­den­ly, the pub makes much more sense.

* * *

Though it occa­sion­al­ly tips over into self-right­eous dis­gust at the eat­ing habits of the mass­es, and isn’t always suc­cess­ful in avoid­ing a cer­tain mid­dle-class smug­ness, Cooked is an enter­tain­ing, amus­ing book which any­one who has ever felt the urge to make pick­les, bacon or beer ought to enjoy.

And we dare any­one to read it and not come away want­i­ng bake a whole­meal sour­dough loaf, or roast a whole hog.

We were giv­en our copy as a gift by a friend but the rec­om­mend­ed retail price for the hard­back edi­tion is £20.