24 SEPTEMBER 1994, Page 57

Imperative cooking: residential horrors


October's three-day course for Grade 6 NHS Human Resource Facilitators on Disabled Employment Rights will be at Norton Manor, Wilts from the 16th to the 19th of that month. Application forms are attached.

ONCE IT affected only a few academics and members of professional associations. `It' is the residential conference or training course. Now everyone goes. The academics have to go to conferences to hear papers they could have read. Managers must attend residential weekends to examine infantile diagrams and lists of structures and processes which purport to represent whatever it is that managers actually do. Even employees in quite low-class jobs are whisked away to mock-Tudor mansions for two-day courses on new safety regulations. It is increasingly difficult to find a profes- sion or employment which does not require you to sleep and eat away from home sev- eral times a year. For the huge numbers of persons who eat badly at home, such occasions are a pleasure. `Oooh,' they say, 'a cooked break- fast. Flow long is it since I had a cooked breakfast? We never seem to have them at home.' Then, gazing at a keep-hot tray of tinned, tasteless button mushrooms swim- ming in a mixture of cheap oil and warm Water, 'And look — mushrooms. Just the job. Suzi doesn't like mushrooms.' Later on, they will explain how difficult it was keeping awake during the session on, respectively, 'A textual analysis of patriar- chal assumptions in late-Victorian rural bus timetables', 'Towards an algorithmic approach to conflict reduction for Grade 3 quality control executives and resolution of competing vertical traffic on the ST 4529 (European Standard) ladders'. The reason for the sleepiness? 'They certainly feed you well here: three meals a day. Puddings too. When did I last . . . ?'

Imperative cooks who eat splendidly at home feel rather differently about being torn from our six courses for three and hav- ing to eat plastic chicken in a shiny sauce instead of cassoulet. There is something we can do about it, though. Before a chap goes to one of these residentials, he receives a form. Near the bottom is an item which asks him to indicate any special dietary requirements. This is intended, like every- thing else in today's society, for minorities and cranks, notably vegetarians. But why should not normal eaters use it too? If the sawdust-suppers' rights' are respected, why not those of chaps used to the best of French, Italian and Chinese cooking? We have the same problems they do. What happens when a vegetarian is given the plastic chicken? Does she feel nau- seous? So do we. Do her principles feel affronted? So are ours. At least she can seek refuge in the adjacent frozen peas and reheated industrial rice. We are revolted just as much by them as .by the plastic chicken.

So out with our felt-tip pens. What shall "rhis is a big day for the company, Ms Simons. We've never had a female scapegoat on the board before.' we write on the form? It is not a matter of expense. This column has illustrated time and time again that the best food does not cost more. It is certainly not a matter of pre- ferring this to that. Imperative cooks eat everything, provided it is the best of its sort and cooked properly. And the form is not big enough to give Norton Manor's chef a com- prehensive introduction to the 2,000-odd dishes we like. Best, just indicate the things which give us the worst horrors. Readers will observe (see below) that I have carefully given 'our' requirements in a paragraph block. Simply cut out the block and photocopy it several times. Whenever you have'to go to a residential, just stick a copy where appropriate on the application form. But remember to take a second copy with you. At the end of your course or con- ference, you will find in your bedroom another form for comments about your stay. Stick the second copy on this with ticks and crosses as deserved.

• Breakfast: we can't take pints of thin • • endlessly reheated coffee (espresso ! ! required). Can't eat pre-sliced, soggy ! !brown bread, whether as such or toasted, ! ! or exploding rolls. (Need either trad !English bread or French.) Don't require I I complicated breakfast. A few eggs will I I do, as long as free-range, fresh — within j j three days — and not overcooked. j Lunch: if Norton chef is finding this a ' strain, we could largely dispense with i lunch and allow him to concentrate his effort on dinner. So just some bread (see • above), Stilton, Napoli salami, home- ! made hare pâté (hung three weeks), cel- ery (after first frost, English not Israeli ! or Spanish and not split into thin slivers) I and a bottle of claret. (No, a standard • I glass not a toothmug.) Dinner: too much j to indicate here. We refer you to texts j such as David, Grigson for general guid- lance. But a few emphases. We require at i least five courses. It doesn't matter if i pudding precedes or follows cheese but • salad comes after the meat course, not ! before (four to one olive oil and wine ! vinegar and not swimming in water). No ! vegetables with meat unless meat recipe I requires, e.g., cassoulet, liver and onions. I If it doesn't, we shall need a vegetable j dish after the meat. Pasta is not a main j course and pizza is not a course of any kind. Consult back-numbers of The iSpectator to see how you must buy meat and fish. Cook in olive oil, butter or I. pork/duck fat not vegetable oil. Sauces should be made with home-made stocks. !No 'new' cooking. Large, round plates. !Knives which cut. Black pepper not ! sneezing powder, and proper napkins I (large). Please provide a small, damp, I I cold room where any diners who object j to cigar smoke may be sent, while we j j enjoy our cigars and Armagnac at the i itable.