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St Valentine’s Day Rant


‘……. and definitely no heart shaped puddings, croutons, chocolates, starters, potatoes or garnishes’, I conclude when the staff ask if we are doing anything special for Valentine’s night?’


The telephone rings.

‘Are you doing anything special for Valentine’s night’

I take a deep breath tempted to say:
‘Yes, I’m banning all parties of two who book three months before the event knowing that they wouldn’t normally eat here, and when they do just because it happens to be some trumped up celebration kept alive by money grubbing firms who use every opportunity to extract cash out of people they are usually miserable, dull, pernickety, unsophisticated and bourgeois’,

but what I actually say is:
‘No, just the usual menu at the usual price’.

I refuse point blank to commercialise it. I will not advertise in the local paper with their predictable line drawings of people holding hands over a dinner table. I will not order roses at over inflated prices ‘for the ladies’. I am certainly not going to put on a sick, smoochy selection of tired croonings about ‘lurve’ on the stereo by Barry Manilow or Michael Ball or Phil Collins ……. deep breaths…. .. deep breaths…… keep calm. The commercialisation of Christmas is bad enough, and trust a saint to put his oar in six weeks after the supposed birth of Jesus and six before his demise. Was he working for a greetings card firm or perhaps Interflora to notice a gap in the market and say, ‘Hey, six weeks after Christmas, having felt gloomy through January, paid off their credit cards, possibly having finished the remnants of the turkey as soup, curry and rissoles, people will be ready to celebrate something – ANYTHING. And if the bunch that come are anything like the usual crew and are supposed to be the last of the true romantics then God help us.

It seems a strange way to celebrate love anyway – sitting opposite each other in a public place for two hours and stuffing your faces with food and drink. I can think of much better things to celebrate in this way. How about a Sex and Debauchery night – eat and drink as much as you can and then see if you’re capable of anything sinful after that.

According to my research Saint Valentine was a third century Christian martyr who was clubbed to death for helping persecuted Christians. He seems an unlikely icon to spawn a billion cheesy cards and as many cheap sentiments. What is more likely is that it was originally a pagan festival celebrating the start of the bird mating season and as with most of our festivals had some Christian symbolism grafted onto it.

Perhaps I’m biased but I just do not understand this association of food with love and sex. I know film makers use eating as an allegory for sex but that is because they can’t always show the real thing. Advertisers try to sell us every thing from cars to chocolate bars with heavy sexual innuendo- ‘Just me and my Magnum’ – Yes, thank you, we get the point. The meat association’s advertising campaign called ‘Recipe for Love’, now that was a leap of the imagination, getting us to associate a lump of flesh from the back of an animal with love. I suppose their reasoning is that to cook a meal for somebody is an act of love – so that’s why I feel exhausted after cooking fifty meals.

The problem for restaurants is that you could fill the restaurant five times over in theory but what you end up with is only 65% occupancy because they are all twos. The ways of overcoming it are not always acceptable. Cramming in lots of small tables is not very practical, asking people to share tables would be unpopular to say the least. The nearest you get to a compromise is to do two sittings. But I haven’t yet had the courage to suggest a ‘make love first, eat later sitting’.

The heart symbol for love and romance is rather gross when you start to think about it. Luckily it is very much removed from the real thing by being an approximation in shape and usually made out of chocolate or pink satin. It would be a brave restaurant that served stuffed heart or heart shaped steak tartare on Valentine’s night. Do we still really believe the heart to be the organ for all this emotional stress. I think not, we are far too sophisticated for that. We realise the brain is where it all stems from causing the heart to respond by beating faster. Stomachs too are very sensitive to emotion – they lurch, flutter and contract probably more than the heart. But its too late to change a few thousand years of tradition. ‘I love you with all my gizzard’ – nah, I don’t think so.


Ian writes regularly about food and cooking and is building a portfolio of photographs to compliment the recipes generated by his different activities.
He is therefore able to supply a complete package for any publishing project. Ian has written articles for ‘Caterer and Hotel Keeper’, ‘Eat Out’ and ‘The Restaurant Business’ magazines and for the Guardian. This is a small selection.

The Pheasants are Revolting

Is it just me or do all chef’s hearts sink on August 31st and you realize it’s “Pheasant Season” again. Usually we are reminded by our friendly, helpful meat supplier (or ‘Purveyor of High Class Meat and Poultry, licensed to sell Game’) who on the first day of the season rings to offer you the first birds.

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Saint Valentines Day Rant

‘……. and definitely no heart shaped puddings, croutons, chocolates, starters, potatoes or garnishes’, I conclude when the staff ask if we are doing anything special for Valentine’s night?’

…Keep reading

The Rules of Catering

There are two dates in the caterer’s calendar when all involved feel like giving up, selling up or throwing their hands up in despair. These times are at the end of August and the Christmas and New Year holiday. You feel worn down by the continuous grind of business pressure, never having five minutes respite and problems piling on top of other problems not yet resolved. At all other times of the year we are confident, happy, urbane, smiling and generally full of good cheer. All businesses have their crosses to bear, but in the catering industry with all its complexities we probably get more than …

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Service Charge

My head hurts, my feet ache, and I’m only half way through the afternoon. I still have the rest of the prep to do and a busy service that probably won’t finish till around midnight. I am a bit concerned whether I can cope with it. It must be something to do with it being a week of hectic nights and the over zealous sampling of the new half bottles last night that has put me in this state; but hell, I’ve coped with more, feeling worse and no doubt I’ll do it again.

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The Pemmican Brief

Working as a freelance chef I came into contact with many aspects of the catering industry. Some jobs can be difficult and stressful, some easy and delightful. There is also the bog standard, the interesting, and what might be deemed the glamorous. Sometimes I do what is called ‘food styling’ which is a rather pretentious term for presenting food for photography or film. This can be a very frustrating job; you work all day or maybe several producing food for a scene and eventually it is on the screen for a nanosecond or is cut altogether. After filming it is usually eaten by the crew who would eat a lump of coal if it had a sprig of parsley on it.

…Keep reading


Food and sex are inextricably linked. Smell is the lure, consummation the reward. In the middle ages everybody and everything stank. Sewers were open pits or gullies, nobody bathed and there was no refrigeration. If your food didn’t reek because it was off it was probably smothered in some concoction of spices to make it taste of something else. Perfume wasn’t worn as a subtle hint of exotic unguents and flowers, it was plastered on in the hope that no one mistook you for a rank old goat that…

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Cutting the Mustard

Two things I wish I had known when I was seventeen; one was simple, if you chase girls they tend to run away but that’s another story. The other is a bit more mundane but makes a lot of difference if you are intent on making cooking your career, and that is the culinary properties of mustard. A lot of people think that mustard is just hot stuff for going on pork pies and roast beef but it is so much more.

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Peanuts Anonymous

I was asked to write an article about peanuts and I couldn’t resist writing this piece once the idea came to me. Of course it wasn’t suitable for the magazine so I wrote a ‘straight’ article as well for them. This one is more fun.

I looked around furtively at the other faces in the room. We were all sat in a circle and we all had a problem. The group leader looked directly at me as a new member.

‘Would you like to go first, Ian?’ he said.

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