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Countless articles, books and videos about diet have been published around the world relating to what has been known for sometime now as ‘the obesity epidemic’.

Despite that, we are still debating what exactly causes obesity. Some say calories do not matter, that it’s the type of food we eat.

Some proponents of that theory say that what we eat determines not only our weight but also our general overall health. That, too, has been ongoing since the 19th century.

Kellogg’s attempted link between food and disease

Dr John Harvey Kellogg, a physician, was the co-father of the original breakfast cereals developed in the 19th century.

At first, Kellogg developed the breakfast cereals with his brother Will. They had a falling out over corn flakes, which, Mental Floss explains, turned into a lifelong feud.

First, there was the question of taste. John wanted them plain. Will thought a bit of sugar made them palatable.

Secondly, the brothers had differing views of sexuality. John developed cornflakes because he thought they would curb the sexual appetite, especially pleasuring oneself. Will had no interest in such associations.

It turned out the Will was the better businessman and founded the Kellogg Company, which continues to produce breakfast cereals worldwide.

Dr Kellogg, his brother, continued to promote his link between food and disease brought on by masturbation at his sanitarium in Battle Creek, Michigan:

Kellogg’s solution to all this suffering was a healthy diet. He thought that meat and certain flavorful or seasoned foods increased sexual desire, and that plainer food, especially cereals and nuts, could curb it.

Obsession with grains exists over a century later

Fast forward to the 21st century, and we are still obsessed with grains, although not quite in the same way as Dr Kellogg.

From the 1970s, corn has increasingly become a staple in American diets, much to the delight of farmers.

Corn can appear as a refined product, either in foods or snacks but also as corn syrup sweetener. Both have been linked to obesity.

In 2007, CNN reported on a plant biologist, Todd Dawson, who developed a hair strand test to see how much corn someone was consuming.

‘If we are what we eat, Americans are corn and soy’ offers an interesting insight into the old adage.

Dawson told CNN’s Dr Sanjay Gupta why he was interested in testing for corn (emphases mine):

We are what we eat with respect to carbon, for sure. So if we eat a particular kind of food, and it has a particular kind of carbon in it, that’s recorded in us, in our tissues, in our hair, in our fingernails, in the muscles,” Dawson says …

“We’re like corn chips walking because we really have a very, very large fraction of corn in our diets, and we actually can’t help it because it’s an additive in so many of the foods we find on the market shelves,” Dawson says.

Foods like ketchup, salad dressing, soda, cookies and chips all contain corn, usually high fructose corn syrup.

“I think where the danger comes in with corn is that much of the corn grown now in North America is going into making high fructose corn syrup,” Dawson says. “So it’s not that corn per se is bad, but it’s the sweetener made from corn that gets into many of the foods that Americans are probably consuming too much of, and we now see that showing up as obesity and heart disease and potential for type 2 diabetes.”

Dr Gupta wrote:

To be fair, researchers say we’re eating too much of all kinds of sugar, not just high fructose corn syrup.

Dawson tested Gupta’s hair:

69 percent of the carbon came from corn.

This may seem high, but it is typical for Americans.

Dawson said that Europeans eat far less corn and have fewer weight issues:

Dawson tested his own hair after three months in Italy: 5 percent corn.

However, the Corn Refiners Association in the United States rightly pointed out that many countries around the world are experiencing higher rates of obesity — corn or not:

many parts of the world, including Mexico and Europe, have rising rates of obesity and diabetes, despite having little or no high fructose corn syrup in their foods and drinks.

What about soy?

Dr Gupta’s article points out that the increase of soy in food products is also a concern:

Checking labels during a recent trip to the grocery store I found soybean oil in everything from tortilla chips to fruit syrup.

Dr. Joseph Hibbeln at the National Institutes of Health says that soy can produce health issues for those who do not eat enough healthy, especially omega-3, fats:

In recent years, a form of soybean oil has been the primary source of trans fats, which raises levels of LDL, or bad cholesterol, in our bodies and is thought to contribute to heart disease.

Our bodies need a balance of omega-6 fatty acids like soybean oil and omega-3 fatty acids like fish oil, Hibbeln says. Over the last century, our diets have shifted almost completely to omega-6 fatty acids.

“It’s quite likely that most of the diseases of modern civilization, major depression, heart disease and obesity are linked to the radical and dramatic shift in the composition of the fats in the food supply,” Hibbeln says.

Our brains are composed of fatty acids, and an absence of omega-3 fatty acids can actually change our behavior, according to Hibbeln.

Hibbeln’s research suggests diets containing omega-3 fatty acids found in fish reduce depression, aggression and anger, while improving mental well-being.

One man’s simple remedy

I owe a hat tip to Twitter’s unseen1 for both the above articles.

This is what he is adopting as an overall health plan:

Thank you for the common sense solution, unseen1: painless and practical.

As he says, if it doesn’t work, go back to junk food.

In closing, here’s a simple rule: ask yourself if your grandparents ate what you are about to consume. If not, leave it to one side.

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In the Western world, we increasingly hear that we should be consuming less meat.

Interestingly enough, our forebears would have enjoyed the luxury of eating meat at nearly every evening meal. That option was not open for many of them.

Meat — especially red meat — has dietary importance for humans at every stage in their lives.

Children and adolescents

A 2007 study showed that meat is vital for children and adolescents. The following study, summarised below, is from the September 1, 2007 issue of The Journal of the Dieticians Association of Australia and appears at The Free Library.

These are the key points (emphases mine):

* Optimal nutrition during the first years of life is crucial for optimal growth and development and, possibly, the prevention of chronic disease of adulthood.

