Saturday, 3 July 2010

The Real Thing: Jamie vs. The Alchemists

Oh, s*d the nice introduction and eloquent transition into blog topic. Guess what I did today? Here's a hint:

And of course
Jamie's Italian is opening on George Square (see reflection) in Glasgow, and I had the privilege, thanks to a well-connected friend and two more lovely people, of sampling it in a pre-eat, at half price - - an absolutely fabulous lunch.

Allow me to gush for a bit: the staff were very friendly and knowledgeable, especially our waiter, who kindly pointed out that the cheese was not vegetarian (low point there, but thanks for mentioning it!), knew all about the origin of ingredients and the preparation of the dishes, and made us feel very welcome. The food was divine, and lived up to the Jamie Oliver philosophy: simple, good ingredients prepared immaculately and presented in a share-inducing manner. Voila exhibit A - the vegetarian antipasti starter:

The mains were lovely fresh pasta dishes, mine with butter and truffles. Voila exhibit B - the fresh pasta on display:

All washed down with a fabulous house white, an organic Chardonnay which should make any other wine blush; and followed by a strong, appropriately serious Lavazza coffee. Add a space populated with rustic tables, surrounded by the bar, hanging hams and shelves full of Jamie's books and Italian tins and boxes; and consider also the loos that produced oohing and aaahing from the interiorally designy among us (no, seriously - there's a marriage of style and functionality if ever I saw one!), and some lovely company, and you have the perfect Saturday. Call me a lady who lunches.

Apropos recent news about schools' reactions to Mr Oliver's school dinner revolution, you might be curious what I think about his ideas, his idealism and his general approach to educating people about food. But all I say is: I like his food. A lot. Can I live there, please? Nuff said!

Then came the bill. But even at regular prices, it would make the sorry 'Italian' restaurants in the neighbourhood blush! A perfect place to take friends and gush over simply delicious food - and certainly a place that will see me more often.

What do they have to do with Jamie? I hear you cry. Well, eating at Jamie's Italian after reading his recipes (and not actually cooking any yet) was an experience that matched the palate of the mind (the faculty that kicks in whenever you hear about food and think you can taste it with your mind's, um, tongue). Being a somewhat experienced cook, I could imagine the taste as the menu was elaborated by our waiter: and I maintain that a good restaurant should manage to write a menu that is neither pretentious nor elliptic, neither too clever nor unimaginative, but simply describes what you get in an appetising manner. In this case: Menu + waiter = recipe.

Alchemical recipes, in spite of their many similarities to other recipes, do not quite work that way. Even reading through the whole thing does not help! Alchemical style is very metaphorical, so that ingredients are often referred to by other names ('king' for gold; 'queen' for silver, and many animals like eagles and pelicans feature, too), and the method is not necessarily written down in a straightforward manner, either. Often alchemical recipes read more like inscrutable, dark fairy tales than instructions for craftsmen, and there is no recipe to deciphering them.

Furthermore, alchemical recipes were not filmed for an Alchemy Channel; there was no celebrity alchemists who knocked others into shape in his own show, or tried to teach others how to do good alchemy. Quite contrariwise: alchemy was taught from master to apprentice, and the tips and tricks stayed between the two of them. Overall, it is very difficult for us today to figure out how a specific alchemical recipe was applied, what it produced, and what the product would look like.

This is what archaeologists who analyse finds of alchemical materials find out these days: they look at residues that remain in vessels alchemists threw away, and then work their way backwards to chemical processes that produce these finds. The step thence to identifying an original recipe in a manuscript and matching it with the real thing is yet another story. But until we find a recipe for gold, a little of Jamie's Italian goes a long way...


Lorraine said...

i can haz pasta and wine?
take me there when i visit! :)

Paracelsa said...

Cunning plan worked. Guest snared into net of indulgence. :-)

Matthew said...

But I think I can imagine Newton as a kind of Gordon Ramsay.

Paracelsa said...

Hm. Interesting! Where does Urey fit in?