SUBTERRANEAN COOKHOUSE BLUES * mama’s in the basement mixing up macedoine i’m on the pavement thinking bout a toblerone, man

in a chef’s hat, locked in a big sweat wants eleven crème brulee and I’ve only got ten, look out kid your gonna get hid, better duck down the cool school, looking for a new brule break a few rule, t’s a bit cruel, the torch wont work cos the comis took the gas tool.

It has been a year of cooking dangerously. I have been let loose in other people’s kitchens. . Over the last year I have been invited to cook in big hotels new and old, little restaurants, private homes. As a guest chef it can be a bit of a risk to cook in a strange place. While it is always a privilege to be invited to a cook’s kitchen, many professional kitchens resemble a hot badly designed cage, without any natural light, full of noise, tucked away within the bowels of a big building. Cooks will put up with a lot to be allowed to make our mud pies. Most ‘civilians’ never experience the life of commercial kitchen and when they do enter one, for a visit or to deliver some produce; the gleaming stainless steel, the cacophony of sounds and the heat overwhelms them. To be privy to this can make one feel like an honoured insider, but linger for a while and soon some very basic insights begin to emerge. While there may be a sexy exhibition kitchen with its chef’s table and all the trimmings, descend a bit deeper into the belly of the machine and you are likely to enter a space designed by people who will never have to work 5 or more 12 hour shifts in a row and will never have to turn over and reset a large 4 course banquet room in half an hour. These engine rooms are usually without natural light, offer no contact with the outside world to their inhabitants and resound to sound levels well above the maximum limits of endurance and regulation. To spend more than a few minutes inside you need to acclimatise, surrender and improvise to be able to survive. In a kitchen like this you can hardly hear your self taste. Consequently professional chefs have developed a very strong flavour memory and often rely on the aroma of a dish when tasting but in an over air-conditioned space even this skill is tested to its limits. In contrast a real cook’s kitchen represents the emotional centre of a house or restaurant. There is an unmistakeable patina to a cook’s kitchen. Paradoxically the more we read, watch cooking shows and talk about food, the more the home kitchen has become for many, the equivalent of the old “very best front parlour”- a pristine showcase that is too precious to use. We have been taught to love our shiny surfaces but despair at every scratch. We are in lust with the new oven but it has to be available online to defrost, cook and clean its self- and then email the fridge to SMS the “provedore” to remember to courier home the sourdough bread before we get back to eat designer take away. The modern domestic kitchen has inherited much from the commercial, if only the reverse could also be true. At the risk of sounding like an old hippy, the nurturing vibe of a traditional

farmhouse kitchen has many timeless design features that can be expressed in a very contemporary style. In the old houses of the Western District I have found some of the most inspirational cookhouses. While catering for country weddings at these properties I have returned to a time when most of the food consumed on the farm came from the farm. It is a joy to cook in these spaces. I have fired up wood ovens that have not been used for decades to roast farm killed beef and lamb to perfection. We can now buy a modular one off the shelf to complete the contemporary courtyard. We have traded scrubbed timber for satin steel, the ‘South Wind’ for an L.G. the cool cellar for a ‘EuroCave’ But considered design in whatever medium can turn a sweatshop into an oasis for the creation of flavour. I will never forget the first time I saw the Troisgros brothers’ kitchen in Roanne : it was to change my view of kitchens forever. Here was a space designed for practicality and aesthetics based on sound environmental principles. The architect Hubert Cormier in 1976 captured the true essence of the time with a bold new design that still looks like it was designed yesterday. The kitchen is based on only horizontal planes with not a pillar or post between the players. The exhaust hood is inside the ceiling, mirrored for ease of cleaning and also to anticipate the action behind. The only protrusions from the ceiling are 2 glass screens suspended above the hot flat top electric stoves. The inner space takes away the heat that is then used to drive the air conditioners, with the outer space returning fresh air to the kitchen. This glass canopy is virtually invisible, leaving the room with 3 horizontal planes of the ceiling, the cooking- preparation surfaces and the floor. Troisgros were one of the first to introduce chilled drawers a touch away from the hot ‘piano’. The fish fridge comes with rechargeable slide out cooled boards to keep the produce chilled to the last moment before cooking. Remember this is the late seventies. There is even a wall of window to the garden. With every new kitchen that I design, I have tried to remember these simple ideals. A cook’s kitchen has A table where workers and friends can share the spoils. Stoves that have the power of small thermonuclear devices with the sound of a whisper. A back door for the poacher to call. A floor that is coved and cushioned, to contain the spills, and absorb the pain Lighting that makes the food and your complexion look real Thick wooden chopping boards that the health surveyor can’t see. Pots that are heavy, shiny and they all have lids. An ice cream machine that you won at the poker table. No place for a microwave An exhaust system with a dimmer switch A telescopic armed tap over the stove Benches on castors. Art on the walls, books on the shelves flowers in a vase. Water just a step away. Stock pots with taps at the bottom. A big compost bin. A good sound system. A big fridge and a tiny freezer Clear benches and plenty of big drawers. Including a “goody drawer’ made by the company that brought us the Tardis, filled with accurate thermometers, a blowtorch, a sharp zester, silicon paper, fish tweezers, a good timer with a loud alarm, a parmesan grater, a set of digital scales, a very big moulli, a vacuum

pack machine, an industrial slow 2 arm mixer. And of course The window to the garden.

An Alan Scott designed wood oven.

*With apologies to Mr Zimmerman. GB. Sunnybrae Birregurra 2002