The F word final

Gordon Ramsay chose his winner of the Best Local Restaurant 2010 and it is Lasan, due entirely to their brilliant if a little arrogant chef Aktar Islam. I would not be at all surprised to see him go on to open up his own restaurant at some point down the line.

I’m a little disappointed for Jay Scimshaw and The Pheasant but on the night perhaps he was a little too adventurous with the food he prepared and so the diners preferred the food of Lasan.

I think off the back of this competition that both chefs will go far and should be winning Michelin stars of their very own in the not too distant future.

The F word semi-finals

The F Word has been looking for Britain’s best local restaurant and this week we are down to the semi-finalists, the final will be broadcast tomorrow.

I think that if the competition really is about finding the best restaurant then Gordon Ramsay made the wrong decision in the first of the semi-finals. He chose Lasan over Santa Maria because he believes that Aktar Islam the chef of Lasan has a ton of potential, however if the decision was being based upon the restaurant as a whole then given the evidence presented in the show Santa Maria as a whole worked better.

True Santa Maria have a narrower repertoire but if your restaurant produces the best steaks in the country then what more do you need?

The second semi-final was more clear cut because The Pheasant won out in all areas and in Jay Scrimshaw they have a chef that is willing to push the boundaries of his food and create dishes truly worthy of Ramsay’s three star restaurant.

Based on the evidence so far I think that The Pheasant should win it because despite the genius of Aktar Islam of Lasan the service is not quite at the same level as that at The Pheasant.

Meat shouldn’t be cheap – it’s a life

Quote taken from The Observer’s segment This much I know with Jamie Oliver.

I totally agree, I’m a firm believer in opening up people’s eyes to the truth and so people should have an understanding of how their meat made it to their table i.e. what conditions the animals are typically kept in and how they are slaughtered.

I just did Jamie’s pork belly roast, it’s one of my favourites when I’ve got the time and the gravy is just the best ever. And of course the pork was Freedom Food endorsed outdoor bred.

Is dolphin safe tuna an ecological disaster?

The ecological disaster that is dolphin safe tuna is a shocking piece of science journalism that took second place in The 3 Quarks Daily 2009 Prize in Science. [via]

However as shocking as the facts about the dolphin friendly method of purse seine fishing is it isn’t as shocking as the conclusion drawn by whysharksmatter, the author of the article.

He quotes the following bycatch rates from here (a broken link to what looks like a Powerpoint presentation).

Ten thousand sets of purse seine nets around immature tuna swimming under logs and other debris will cause the deaths of 25 dolphins; 130 million small tunas; 513,870 mahi mahi; 139,580 sharks; 118,660 wahoo; 30,050 rainbow runners; 12,680 other small fish; 6540 billfish; 2980 yellowtail; 200 other large fish; 1020 sea turtles; and 50 triggerfish.

Ten thousand sets of purse seine nets around mature yellowfin swimming in association with dolphins, will cause the deaths of 4000 dolphins (0.04 percent of a population that replenishes itself at the rate of two to six percent per year); 70,000 small tunas; 100 mahi mahi; 3 other small fish; 520 billfish; 30 other large fish; and 100 sea turtles. No sharks, no wahoo, no rainbow runners, no yellowtail, and no triggerfish and dramatic reductions in all other species but dolphins.

Then whysharksmatter writes this

If you work out the math on this, you find that 1 dolphin saved costs 382 mahi-mahi, 188 wahoo, 82 yellowtail and other large fish, 27 sharks, and almost 1,200 small fish.

By trying to help dolphins, groups like Greenpeace caused one of the worst marine ecological disasters of all time. Few other fisheries are as bad for groups like sharks and sea turtles as the purse seine fishery, and none are as large in scale.

This is entirely disingenuous because it suggests that there are only two methods of catching tuna both of which use purse seine nets and that the dolphin friendly usage of purse seine nets is the ecologically worse of the two.

Greenpeace in fact advocate ditching the use of purse seine nets entirely and catching tuna (plus other commercial species of fish) with pole and line methods and many major British retailers are in line with this thinking.