* Iron-deficiency anaemia in childhood and adolescence is associated with serious adverse outcomes that may not be reversible, making detection and early treatment an imperative.

* Zinc plays a major role in cellular growth.

* Vitamin A is essential for the functioning of the eyes and the immune system.

* Vitamin A is necessary for membrane stability, and zinc is essential for mobilisation of the beta-carotene. Vitamin A deficiency contributes to anaemia by immobilising iron in the reticuloendothelial system, reducing haemopoiesis and increasing susceptibility to infections.

* Like iron, iodine appears to be involved in myelin production and, hence, nerve conduction.

* Meat is a core food in the diet for children and adolescents because it provides significant amounts of these micronutrients.

Meat is essential in ensuring that nerve and motor development evolve for overall health, particularly for the myelin sheath, which a number of us will remember studying in our high school biology classes:

Development of functional activity may be associated with myelination. Many nerve fibres are covered with a whitish, fatty, segmented sheath called the myelin sheath. Myelin protects and electrically insulates fibres from one another and increases the speed of transmission of the nerve impulses. Myelinated fibres conduct nerve impulses rapidly, whereas unmyelinated fibres tend to conduct quite slowly. This acceleration of nerve conduction is essential for the function of the body and survival. In humans, the myelin sheath begins to appear around the fourth month of foetal development and first appears in the spinal cord before spreading to the higher centres of the brain. It is assumed that this myelination precedes functional activity. This paper considers micronutrient deficiency in the context of myelination and other developmental features to highlight the need for micronutrients which can be delivered in the diet through red meat.

Note: red meat.

Meat provides the following essential building blocks to good developmental health.

Iron

A young brain needs iron:

Iron is essential for brain development. Brain iron is stored preferentially in the extra pyramidal tracts and is laid down in the first 12 months of life. Once the blood-brain barrier closes, very little iron can be deposited in the brain and, hence, an adequate dietary intake of iron is essential during this critical period … Several studies have now shown that iron-deficient anaemic 6- to 24-month-old infants can score lower on tests of mental development compared with non-iron-deficient controls (13,19,20) and are at risk for poorer cognitive, motor, social-emotional and neurophysiological development at least in the short term. Furthermore, at least one study has shown that these deficits appear to be permanent. (19) These infants appeared to have reproducible deficits in body balance and coordination and in language skills, which could be interpreted as implying problems with nerve conduction and hence myelination

Required iron levels vary with the onset of adolescence. Boys need less. Girls need more:

With the slowing of growth, at the end of puberty, iron requirements decline. Although girls develop less extra muscle tissue than boys, menarche increases the need for iron, and this increased need continues throughout reproductive life. (37) The adolescent girl is therefore at risk for developing ID due to the combined effects of continuing growth, menstrual iron losses and a low intake of dietary iron.

Zinc

Zinc deficiencies can affect mental and physical health:

Zinc is also an essential nutrient for human health. Zinc plays a major role in cellular growth, where it is crucial in the enzyme systems necessary for the production of RNA and DNA. In the brain, zinc binds with proteins and is involved with both structure and function. Severe zinc deficiency in animals has been associated with significant malformations such as anencephaly and microcephaly, and with functional deficits such as short-term memory deficits and behavioural problems. (23) In humans, cerebella dysfunction, behavioural and emotional disturbances have all been described. (23) In spite of the proven benefits of adequate zinc nutrition, approximately 2 billion people still remain at risk of zinc deficiency. (6) When zinc is provided as a supplement to children in lower-income countries, it reduces the frequency and severity of diarrhoea, pneumonia, and possibly malaria. Moreover, studies have shown that children who receive zinc supplements have lower death rates. (6)

Vitamin A

Many children in the developing world lack adequate Vitamin A. Vitamin A needs zinc:

Vitamin A is necessary for membrane stability, and zinc is essential for mobilisation of the beta-carotene. Vitamin A deficiency contributes to anaemia by immobilising iron in the reticuloendothelial system, reducing haemopoiesis and increasing susceptibility to infections. Vitamin A is essential for the functioning of the eyes as well as the immune system.

Vitamin A deficiency is associated with impaired humoral and cellular immune function, keratinisation of the respiratory epithelium and decreased mucus secretion, which weaken barriers to infection.

Iodine

Iodine deficiency is a worldwide problem:

Iodine deficiency is estimated to have lowered the intellectual capacity of almost all of the nations reviewed by as much as 10-15%. (6) In developed nations there has been a recent and disturbing increase in iodine deficiency, with as many as 25% of children and women of child-bearing age being deficient. (6) This increase has coincided with the declining dietary intake of iodized salt and also the elimination of iodophor-based cleaning compounds in commercial dairies. (25) Impaired physical and mental development is common. (26) Foetal iodine deficiency in the first and early second trimester of pregnancy results in retardation and deaf mutism, whereas in the early postnatal period, the main abnormalities are growth stunting and somatic abnormalities. (27) The hearing loss can be variable, depending on the age of onset, and can also be associated with dysarthria and other disorders of speechThe critical stage of foetal development for iodine appears to be around the 14th week of foetal lifeLike iron, iodine appears to be involved in myelin production and, hence, nerve conduction. This appears to be supported in animal model research where rats fed upon an iodine-deficient diet were found to have alterations in myelin basic protein immunoreactivity and hence function. (29) 

The paper’s summary makes salient points about meat and the types of necessary meat protein:

