Following Penny Melville-Brown OBE on her blind cooking experiences as she travels around the world .. this week she truly is out of her comfort zone.
Cook’s nightmare? Long hours, little sleep or food, endlessly damp from the torrential rain, dog and cat underfoot, no hot water and, for hours, no water at all, biting ants and other flying insects, chaotic kitchen, unfamiliar equipment, strange ingredients and stranger combinations. And, for this particular blind cook, trip hazards galore plus a particularly unpleasant muddy puddle!
I’d love to say that I took all of this in my stride and turned out a stream of fabulous food. But the tomato and advocado crumble was just boring and even my second attempt at meringues barely passed muster (the sugar and damp, I think).
NOAM & ME
Yet Noam and I somehow managed to turn out two evenings of seven courses for guests at his Tamarindo restaurant on the Pacific coast of Costa Rico. The first day was a challenge: starting soon after 0800 and not getting back to the hotel until 2300 because the guests were late starting due to the weather and even later finishing. We were trying to combine the ideas of some classic British dishes and techniques with some completely different ingredients. So while the tartar sauce with the beer-battered fish included the usual capers, we also threw in slithers of watermelon skin pickled in beer and vinegar. My mini-Victoria sponges were flavoured with chilli and coriander and topped with a tamarind and pineapple sauce – a million miles away from lemon drizzle cake. We turned the ever-popular Coronation chicken in to a cold prawn curry with mango or papaya, served on top of of double-fried plantain slices to give the crunch of poppadum’s. And the little meringue tarts tasted great when made with lemon mandarins but the meringue was just too flabby.
The week of real culinary adventure should have ended with a great cook-in with the Costa Rican organisation of blind people (Patronato Nacional De Ciegos) but the rainy season put paid to that. I’d got lots of support and enthusiasm from them at the start of the week and we were all set to work together at one of the best cookery schools in the capital, San Jose. But the hair-raising six hour drive from Tamarindo gave us a sense of just how devastating the rainy season can be: roads awash and flooded, rivers breaking their banks, trees uprooted and general chaos and devastation. The Government has been warning people to stay at home so the decision to abandon our plan was inevitable.
So not a nightmare but a true adventure, full of challenge and fresh ideas that I hope will inspire and stimulate my thinking about food for years to come. I’ll write more about the menu, our dishes and the ingredients in the coming months – all thanks to Noam and his friend, Victor, who kept us safe over hundreds of miles of treacherous roads.