Grains of Paradise
We are in Eastern Indonesia, on the Maluku archipelago, TERNAT... If I was going to travel, that's where I'd go to. I've always considered history to be intimately linked to cookery, and vice versa. Behind every product lies a story which is sometimes tragic, sometimes unexpected and often enticing. I have felt passionate about spices for a long time. For me they are a sort of pretext to travel, a sort of awakening of the senses which allow me to cook in a sensual manner. Fragrances, flavours, textures, shapes, smells, colours. What would we be, on this vast earth, without scent ? Smells, both good or bad, call out to us. What a black and white kind of world we would have without them.
I would probably have liked to experience that beautiful period of commercial exchanges which characterised the economic structure of that era. These products arrived at the docks by land or by sea. Spices from the east came from Alexandria, Tir, Acre or Limassol. Kerala pepper, sumac from the Levant, cardamom, cassia, and senna. Sugar was introduced into the pharmacopeia, opium. I would have liked to see cinnamon being subject to tax in France as it was considered a royal privilege. I would have loved to have discovered the highly prized products used in perfumery, incense, benzoin resin, aloe, myrrh, spikenard, Himalayan musk delivered in a roe deer fawn bladder... But it doesn't matter; every era has its own particular pleasures.
When I was a young boy I would eat blackbird casserole with my grandfather, and watch my grand-mother's wrinkled hands kneading the dough full of yeast and butter, in grey metal battered pie dishes that I will never forget. Those celebratory meals with several different courses, tongue cooked in broth, veal rice casserole, steaks from the family butcher expertly chosen by my grand-mother and cooked with shallots and freshly milled black pepper. Rhubarb freshly cut from the bottom of the garden and the strawberries plucked out from under the huge black plastic layer protected them, we don't know who or what from ?
None of these things make me think about culinary creations, rather they are associated with interest, sensitivity, technique, and love. The cook is a craftsman and should intend to remain so. Studying our ancestors in this way, by considering this ocean of everyday happiness and the spirit of sharing food with others, should make us humble, and it will hopefully continue to do so for all time.