Meat plays a central role in the diet, providing a significant contribution to the intakes of 10 key nutrients: energy, protein, vitamin A, vitamin B1, vitamin B2, niacin, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, iron and zinc. In young children, an over-dependence on milk may put young children at increased risk of poor iron status, owing to its displacement of iron-rich or iron-enhancing foods from the diet. This risk becomes nonsignificant when moderate to high amounts of iron-rich or iron-enhancing foods (e.g. meat and fruit, respectively) are also consumed. A study performed on infants in the UK has shown that the addition of meat powder to a weaning food has a marked enhancing effect on the absorption of iron, (38) which reinforces the fact that lean red meat is not only an appropriate weaning food but should be considered an essential food during the critical stages of brain development. Dietary diversification involves promotion of a diet with a wider variety of naturally iron-containing foods, especially red meat, poultry and fish. These foods have a high content of highly bioavailable haem iron, and thus are most appropriate for infants and children on weaning. Despite their widespread availability, foods from this group are not always used or may be diluted before use (e.g. meat is rich in iron but meat broth is not). Given the information above, however, it is reasonable to argue that meat is a core food in the diet for children and adolescents because it provides significant amounts of essential micronutrients.

Adult depression — and some physical ailments — linked to L-carnitine deficiency

We in the West seem to be undergoing a depression epidemic.

I know many people offine who are taking anti-depressants. We had fewer of these issues 40 years ago.

A Stanford Medicine study published on July 30, 2018 links depression to a lack of L-carnitine, an amino acid that the body produces naturally. Natalie Rasgon’s study showed that patients responded positively within days to acetyl-L-carnitine supplements to ease their depression. By contrast, anti-depressants can take a few weeks to be effective.

She says that, although L-carnitine supplements are available at health food shops, more research needs to be done to find out exactly what L-cartinine supplements will help.

WebMD explains that low L-carnitine levels can be genetic or related to medicines. Ultimately:

The body can convert L-carnitine to other amino acids called acetyl-L-carnitine and propionyl-L-carnitine. But, no one knows whether the benefits of carnitines are interchangeable. Until more is known, don’t substitute one form of carnitine for another.

WebMD also lists physical ailments that can arise from low L-cartinine levels:

L-carnitine is used for conditions of the heart and blood vessels including heart-related chest pain, congestive heart failure (CHF), heart complications of a disease called diphtheria, heart attack, leg pain caused by circulation problems (intermittent claudication), and high cholesterol.

Some people use L-carnitine for muscle disorders associated with certain AIDS medications, difficulty fathering a child (male infertility), a brain development disorder called Rett syndrome, anorexia, chronic fatigue syndrome, diabetes, overactive thyroid, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), leg ulcers, Lyme disease, and to improve athletic performance and endurance.

However, eating meat might be the simplest way to help increase natural L-cartinine levels.

According to a 2004 abstract from the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, ‘Species and muscle differences in L-carnitine levels in skeletal muscles based on a new simple assay’, red meat — especially deer, horse and goat — has the highest levels of this essential amino acid:

We have adapted the enzymatic method [Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications 176 (3) (1991) 1617] for the safe and rapid assay of L-carnitine (L-CA) in skeletal muscle using a microplate reader. The concentration of L-CA in fresh semitendinosus muscle from broiler chicken, pig, beef cattle, deer, horse and goat muscle were 0.69, 1.09, 1.86-3.57, 4.57, 4.95 and 11.36 μmol/g wet weight, respectively. The animals which had higher concentration of L-CA, also had the highest amounts of myoglobin as an index to the redness of the muscle. Furthermore, we investigated this relationship between white muscle, M. pectoralis profundus, and red muscle, M. soleus, in laying hens. The L-CA and myoglobin concentration in red muscle were significantly higher than those in white muscle (p<0.01). These findings suggest that L-CA concentration in muscle is related to oxygen metabolism and to myofiber types.

Conclusion

It’s time to stop obsessing over eating meat, especially red meat, which has been a no-no for decades.

Red meat helps to ensure good health — at any stage of life.

Enjoy it.

In 1999, Anthony Bourdain wrote an article for The New Yorker on dining out.

‘Don’t Eat Before Reading This’ is a must-read article.

He was talking about top-end bistros and restaurants, but he raised insider facts which will interest aficionados of the dining scene.

I saw the article thanks to this tweet about steak …

… which led me to this one (click on image to see the full text):

I’ll come back to that in a moment.

Fish

I nearly always have fish when eating out. Here’s the truth for fish lovers who dine out at the weekend or on a Monday (emphases mine):

The fish specialty is reasonably priced, and the place got two stars in the Times. Why not go for it? If you like four-day-old fish, be my guest. Here’s how things usually work. The chef orders his seafood for the weekend on Thursday night. It arrives on Friday morning. He’s hoping to sell the bulk of it on Friday and Saturday nights, when he knows that the restaurant will be busy, and he’d like to run out of the last few orders by Sunday evening. Many fish purveyors don’t deliver on Saturday, so the chances are that the Monday-night tuna you want has been kicking around in the kitchen since Friday morning, under God knows what conditions. When a kitchen is in full swing, proper refrigeration is almost nonexistent, what with the many openings of the refrigerator door as the cooks rummage frantically during the rush, mingling your tuna with the chicken, the lamb, or the beef. Even if the chef has ordered just the right amount of tuna for the weekend, and has had to reorder it for a Monday delivery, the only safeguard against the seafood supplier’s off-loading junk is the presence of a vigilant chef who can make sure that the delivery is fresh from Sunday night’s market.