There is a brilliant new documentary called The End of the Line that is currently on limited release in the UK that explains these issues in far greater detail than I can here or pick up the book by Charles Clover that the film was based on (available at Amazon US or UK).

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Jamie saves our bacon

Jamie Oliver and Channel 4 have once again teamed up to try to change the eating habits of the British public and Save our Bacon.

Through buying British we can both assure better welfare of the pigs and help our British farmers. Because British farmers have to abide by higher welfare standards than our European neighbours British pork is slightly more expensive than the imports from the EU.

In addition Jamie wishes us to purchase the less favoured cuts of pork such as the belly and the shoulder instead of loin or leg. These cuts are just as tasty but because they sell less well than loin they are significantly cheaper. By creating a carcass balance where each cut sells equally well Britain will have to import less loin and British producers will not be forced to export the shoulder at an unfavourable price. It is a true win-win situation for both the British public and the British farmer.

Sign up to Jamie’s pledge.

Kill it, Cook it, Eat it

In the last few days BBC Three have been screening the third series of the television show Kill it, Cook it, Eat it, which will be available on BBC iPlayer for the next few days. I’ve only just discovered this programme and so hadn’t seen the previous two series which apparently were different in that they had built a kind of restaurant/studio around a real working abattoir. Series three was based at the Balavil Estate in Scotland and each episode saw a different group of nine participants engage in the killing of game, prepare the carcass and butcher the meat before a professional chef cooked it for them for dinner.

I thought this was a fascinating and even-handed exploration of the issues of meat production and hunting. The participants were drawn from many walks of life and not everyone was a meat-eater keen on the slaughter of animals for food as the participants included vegetarians, vegans and animal rights campaigners to offer the other side’s viewpoint. In fact virtually all the participants had never held a gun before let alone used one to kill and so it was likely that it might turn some of the meat eaters off the idea of eating meat when faced with the reality of how it gets to the table for consumption.

Kill it, Cook it, Eat it is a good companion piece to the Channel 4 shows hosted by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Gordon Ramsay which seek to inform the public about the realities of the meat industry and convince the public to choose free-range over the factory farmed meat in which animals are kept in awful conditions. I firmly believe that people should be making an informed choice when it comes to their consumption of meat, but don’t think that people should be made to feel guilty if they do make the choice to go for the cheaper factory farm produced meat.

However this series of Kill it, Cook it, Eat it was focusing on game meat with four different groups of participants hunting deer, duck, rabbit and finally grouse so there is the additional ethical questions about hunting. I’m completely in favour of the hunting of animals for food or population control as I see these as necessary activities but am opposed to hunting purely for sport.

I think that the rabbit episode had the most interesting mix of characters there was Tabitha a Ugandan lady that couldn’t understand British people’s attitudes to killing animals, Victoria the animal rights campaigner, Cathy who ran an Animal Rescue centre, Emma who was squeamish about meat but I don’t think was a vegetarian, vegetarian Francesca who looked like a WAG and thought she had a healthy diet even though she needed to take supplements due to anaemia and a nutritionist Helena who tried to argue with Francesca that it wasn’t natural to be taking multivitamins but it was to eat meat.

I think that Victoria the animal rights campaigner who as it turned out was a natural with the shotgun made a great point following her success with the clay targets that why is it necessary to take it to the next level and kill animals when you can get all the same fun and exhilaration from shooting the clay targets. I’d agree with her if rabbit shooting was purely for sport but it isn’t and most of the killed rabbits are ending up as food. However her position is somewhat supported by the events in the programme whereby following the lack of success with the gun the head gamekeeper decides that they will resort to using nets over the burrow entrances to catch the rabbits as they emerge to then have their necks broken. I think this is a more humane way of killing as unlike shooting there is no possibility of an injured rabbit escaping to die in pain and is actually something I have done myself.

