The online magazine
dedicated to the
discussion & revival
of British foodways.

NO.53
SUMMER2017

Bon Appétit climbs our Wall of Shame & publishes some good recipes in the process.

1. The English assimilate; we grind an axe.

According to the Better Homes and Gardens Heritage Cook Book (2d ed. New York 1976), the English have been called America’s ‘invisible immigrants’ “because they came here speaking English (although not ‘American’), have many similar traditions, and usually have had little difficulty making the transition from British subject to American citizen.” (Heritage 222)

Whether or not that is the case, British cuisine has become America’s invisible food. After dominating American foodways for over two centuries, the Britishbon-appetit-cover.jpg culinary tradition now is unknown and unremarked by most Americans. In its April 2012 issue, Bon Appétit does its best to perpetuate the condition. The issue includes an article on “Easter Sunday” that features recipes from Canal House, a catering operation in the wealthy enclave of Lambertville, New Jersey, run by two former food stylists.

Canal House has reaped a considerable amount of favorable publicity, demonstrating the copycat nature of many journalists more than their analytical skills. Less charitable commentators might also note that all this coverage of industry stylists takes the contemporary obsession with appearance and connections over substance and skill to new heights. While it is fair to note that the partners at Canal House have published some workmanlike if mostly workaday recipes in, it must be said, a stylish if standard format, all the fawning does seem a little undeserved.

 

2. The stylists in the closet…

What are the media darlings doing, at least according to Bon Appétit, for Easter? They are entertaining guests. One of them, “Jeremy Lee, the chef at London’s Quo Vadis, has taken the red-eye flight just to be here for lunch.” We are not told why, or what we should make of the reference to the restaurant, a celebrity haunt that has struggled in recent years to find an identity.

This lack of focus is both irritating and typical of the article, which might have been written for the stylists by their publicist. It has lots of photographs and two pages of recipes but little text, and what does could be indicted for adjective abuse. We do get a remarkable slew of tired bromides given the limited word count: “Serve good food and good drink to good company;” “wine and food turn strangers into minglers;” and other driveling clichés too embarrassing to reproduce. All of them of course come presented as epochal insight. And no, skeptical reader, the piece is not intended as parody.

The reference to London does hint at the nature of the recipes, although Bon Appétit fails to pick up the thread. Canal House strives for fashion despite its insistence on simplicity, so an otherwise exemplary potted crab gets an unnecessary dose of Meyer lemon, one of those former flavors of the month, and some intrusive harissa, another veteran centerfold. They serve watercress soup, ham encased in toasty breadcrumbs and sauced with Madeira, greens in a horseradish dressing. There are two cakes, a ginger one for baking in a pudding bowl, the other made with marmalade and orange peel.

 

3… cooking English food.

Neither Bon Appétit nor Canal House itself identifies the provenance of any dish; all of them are recognizably English notwithstanding the random fripperies. Nobody, for example, other than British people cook with a pudding basin. Why not give some credit where it ought to go? Do the purveyors of fantasy perfection at both ventures fear becoming figures of fun for featuring English food?

It is past time to come out of the closet.