Generally speaking, the good stuff comes in on Tuesday

Steaks

I cannot emphasise enough this bit about well done steaks. For those who missed the tweet above:

In many kitchens, there’s a time-honored practice called “save for well-done.” When one of the cooks finds a particularly unlovely piece of steak—tough, riddled with nerve and connective tissue, off the hip end of the loin, and maybe a little stinky from age—he’ll dangle it in the air and say, “Hey, Chef, whaddya want me to do with this?”What he’s going to do is repeat the mantra of cost-conscious chefs everywhere: “Save for well-done.” The way he figures it, the philistine who orders his food well-done is not likely to notice the difference between food and flotsam.

Vegetarians

Apologies to any vegetarians reading here, but this is what chefs think. Bourdain prefaced this by saying serious cooks find preparing brunch dull:

Even more despised than the Brunch People are the vegetarians. Serious cooks regard these members of the dining public—and their Hezbollah-like splinter faction, the vegans—as enemies of everything that’s good and decent in the human spirit. To live life without veal or chicken stock, fish cheeks, sausages, cheese, or organ meats is treasonous.

Butter

Whether we realise it or not, a good restaurant will use butter — and a lot of it:

In a good restaurant, what this all adds up to is that you could be putting away almost a stick of butter with every meal.

Leftover bread and butter

Speaking of butter — and bread — you might wonder (as I did) what happens to whatever you leave on your table.

It gets re-used:

Recently, there was a news report about the practice of recycling bread. By means of a hidden camera in a restaurant, the reporter was horrified to see returned bread being sent right back out to the floor. This, to me, wasn’t news: the reuse of bread has been an open secret—and a fairly standard practice—in the industry for years. It makes more sense to worry about what happens to the leftover table butter—many restaurants recycle it for hollandaise.

Food handling

If you’re wondering (as I did) if line cooks and chefs wear gloves in the kitchen, the short answer is ‘rarely’:

As the author and former chef Nicolas Freeling notes in his definitive book “The Kitchen,” the better the restaurant, the more your food has been prodded, poked, handled, and tasted. By the time a three-star crew has finished carving and arranging your saddle of monkfish with dried cherries and wild-herb-infused nage into a Parthenon or a Space Needle, it’s had dozens of sweaty fingers all over it. Gloves? You’ll find a box of surgical gloves—in my kitchen we call them “anal-research gloves”—over every station on the line, for the benefit of the health inspectors, but does anyone actually use them? Yes, a cook will slip a pair on every now and then, especially when he’s handling something with a lingering odor, like salmon. But during the hours of service gloves are clumsy and dangerous. When you’re using your hands constantly, latex will make you drop things, which is the last thing you want to do.

Hair

Bourdain says that toques or other head coverings are not generally worn:

For most chefs, wearing anything on their head, especially one of those picturesque paper toques—they’re often referred to as “coffee filters”—is a nuisance: they dissolve when you sweat, bump into range hoods, burst into flame.

Bourdain’s conclusion

Despite having raised the hairs on people’s necks by revealing all this insider information, Bourdain is adamant that a top restaurant kitchen is cleaner than that of the average home:

The fact is that most good kitchens are far less septic than your kitchen at home. I run a scrupulously clean, orderly restaurant kitchen, where food is rotated and handled and stored very conscientiously.

My conclusion

Having read Bourdain’s article, I am happy I do not eat out all that often — at most, 10 to 12 times a year — and always in good restaurants.

I would dispute that their kitchens are cleaner than mine at home.

And finally, although I disagreed with his politics, I am sorry that Anthony Bourdain is no longer with us.

At the end of May 2018, I wrote about the splendid dinner my better half and I enjoyed at Villandry Great Portland Street in London.

We had planned to return this month. Unfortunately, only yesterday, we discovered that all three Villandry restaurants — including the one in Bicester Village, Oxfordshire — closed on August 9.

What awful news. The one in Great Portland Street offered exceptionally good value, especially on wine.

Investigating, I found that London Eater had a post on August 6, based on a Sunday Times article. The post said, in part:

Accounts made up to March 2017 show that Bicester — lost to the site’s landlord in return for a “substantial payment to the company” — made up 47 percent of the group’s entire sales annually. Paired with a 100 percent rent increase at Great Portland Street and a 16 percent increase at St. James’s, losses amounted to almost £1.5 million, compared to £683,564 the previous year.

London Eater noted that Villandry was not the only mid-market restaurant group in trouble:

In the last week, steak restaurants Gaucho and Cau have been lined up for sale, while burger chain Byron admitted that its finances were in serious trouble despite wholesale changes to operational strategy. Villandry, open since 1998, has introduced “pizza and prosecco” and bottomless brunches in an attempt to improve sales, but the news suggests that these innovations aren’t doing enough to account for such a sharp rise in costs.

On August 9, Eater announced that the restaurants had closed:

Eater first learned of the closure from a tipster, who reported that the Great Portland street restaurant was being boarded up this morning. Later, both the Great Portland Street and St. James’s reservation lines rang dead …

Eater reported that the restaurants were struggling last week, with recently filed accounts showing substantial losses. These were mostly accounted for by the closure of a restaurant in Bicester, which had accounted for 47 percent of group turnover 2016-17. Coupled with a doubling of rent at Great Portland Street and a 16 percent increase at St James’s, the restaurants simply could not survive.

Villandry’s final tweet appeared that day, announcing their closure:

On July 10, Time Out posted a brief review that captured the essence of Villandry Portland Street perfectly (emphases mine):

It’s not often you find a restaurant where diners are happy to eat alone, but this is one such place, owing to the unshowy, affordable menu and the chance to sit unhurried and unjudged by easy-going staff. The menu covers all bases: burgers, salads, steaks, plenty of fish and seafood, and weekend brunch. Duck confit was tender and moist, and plum crumble a deliciously fruity concoction topped with chantilly cream.

