Posted by: lucylastic | January 15, 2009

Could you eat an elephant? Would you even try?


Could you eat an elephant? Some of you may have seen the televisual experience that was this show last night – if you didn’t, you haven’t missed much, but if you did, I wondered whether the same things struck you as odd as they did me? Firstly, one has to ask, ‘Who he’?? About BOTH of them. Presented by chefs that I have to admit I had never heard of – Fergus Henderson and Jeremy Lee, the show was bizarre to say the least. A bit of Googling this morning, (such a wonderful thing, Google) reveals that they are in fact ‘quite well known’ in the cooking industry – Fergus Henderson not least because he continues to chef in the face of Parkinson’s disease- apparently, his condition was much improved by some ‘deep brain stimulation ‘ a cute name for someone wiggling bits of metal inside your head – I take my hat off to him, as he obviously struggled at times with everything from getting the right words out to holding the glass containing the still-pumping snake’s heart in a restaurant in Vietnam. Fergus and Jeremy are both exponents of ‘nose to tail eating’, another cute phrase that means one starts chomping at one end and keeps going until the other!

I have had snake myself, many years ago in Hong Kong and it’s absolutely fine – nothing like chicken, but meaty, not fishy in taste. The Vietnamese restaurant killed a fresh Cobra, (farmed specially for restaurants) and turned it into 13 or so dishes in 7 minutes – the heart and the bile – which was turned into a weird cocktail, seemed the most ghoulish things, but the snake spring rolls and chopped, stir-fried bones with lovely vegetables looked more than edible. Less so the dog, also farmed, but even as a person with no great affection for dogs, I found it hard to watch them being butchered and then prepared for the table, (fur burnt off in the fire, skinned and then served in various chunks with sauce). i would have declined too.

The premise of the programme was to ‘break food taboos’, or at least, to see how far they could go before the taboos broke them. I am all for trying different things, but I don’t think it’s necessary to eat beetles and bugs when there is a Waitrose nearby. Even the positioning of the beetle as some sort of land-based prawn didn’t wash with me, (or with the Chefs) who struggled to even pull the wings off them! Horse was also on the menu – now, I have eaten horse too – in Kazakhstan, where it is regarded as a delicacy – it’s OK, quite beefy, very lean and very high in protein. But again, it’s the thought of it that is off-putting – even if they did sell it in Waitrose, I don’t think I’d buy it. The action in last night’s programme chopped and changed between Italy – which most of us would regard as pretty civilised and Vietnam, which is a much older culture but ‘civilised’ in a very different way to the one we are used to. I thought there was a quiet dignity amongst the snake, dog and rat, (yes, rat – organic or sewer – you choose) butchers, whereas the Italians just seemed poncy and out to impress with their starlings. thrush and whatever else. Though the thrush pizza went down well!

Fergus Henderson is owner of St John’s Bar & Restaurant in Spitalfields, London – a place I have heard of and again, thanks to Google I have learned that A.A. Gill of the Sunday Times ‘famously retracted his initial bad review’ of the place. Adrian Gill is the most arrogant of men, so it must a) be pretty good and b)be worth his while to make a public retraction. I must add it to my list of places to go, but shall confine myself to the more traditional dishes I think. A speciality is ‘bone marrow and salad’ – I LOVE bone marrow, but why on earth would anyone serve it with salad? Surely is should be piping hot and served with the remains of the Osso Bucco juices and meat? How do you eat yours?



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