I thought that Cathy the owner of an Animal Rescue centre was fantastic as she defied my expectations and had a far more informed and realistic attitude to animals than did the vegetarians. She was concerned about the welfare of the rabbits that they were intending to kill but was quite prepared to kill a rabbit with her bare hands and then skin and butcher it. Rabbits are not indigenous to Britain, they were introduced by the Normans, and are considered vermin when in the wild. I learned also that apparently landowners are actually legally obliged to kill the rabbits on their land in order to control numbers. This is a point that I think that Victoria conceded but she failed to come up with a viable alternative method of population control that didn’t involve killing the rabbits. The only other method we in Britain have tried is the awfully inhumane deliberate spread of the disease myxomatosis.

The fourth programme in the series was grouse shooting and this is the one that I think I have fallen on the side of opposing as there are I believe fundamental differences between this and the hunting of other game. In this group of participants there was a South African bloke that had hunted before and a Royal Marine. I think these two were placed in this group because the producers recognised the difficulty of Grouse shooting and believed them to be amongst the best marksmen of all the participants. Grouse shooting is considered the pinnacle of game shooting as it is very difficult to hit as it flies low to the ground and is very fast, because of this the estates can charge a premium for the privilege.

It seems to me that the primary basis of the grouse shoot for the estate is an economic one, of secondary importance is the tradition of the grouse season which starts with the Glorious Twelfth and of least importance is the notion of the grouse as a food item. But then again as most of the birds that are shot during the season are sold on to restaurants this is again an economic reason for the estate to have the shoot.

Proponents of grouse shooting make the argument that it is about conservation and maintenance of the landscape but they are maintaining an artificial ecosystem to encourage breeding pairs to live on the estate and reproduce to keep numbers up to sustain as much hunting as possible. This is not about population control as it is with the deer and the rabbits as the population would not necessarily be there or increase without that human intervention.

Also unlike the duck there was a mixed response to the taste of the grouse meat and though grouse apparently is in great demand by posh restaurants the chef at one interviewed in the show seemed to indicate that he thought it wasn’t worth the money he was charging for it. On the evidence of this TV show the justification of shooting for food doesn’t stand up to scrutiny as it is easier to shoot duck, which gives more meat and has a more popular taste.

Finally there is evidence that less ethical estates than Balavil, which is featured in Kill it, Cook it, Eat it are engaging in the illegal killing of raptors in order to protect their stock of grouse from these predators. Many other predators of the grouse such as foxes, crows and stoats are also killed to protect this game bird.

I believe therefore that the only argument in favour of the grouse shoot is the economic one and if the estate really cannot sustain itself without the great income that the grouse shoots bring in then I might be in favour of it but I’m yet to be convinced of that. Even then it is a difficult argument because it is apparently necessary to kill a number of animals that are predators in addition to the grouse. The killing of predator animals merely to support a practice of killing game animals it is not an activity I think I could support.

So in summation I thought Kill it, Cook it, Eat it was a fascinating thought-provoking television series that I learned things from and which reinforced my opinion that hunting for food is I believe a noble pursuit but hunting for sport is not. Stalking deer and hunting rabbits and ducks is something I’m okay with and could see myself doing, but grouse shooting is not something I could either engage in or support.

Thais burning chillis causes terror alert in London

BBC News: Burning chilli sparks terror fear

A pot of burning chilli at the Thai Cottage restaurant on Monday sparked fears of a biological terror attack.

Roads were closed and homes evacuated by police whilst firefighters wearing protective breathing apparatus broke down the door to the restaurant where they discovered the source was merely a 9lb pot of chillies.

Pizza or your life.

Frankie Flood a University of Illinois School of Art and Design student produced a number of beautiful but deadly looking pizza-cutters for his MFA Thesis Exhibition[via]

This is my favourite of his works featured.

PLF “Pizza For Life” 2002
Powder coated aluminum, stainless steel, and ball bearings
4″ x 9 1/2″ x 1 1/2″

This one looks like a particularly vicious weapon as used by an assassin in a steampunk novel. Cardinal Chang of The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters perhaps.