Villandry seems genuinely happy to accommodate your whims, whether that’s a simple quiche in the restaurant or takeaway chocolates from the compact grocery area. It seems they’ve thought of everything: come summer, there’s a juice bar and a counter serving frozen yoghurt and ice-cream.

We are sorry to see this loss from the London restaurant scene. I wish Villandry’s former employees well.

Just time for a quick post today.

A year ago at this time we were in Cannes.

One of the things I bought was Piment d’Espelette, which is all the rage not only in France but also in the UK and the US. It’s often pronounced in hushed tones because it’s supposed to be so special.

On a geographic and historic level, it is special, as Wikipedia explains:

The Espelette pepper (French: Piment d’Espelette French pronunciation: ​[pi.mɑ̃ dɛs.pə.lɛt] ; Basque: Ezpeletako biperra) is a variety of Capsicum annuum that is cultivated in the French commune of Espelette, Pyrénées-Atlantiques, traditionally the northern territory of the Basque people.[1] On 1 June 2000, it was classified as an AOC product and was confirmed as an APO product on 22 August 2002.

Chili pepper, originating in Central and South America, was introduced into France during the 16th century. After first being used medicinally, it became popular as a condiment and for the conservation of meats. It is now a cornerstone of Basque cuisine, where it has gradually replaced black pepper and it is a key ingredient in piperade.[2]

AOC espelette peppers are cultivated in the following communes: Ainhoa, Cambo-les-Bains, Espelette, Halsou, Itxassou, Jatxou, Larressore, Saint-Pée-sur-Nivelle, Souraïde, and Ustaritz. They are harvested in late summer and, in September, characteristic festoons of pepper are hung on balconies and house walls throughout the communes to dry out.[2] An annual pepper festival organized by Confrérie du Piment d’Espelette, held since 1968 on the last weekend in October, attracts some 20,000 tourists.[3][4]

That said, it is really mild, which I did not know until I tried it at home.

The French like it because they’re not that keen on heat.

If you like heat, cayenne pepper is a far better — and much cheaper (€4 versus €13) — alternative.

Recently, my far better half and I had dinner at Villandry in Great Portland Street.

This central London restaurant is conveniently located near Great Portland Street Tube station.

With a Bank Holiday (three-day) weekend coming up, it is worth mentioning to those who are looking for a great lunch or dinner in town.

Overview

There are three Villandry restaurants at the moment: the one in Great Portland Street, Villandry St James’s and another at Bicester Village.

The restaurants use locally sourced ingredients wherever possible:

All our ingredients are ethically sourced and, wherever possible, local to London. Our meat comes from The Rare Breed Company and our fish comes from the Cornish coastline. We use free-range eggs and organic milks. Our sourdough organic bread is from Astons Bakery.

Although Villandry’s history blurb says that the first restaurant opened 20 years ago in Marylebone, I remember a Villandry café there in the early 1990s that was open only at lunch. My then-boss used to go there because it was close to the office where we worked. I left there in 1993. I recall that a Frenchwoman opened it. Menu items included pastries and high-end sandwiches. My boss liked it because it was one of the first cafés to prohibit smoking on the premises. That explains why I never went.

So, I do not know how to reconcile that part of Villandry’s history with the following (click on From the Business in the right hand column), other than to say that perhaps the current owner bought the business from the Frenchwoman:

Established in 2011.

Villandry’s first restaurant opened in Marylebone 20 years ago. Since then it has stepped away from the strictly French, dark wooded format, and has created light, modern Mediterranean inspired restaurants. The last 3 years of new ownership have been devotedly spent working on improving and evolving Villandry’s offering. We offer a light flexible all day dining menu at reasonable prices and our food is predominantly local and seasonal. Currently we have three Grand Cafés and several more are planned for Central London.

The Marylebone location closed and re-opened in Great Portland Street several years ago.

Villandry Great Portland Street serves breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner and weekend brunch. (All include healthy options.)

Two types of dinner menu are available, based on whether you have booked a table for the café or the restaurant. The same holds true for desserts (café, restaurant).

Menus are seasonal.

Pastries and cakes are still very much part of Villandry’s identity. If you are lucky enough, you can buy some to take home. They were already sold out when we went.

To get a better idea of Villandry’s restaurants and atmosphere, check out their Twitter feed.

Reasonably priced wine list

Incredibly, especially for central London, Villandry Great Portland Street has a remarkably reasonably priced wine — and cocktail — list.

Our bottle — ordered from the ‘From the Cellar — Once it’s gone, it’s gone’ page (8) — of Chateau Pey La Tour 2014 Réserve du Château Bordeaux Supérieur (Vignobles Dourthe) was £45. It’s no longer on the list, because we bought the last bottle.

Incidentally, we liked it so much, we ordered a case from a wine merchant the next day!

Villandry charged only a three-times mark-up on that bottle. Many London restaurants put a four- to five-times mark-up on wine, which is why SpouseMouse checks the wine list before we book anywhere in town. Restaurateurs make up for low food prices with high prices on wine.

I prefer the Great Portland Street wine list to that of their St James’s location, although the latter has better descriptions.

Our dinner

We booked in the restaurant and enjoyed dishes from the Winter menu. Depending on when you read this, that might have changed.

Both of us started with squid, both reasonably priced at £9 each.

