Monday, 23 May 2016

The Importance of Making Bread

We feel it is necessary, in the wake of having opened a little restaurant, to say something about having a bakery too. For many people who have known Adam Robinson of old, his career took a strange and incomprehensible turn when he started baking bread. There are many who could not take ‘this bread baking business’ seriously. Undoubtedly, the analysis of why he did this yielded many extraordinary theories. But what came through in conversation many times, and still does, is that it is a good thing that he is finally cooking food again. That he has a ‘proper’ restaurant. That he is doing what he is meant to do.

The bakery is, of course, not by any means a proper restaurant. It is not a restaurant of any stripe. Bread is not quail on semolina gnocchi, chicken parfait or pappardelle with borlotti beans. But to dismiss what bread is to nearly every traditional cuisine found worldwide, is to not know what food is. To not understand how many Western European cuisines, to mention but a few, has as a staple, bread, is to miss what is fundamental to eating in those parts of the world. It is for this reason that most chefs w
ho love food (and there are many who do not) will take seriously what bread contributes to their menu. And if they take seriously what things taste like, bread, even if only served in small quantities at their restaurant, should be excellent like the rest of what is offered on the menu.

The Glenwood Bakery is a paean to bread. And it signifies Robinson’s interest in eating. It is, consequently, a big mistake to see his interest, and this is interest is ongoing, in bread as an aberration to his career. Learning to make good loaves is a necessary and natural part of learning about food. And, given the rather academic dedication which knowledge of bread demands, this pursuit is very far from an interruption to a career in food. The cognoscenti might even insist that a serious excursion into bread is utterly required for a complete set of culinary skills – a complete set, of course, only being an ideal.
It is from the love for flour, salt and water that also comes the love for pasta. It comes from understanding the technical nature of working successfully with these ingredients, that a cook and restaurateur understands the specific types of menus and kitchens that are a function of these foods. It frequently is to a good sandwich that a chef comes home late at night. Similarly, it seems perfectly normal to get into bed with a plate piled high with butter and Bovril on sourdough toast, with tea, after a day of cooking some quite sophisticated plates of food. And, when doing so, it seems nearly inevitable to find oneself in a state of drowsy ecstasy at what one is putting into one’s mouth, understanding fully, what it takes to make that bread.

These words are an acknowledgement of what The Glenwood Bakery is to The Glenwood Restaurant.     

Sunday, 8 May 2016

If writers wrote the world...

…and Burgess were the author, it would be the richest of worlds. Where it is most sensual, most erotic and most immodest it would also be most dry, plain and prudent. Where it is most funny it would be the saddest too. And if this sounds to the reader like nothing more than a postmodern hymn to the Nebulous Nature of Everything, then such a reader would be wrong. Nothing could be further from the truth. Burgess, we know, even though he has not been asked as such, is entirely against postmodernism.

How would he manage to write the world like this? Take as examples two books recently read: ‘Nothing like the Sun’ and ‘A Dead Man in Deptford’. The first is about William Shakespeare and the second about Christopher Marlowe. ‘Nothing Like the Sun’, which I have written about before but cannot stop thinking about, is light in the sense that Shakespeare, according to Burgess, is not an intellectual, nor is he particularly complex as a person. This becomes more apparent when one realises, upon reading Dead Man, how Burgess does, in fact, render a darkly intellectual and unusually complex person. Shakespeare’s aspirations are normal; he hopes for success in his craft, recognition by his peers and financial prosperity. He works very hard. But he is also a romantic, a hopeless disciple of Eros. Yet, not once, in the rendering of William Shakespeare is his romantic nature made saccharin or his very normal human ambitions, trite.

Burgess can do this because he seems to be devoid of platitudes. Like Shakespeare does, he writes even the most tender afflictions in shards. The most adolescent heartache and most naïve and deluded mandates are written in prose which mesmerises because of its musicality but never hypnotises due to overuse and predictability. In other words, ‘Nothing like the Sun’ is entirely devoid of clichés.

‘A Dead Man in Deptford’, by contrast, is deeply sexual. It is dark and, short of the male entanglement of bodies, is lacking in kindness everywhere. It is unapologetically so. Burgess writes a person who is intellectually fertile and morally confused. His Marlowe vacillates between a true Christian sense of compassion and love for his fellow man, in the Platonic sense, and a cynicism so austere as to have him writing Faustus. His Marlowe never resolves this conflict; not with the application of any amount of philosophical abstraction, scholasticism or hedonistic indulgences. Where Shakespeare is innocence Marlowe is the opposite, whatever that might be. The point, here, is that Burgess, in his genius, captures this conflict without resorting to the ever threatening sentimentality of angst and the usual psychobabble that some writers seem to need. There is no free association, no dreamscapes and no tears. It is just plain and simple blood, gore, betrayal and fear. It is about sex and power and a properly sublimated hope for love.

If Burgess wrote the world, it would be clever, funny, clear and mostly unexpected. It would be incapable of containing anything ‘comfortably numb’ (gratitude to Pink Floyd, for this phrase).