Douglas has been a professional food writer since 1986. He is also an award-winning actor and director in Community Theatre and has been for many years. His blog may be found at: www.urbaneguerilla.wordpress.com
Published August 4th 2014
Remember the name, you'll never forget the taste
This article is in two parts, a review and an explanation and I strongly recommend if you read any part of it at all that you read the explanation at least.
Sarah House, a friend of mine, asked me to review an original pasta dish she had cooked as a professional and to give her my opinion as honed over sixty-three years of eating and twenty-eight years as a professional food writer and restaurant critic.
The ambiance was lovely, the hosts warm and welcoming, the table was simply set with a fork, a spoon, a rather nice brown woven place-mat and a crisp white paper napkin.
Noted food writer, Douglas Sutherland-Bruce is served a dish of pasta in jam sauce (Photo by Stuart Ridgeway)
The meal was served in a blanc de chinebowl of simple design and stepped sides, perfectly adequate for the task of presenting the dish. Not too much of the meal had been spread up the sides, but enough to be noticeable.
The dish consisted of two kinds of pasta in a sauce – penne and dinosaur, both sufficiently cooked, but with the different shapes and sizes the larger pasta was perfectly al dente, while the more petite dinosaur was marginally overdone.
Pasta with Jam Sauce (Photo by Douglas Sutherland-Bruce)
The sauce, which can best be described with the simple epithet 'brown' was rather thinner than one might have hoped for with a pasta dish, and had what I think might reasonably be called complex flavours.
In fact so complex that the many flavours were fighting each other, ganging up on the smaller flavours, bullying them and stealing their lunch money.
The underlying grace note was sweet, sickly sweet, overlaid with a musty, even earthy, flavour difficult to pinpoint due to the multiplicity of tastes.
I knew the dish's name – 'Pasta in Jam sauce', so the sweetness came as no surprise, and even with the strawberry jam being reinforced in sweetness by the orange juice and the chocolate it just wasn't enough to balance out the raw, primitive fecund richness of the tomato paste, carrot juice and cheese sticks.
It wasn't vile, but the huge number of ingredients simply resulted in what happens when you mix all the vibrant rainbow of colours of the paint box together – a muddy brown of no distinction.
I think, that if one were to persist with this concept, a lighter, slightly acidic, less dominant jam such as gooseberry might actually work with a pasta.
I have had some wonderful meals of pasta, but this wasn't one of them. I have spoken elsewhere about cuisine primitif, but this is beyond that – cuisine naïf, perhaps.
Not recommended at all.
Sarah declining to try her own cooking (Photo by Stuart Ridgeway)
I don't know if you are familiar with the Greatest International Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen or not, but if, like me, you don't know about it, it's a fun concept dreamed up by actor Misha Collins of Supernatural. The idea is that over the space of one week teams of up to fifteen all over the world work co-operatively to complete some 180 tasks set by the organisers.
Some of these are simple and score low, some are more difficult and score higher. The web page here gives rather more detail of this Guinness World Record Holding event.
All the money raised from entry fees ($19 a head) goes to the Random Act charity.
One of Sarah's tasks was in two parts. Firstly, to cook a dish that had been devised by his three year old son West for Thanksgiving. Careful note was taken of West's instructions 'just four inches of jam' and 'lots of carrot juice'. A video of them preparing this dish for the first time can be found here.
Secondly, she had to persuade a professional food writer to review the dish seriously, which I have now done.
If this all seems a trifle frivolous, may I remind you that Misha Collins is also the brains and moving force behind the world-wide charity Random Acts, devoted to making the world just a little bit more kind, and we could certainly use that right now. Please read more about this fine charity here.