SpouseMouse enjoyed the Salt and Pepper Squid, which was lightly floured, then deep fried and coated with the two seasonings. The tartare sauce was excellent and appeared to be home-made.

I plumped for the Chilli Squid with harissa mayonnaise which was a knockout. That was prepared similarly to the other squid dish but dusted with hot spices, which the mayonnaise complemented perfectly.

In fact, the harissa mayonnaise was so good, our waiter offered to bring me more with the ‘pail’ of sweet potato fries with my main course.

Now on to the main courses, both classically French in preparation.

SpouseMouse enjoyed the roast breast of Guinea fowl with coq au vin garnish and creamed potatoes, although the meat was just bordering on overdone.

I wanted fish and, rather than the sea bass, had the grilled lemon sole meunière, which came with buttered baby new potatoes. The two of us shared those.

The sweet potato fries were superb and came coated with plenty of cracked salt and pepper. The harissa mayonnaise complemented them perfectly.

The sole meunière was perfectly done in the traditional manner: lightly coated in flour and pan fried in beurre noisette (brown butter). I’m still thinking about it. One thing to note is that it arrives at table on the bone, but comes off easily. Be sure to turn the fish over to get to the meat on the other side. I was not asked whether I would like it off the bone but imagine that, if one asked nicely, the waiter would honour such a request.

Both of us would highly recommend our dishes, all of which were perfectly seasoned — a rarity in the current low-salt era of dining.

We did not have room for dessert.

With wine (£45), our dinner came to £126. Money well spent. We would definitely return.

Atmosphere

It was quite interesting to see how Villandry Great Portland Street uses their space.

The display counter with the baked goods and chocolate is round and sits in the café area. From there, one walks through the bar, which accommodates those going for brunch. The bar leads to another room, which is a goodly sized restaurant. Off to one side of the restaurant is an alcove with plush booths.

We would recommend booking the restaurant not only for the menu but also for the traditional linen napery.

It was nice and quiet, too. We were given a choice of two tables, which is always helpful.

Our table overlooked Bolsover Street, which has really changed since I worked near there. Wow. It was definitely worth going out for a digestif ciggy break to wander around. Particularly intriguing was the Bolsover Hotel across the street. There’s so much going on in what used to be a rather sedate thoroughfare.

It’s also worth mentioning that the loos, located downstairs, are sparkling clean.

See TripAdvisor’s reviews for more information.

Service

We arrived on time and were welcomed by name, which added a pleasant touch.

Our junior waiter brought us menus, bread and water. There was no problem in asking for tap water.

Then there was a bit of a wait, but we noticed that the maître d’ was also delivering food.

After he took our order, things went at an improved pace and he took the time to talk about the wine, bring me harissa mayonnaise and enquired as to whether we liked our courses.

There is no need to tip as a 12.5% service charge is automatically added to the bill. I mention this, because I have read that some London restaurants have stopped this traditional practice.

Note on St James’s

Having looked at the Villandry St James’s menus and wine list, I would prefer to return to Villandry Great Portland Street for a better selection of both.

TripAdvisor’s reviews have more information.

Final notes

You can book a table directly through Villandry, which is what we did. It might be better than booking through a third-party site or app. Also, if there is an option to choose either the café or the restaurant, we would recommend the latter.

Incidentally, the wait staff wear traditional clothes and our maître d’ wore a jacket and tie.

Even though there is no dress code and people were very casually dressed in the café, we were in business clothes. That might have got us more attentive service in the restaurant. We noticed our wine was poured more often than at the tables where the couple wore more casual clothes.

In closing: go, go, go! You’ll have a great dining experience!

Yesterday’s post was about the BBC’s MasterChef.

It could be argued that the 2018 amateur series was the best to date.

Today’s post has more about the winner and a few inside scoops on the show.

More on Kenny Tutt

The Sun has excellent photos of Kenny Tutt’s restaurant quality winning dishes.

When bank manager Tutt beat Dr Nawamin Pinpathomrat and pilot David Crichton in the final, he said:

This whole thing is for my dad. I know he’s looking down and been giving me support. It’s a special day.

The first quarter hour or so of the final programme presented a segment on each of the finalists’ personal lives. Kenny’s mother related that her husband and son died when Kenny was a young man. He was close to both, but she said that he and his father were ‘joined at the hip’.

Kenny is devoted to his mother, his wife and his two daughters.

Yet, to look at Kenny’s characteristically happy face — we dubbed him Mr Smiley — one would never think that he had had two traumatic deaths to make sense of:

I drew two lessons from this.

The first is that we never know what has happened to other people by looking at them. Although far from being as sunny as Kenny, years ago, someone once said to me, ‘Nothing bad has ever happened to you’. I was taken aback, thinking how utterly wrong that person was.

The second is that the resilience and positive attitude that Kenny displays are exemplary.

We also found out from his wife Lucy that he got up when it was still dark to practice his dishes and perfect his culinary techniques for the show.

The Radio Times reported:

Speaking about his plans after the competition, the chef said “he would love to get more young people cooking”, but that his “ultimate ambition would be to run a high-end gastro Pub”. Just save us a seat whenever you open, Kenny.

The Daily Mail told us:

He said: ‘I would love to get more young people cooking. I always love to get my girls involved in the kitchen, and my eldest Emily just loves to cook and taste the food. Cooking teaches so much, from science to maths, and allows children to be creative and proud.

‘I would also love to write about food and want to put together some great food events, be it supper clubs or private dining. The ultimate ambition would be to run a high-end gastro Pub/B&B.’

