The Essential Ingredient

8/12/2005 12:38:00 AM

There was an article in the latest issue of Delicious magazine, entitled "Reality Checkout".

"Finding the ingredients for some recipes can be harder than cooking the dish, as Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray, of London's River Café, discovered when they tried to rustle up two of their recipes from the shelves of Laura Barton's local supermarket."

The author, Laura Barton, says, "my mantra remains firm: what they don't stock at the supermarket, I don't want to know about". So in the article, Laura goes to the supermarket, with the illustrious Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray in tow, trying to make a couple of recipes from River Café Two Easy - Smoked Eel with Samphire and Spaghetti with Raw Tomato and Rocket - only using ingredients available at the supermarket. Naturally, the smoked eel dish fails miserably.

Um... ok? So what was the point of the article? Yeah, I get it, some ingredients are hard to find at the supermarket. I personally have spent many hours searching around various markets, delis, butchers and bakeries around Melbourne searching for ingredients I've so avidly read about in my beloved cookbooks. Because I am so interested in food, I'm happy to spend an afternoon idly wondering around a market, or down a foodie street, looking and inspecting the products. I love learning about new foods, new ways of preparing and serving them, (which is the whole point of How to Eat project). I think it's great that food writers are trying to get people to experience new food, to experiment with new ingredients and so on.

But on the other hand, I understand that not everyone is as gimpily food-crazed as myself. Some people, such as the author of this article, think of food as - gasp! - only fuel. (Which actually makes me wonder why they printed the article in a foodie magazine.) So if that's your approach to food, why are you bothering with a cookbook from River Café? And then complaining about the exoticness of the ingredients? I mean, if you aren't willing to put the effort in to make something exciting and different, then just leave the fancy-pants recipes (e.g. River Café, Teage Ezard, Nobu etc) at home, and go pick up a fucking Women's Weekly cookbook! (I shudder at the thought). Mm! Chicken schnitzels and pork stirfries all around!

Even though I understand that many people aren't passionate about food, I do think it's a bit sad. Saying that food is just fuel, and that it's only worth getting it at the supermarket is akin to saying, "Any song not played on a commercial radio station is not worth listening to", or "If an item of clothing isn't sold at Target, I'm not buying it!", or "I only watch Hollywood films shown at the local multiplex. If there actually are any films made overseas or by independent companies, I don't want to hear about it!" HRMPH! Sad, sad, sad. You are missing out, peoples!

Speaking of sourcing ingredients...

Last week, I went to Prahran Market to pick up some pheasant. (I did ring in advance, to check if they had it in stock - I've had bad experiences with trying to get unusual meats before). Incidentally, Prahran Market is on Commercial Road, one of the gay areas of Melbourne, and just down the road from one of my favourite clubs, The Exchange Hotel. I can't believe it's been so long since I've been to the market.

But when I was there, I came across the most fabulous store I'd ever been to, The Essential Ingredient. This enormous store had every food product I'd ever read about in my Nigella and my Jamie books, and in Delicious, Vogue Entertaining and Travel and Australian Gourmet Traveller, but had never been able to find. Juniper berries, vacuum-packed chestnuts, stem-ginger, muscovado sugar, puy lentils, tagines, different types of chocolate, cream, cheeses... even non stick brioche pans! (Read here for my horrendous experience searching for one of these for my mum's birthday this year.) I was walking around in awe, with the hugest grin on my face. I was like a kid in a candy store. Or a food-nerd in the coolest food store in the whole world. You may think I'm lame, but I don't care - it was like all my Christmasses had come at once. I've read about The Essential Ingredient before in my food magazines, but never actually made my way down there. I have no idea why.

You know, you can become a VIP shopper there if you simply spend more than $200 in one transaction on full-priced goods. Becoming a VIP shopper gives you 6% off full priced goods for two years. How good is that?! And trust me, I could spend $200 there easily. No sweat.

Hah! My stressed out days of searching fruitlessly for ingredients all across Melbourne are over!!

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My email address is sarahcooks [at] hotmail [dot] com.