To Nourish means to care for and love, and the way I was brought up to show this is with food. I remember my mother’s fishcakes, oh how I loved them. She would make them from Hake steaks bought from Mrs Hartley, the fishmongers at the bottom of Risedale road, Barrow in Furness. Oh they were good. She would poach the hake in milk with salt, white pepper and a couple of dried bay leaves. The fish would be flaked and mixed with an equal amount of cold buttery mashed potato. Then she would roll them on flour, dip in egg and encase in vivid orange breadcrumbs, you know the type that you could practically see from the moon. She would fry them till they were just perfect. With the poaching liquor she would make a rich cheddar cheese sauce, incidentally also the colour of an orange high visibility jacket. This was nourishment for the soul; this was my Northern soul food.
These became known as Mam’s Killer Fishcakes as one morning they nearly killed me. I sat on the floor playing with my clockwork monkey as she cooked. The sense of anticipation was amazing, the smell wafted into my infant nostrils from the kitchen and I sucked the wingnut-shaped key that belonged to my clockwork toy. All of a sudden I gulped and the key was gone, except not far enough as it lodged in my throat. I ran to my Mother hoping that this wasn’t going to interfere with my fishcakes. She screamed as I gasped for breath and rushed me to the local chemist Mr Gibson. You see he had a car, and rushed me to North Lonsdale hospital. I had an operation and the key was removed surgically. Every cloud though had a foodie silver lining as in the two days I was on the wards I got treated to unlimited quantities of ice cream, the same as the throaty kids who had just had their tonsils out.
In one way or another life’s been the same for practically the last sixty years. No, I don’t mean in hospital, but my relationship with food; its been a hobby, a need and an obsession, and learning to cook is literally a way of feeding this need. I remember my first curry, when I came down to London, in a flock-wallpapered emporium in Brockley. It was a mysterious exotic world. I ordered Madras, well only because I remembered seeing a tin of Veeraswamey’s madras curry powder rusting at the back of a shelf at home. I had rice and my first poppadum, God it was good and I vowed to return until I had tasted everything on the menu. That I did and went home with an overdraft or, as I called it, a curry draft.
The years rolled on and I have been lucky enough to make my Passion my profession, along with my best friend as one half of the Hairy Bikers. You see the whole experience has been nourishing, and allowed to grow in love and friendship. Well sometimes a little too much as we had to go on a radical diet as we had both become, shall we say, just say little bit over nourished, well fat, to the extent that we cast a shadow like two walnut whips.
Last year I had a moment that gave me the same emotions that my mother’s fishcakes used to give me. Si and I were filming outside of Lyon with Georges Blanc. He has three Michelin stars and his great grandmother first opened the restaurant in the nineteenth century. George cooked us his grandmother’s chicken recipe, a poulet de Bresse with Morrell mushrooms. I got to chop onions and help; the sense of anticipation was huge, George’s son Frederick was there and we four chaps were just a little bit giddy with excitement. The meal was wonderful - all that love, history and care. This is the very stuff of life. It nourished the soul, heart, mind and belly. Two weeks later I went back with my wife to share in George’s chicken and she too got to have that moment. But, you know, she is Romanian and she feels the same way when we go back to Romania, when in the far north of Transylvania we eat her mother’s Sarmale - cabbage leaves stuffed with rice, meat and spices. But there is more to food like this. To sum it up from Michelin star to Mum…there is love and there is no better nourishment than that.