The dad-of-two lives happily in Worthing, West Sussex, with his wife Lucy as well as their two children three-year-old Emily and 10-year-old Grace.

The Mail explained how he became interested in cooking:

Kenny started his culinary craft at a young age as he always loved watching his mum cooking up a storm in the kitchen.

The bank manager developed an interest in food from different cultures thanks to his love of travelling across the globe.

The Sun told us what he said before the final:

He said: “My mum always said if you just put a bit of love into it, that generally will make the food taste better.

“I’m just going to give it my best shot, try and have a bit of fun and we’ll see what happens.”

He said his job with the bank was his first “proper” job – and he’s worked there for 15 years.

Kenny says he appeared on MasterChef because he wanted to try something different.

Of course, MasterChef finished filming long before it aired. As with similar televised contests, the winner has to keep the victory a secret until the whole series airs. Add on the six weeks it takes for the show to complete on television and that is a very long period of time.

Mirror TV managed to interview him afterwards:

Speaking to Mirror TV, dad Kenny said that he still “couldn’t quite believe” that he had won the competition and described it as “mind-blowing”.

“It’s an amazing achievement for me, my family and everyone. So yeah, I’m really happy,” he said.

Revealing that he managed to keep the result a secret from most of his family and friends, he admitted that he told his wife Lucy and mum the outcome.

“My wife thought I was joking!” he quipped.

Kenny, who is dad to Emily (3) and Grace (10 months) said that he couldn’t have done it without his wife’s support.

The Mirror asked about the trip to Peru during finals week:

One memorable moment saw a contestant attempt to recreate the Andes mountains out of corn, and another arrange piranha heads on a plate. But was it all work and no play?

“We went out and had a bite to eat, but generally there was a lot of us thinking about what we were going to do next,” he told us.

“But yeah, we managed to spend a few hours together here and there which was really time well spent.”

His MasterChef experience far exceeded his expectations. The contestants were decent people:

I thought it would be more like competition – dog-eat-dog with people trying to clamber over each other to win and the thing that made it really good was that there wasn’t any of that.

We were all the best of friends. And the time the bell rang for us to start cooking we were all in our own little worlds anyway.

Judges John Torode and Gregg Wallace:

were the same in real life as they were on screen: “A couple of great guys”.

One thing Kenny hadn’t bargained for was the camera and sound crews:

The thing you don’t see when you’re watching on TV is the things that go on around you when you’re filming like cameras and sound. I didn’t know about that – you don’t even think about it.

It is a bit weird but you quickly get used to it. Once I was used to it it was like they had always been there. They were all great actually – the production crew, camera guys – they all had a great sense of humour.

He also said there was:

a “great atmosphere” on set and said that “everyone was well looked after”.

As for his cheerfulness:

To be honest, that was just me – what you see is what you get and I do get a bit excited to be there. I was just a bit like an excited puppy and that comes across.

I mean, I am a pretty happy guy, I’ve got nothing to be upset about. So I think most people take that as a good thing, but you do get the odd person who is like, ‘God, why is he always smiling?’

Well, you know, I’m on a TV show and I’m doing alright, so I’m not not going to be happy about it.

And:

He also said that he hadn’t realised he was “quite so animated” from the facial expressions he pulled: “It is quite cringe when you watch it back”.

It was all good, Kenny.

He told the Mirror that he was looking forward to relaxing and enjoying the experience before launching into any culinary projects.

Judges’ tasting and food waste

Many MasterChef fans wonder if the judges have to taste the dishes cold. They are also interested in what happens to leftover or unused ingredients.

The Sun posted an article which explains everything. In 2012, Gregg Wallace revealed what happens to the unused food and the cooked food:

The raw food gets divided up by the youngsters in the crew — talented young people who’ve just begun their careers and aren’t necessarily earning very much.

The cooked food is devoured by the filming crew. A lot of them carry their own cutlery!

That said, contestants race the film crew to taste each other’s dishes:

Chetna Makan, from the 2014 series, told Digital Spy: “It’s not just the cameramen who swarm over the food, we (the other contestants) definitely do it too.

“We all run to the food made by whoever got the most compliments. Literally, everybody runs, nearly knocking each other over to have a taste.”

As for the judges’ tasting, the Sun cited former MasterChef: The Professionals semi-finalist Louisa Ellis, who told Birmingham Live:

The food stays there for a bit after you’ve finished so they can get good shots of it.

“So it can be cold by the time the judges get to it – especially if you’re last to be judged – but they take that into consideration.”

The judges are said to get round this by going round and tasting each contestant’s food straight from the pot, in scenes which are later edited out.

Narrator India Fisher

India Fisher breaks the mould with her sultry, intense narration of MasterChef. She narrates all of the various series except for the Celebrity editions.

The Sun profiled her on April 13:

The softly-spoken host gives a commentary on the dishes whipped up by the cooks – and always makes them sound as good as they look …

Others have admitted that they’d love India to narrate their lives and describe their cooking successes with equal vigour.

This can be problematic for viewers when she moves on to other projects, such as commercials:

Fans may have noticed that India’s voice is affiliated with a number of different brands.

She is the voice of Natwest and has presented a variety of different advertisement campaigns.

Amusingly, her voice has become so synonymous with the show, that fans find it hard to focus when she embarks on a new project.

She also does other voice work:

India is also a broadcasting star, providing voice work for Science Fiction audio dramas including Earthsearch Mindwarp and Doctor Who.

She has also appeared on BBC Radio 4 comedy series Elephants to Catch Eels and Dead Ringers.

As we never see her, the Sun has a photo of her at the top of the article. Mystery solved!

India has been with MasterChef since its relaunch in 2005. Yet, we know little about her. The Sun tells us:

The 43-year-old is an actress and presenter who was born in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire.

She comes from a famous family, as her dad is former MP Mark Fisher.

India is also the step-sister of musician Crispin Hunt and actress Francesca Hunt.

The trophy

The MasterChef trophy and logo were updated in 2012 to reflect a 21st century look.

The Sun explains:

It is made of polished aluminium and mounted on a tiered aluminium base.

Makers of the award, Gaudio, say on their website: “The MasterChef trophy is instantly recognisable and is treasured by winners.”

The article also gives updated information on recent winners’ activities in the culinary world.

Last week, SpouseMouse went to London and, on the way back, stopped by Leonidas for a box of chocolates and received a free 250g bag of their Easter eggs, given to customers who spend £20 or more.

These are so good, that it’s worth mentioning to my European readers. Even if you cannot get a free bag this year, make a note to buy a box for next Easter. In 2018, a 250g box cost £6.15 or €6.95, which, given the incredibly high quality of Leonidas chocolate and fillings, is remarkable value for money.

This page shows how many different Easter eggs they have (scroll to the bottom).

Hands down, Leonidas is the best luxury chocolate on the market — and the best value for money — in the world.

We have been fans of Leonidas for many years. Their chocolate is sublime and the fillings are uniquely unctuous. A box goes a long way, because the quality of the product is so satisfying.

I would recommend that those who enjoy chocolates from the major Belgian luxury chocolatier buy a box of Leonidas and taste for themselves. In store, the staff are accustomed to putting together customised boxes. They are also very courteous.

Leonidas is a great hostess present and all-occasion gift. Be sure to buy some for yourselves, too.

When I was growing up, Holy Saturday was our family’s big shopping day.

As Lent would end that evening, we could have a mini-feast then and a grand repast for Easter.

Many countries have Christian food traditions for Holy Saturday. The following post discusses those in Eastern European countries:

Holy Saturday and food traditions

The much-loved doyenne of home cookery, Mary Berry, presented an excellent two-part programme for the BBC in 2016 on other Easter traditions around the world, summarised below:

Easter food explored — part 1

Easter food explored — part 2

However, foremost in our minds is the religious aspect of Holy Saturday:

What happens on Holy Saturday?

Joseph of Arimathea fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah 53:9. The whole chapter is worth reading and meditating upon as we approach Easter Day:

53 Who has believed what he has heard from us?[a]
    And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
    and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
    and no beauty that we should desire him.
3 He was despised and rejected[b] by men,
    a man of sorrows[c] and acquainted with[d] grief;[e]
and as one from whom men hide their faces[f]
    he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

4 Surely he has borne our griefs
    and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
    smitten by God, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
    yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
    and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
    so he opened not his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
    and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
    stricken for the transgression of my people?
And they made his grave with the wicked
    and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
    and there was no deceit in his mouth.

10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
    he has put him to grief;[g]
when his soul makes[h] an offering for guilt,
    he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see[i] and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
    make many to be accounted righteous,
    and he shall bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,[j]
    and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,[k]
because he poured out his soul to death
    and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
    and makes intercession for the transgressors.

Isaiah 53 is a good chapter to consider as we contemplate the Crucifixion and anticipate our Lord’s Resurrection.

Thanksgiving bloglibumneduTuesday before Thanksgiving is a good time to start preparing for Turkey Day.

You can make pie crust and buy any last-minute essentials. Making cranberry sauce is also a good Tuesday activity.

Make your Thanksgiving pie on Wednesday, so that you have less to do on Thursday.

Prep vegetables on Wednesday and put them in a pot of water or stock (cover with a lid) on the stove ready for cooking on Thursday. Alternatively, cook them on Wednesday to reheat on Thursday.

Make your turkey stock for Thanksgiving gravy ahead of time on Wednesday. Remove the wings from your turkey, joint them (for bone broth), sauté them with a tablespoon of salted butter until browned, then add water. Bringing the pot up to the boil and simmering sufficiently takes about three hours. Turn off the heat and leave to cool gradually to room temperature.

You can also make your stuffing then so that it is ready for the bird straightaway on Thanksgiving.

By the way, the secret to a good stuffing is plenty of butter. Use a ratio of 1/3 stock to 2/3 butter. Sauté chopped onion, mushrooms and celery with 125g — one stick — of butter in the stuffing pot before adding the croutons. Add another 125g of butter when you add your stock. Melt the butter in the stock then add the croutons, put a lid on the pan and turn off the heat. You will get a lot of compliments!

Finally, be sure to season your turkey well before putting it in the oven. Prepare a seasoned rub of your choice, adding plenty of salt. I also put softened salted butter with sage or bay leaves under the skin. It makes a huge difference to the finished product.

Salt and butter are your Thanksgiving dinner friends.

I mention this because the worst Thanksgiving dinner I ever ate was at a nurse’s house in the late 1970s. I can remember it to this day. She did not season the bird at all — or any of the side dishes. Furthermore, everything was low-fat. I ate out of politeness, but could easily have passed that dinner by.

Also, if it is easier for you to carve and dish up in the kitchen, do so. You’ll save time on the washing up, as you won’t have serving dishes to clean.

In closing, Thanksgiving doesn’t have to be a huge chore. Start now, so that you can relax a bit more with your guests on the day.

© Churchmouse and Churchmouse Campanologist, 2009-2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Churchmouse and Churchmouse Campanologist with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
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