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Men have long been denied the right to hunt for their food. We’ve replaced the lust to kill our dinner with other activities. Like sport. But new urban warriors are looking for fresher and more creative pastures to conquer, and the kitchen is the new frontier. Take a moment to calm down, all you gastronomic gladiators. Keep that “fight or flight” instinct for the sports field, because hotheadedness is one of the main culprits behind your kitchen mishaps. Any meal, especially one designed to earn female attention, needs to be planned with military precision. There’s a fair amount of work to be done in advance in order for it to seem effortless on the night. Follow the rules and guidelines to putting good food on the table, or be prepared to go down in flames – hopefully, not literally – for having ignored the three basic P’s: Planning, Preparation and Performance.
01 / Although you need to plan your menu to go shopping, never announce your menu until you serve it. (This isn’t Come Dine With Me where you have to send a dodgy scroll to your dinner guests.) Anything can go wrong on the night and you might need room to manoeuvre and rethink what you serve.
02 / All good meals begin with shopping – make time to find the correct ingredients. Cheap or inferior items will only ever result in less-than-fabulous food. The best way to do this? Build a relationship with your butcher or your supermarket manager – anyone worth their salt will relish the challenge of finding you new ingredients or specific cuts, especially because you’re bringing them business.
03 / Have a well-stocked pantry and freezer. You should always have the essentials, like olive oil, handy (see right for a full list), and no self-respecting freezer should be without perfectly buttery croissants. This means that if disaster strikes, you can always revert to plan B (plus you never know when you may get lucky and will have to knock up a great breakfast).
04 / If you’re making a special meal to impress, whether it’s a business partner or a girl, practise on your mates first (the meal, that is). If it doesn’t work out, go with what you know, especially in terms of timing and outcome.
05 / Ask about any special dietary requirements – while you’re not running an a la carte restaurant, the last thing you want is to prepare your famous lamb curry only to find out your date is vegetarian. (And if your date is a vegetarian, may I suggest you quit while you’re ahead?)
01 / First off, find a recipe. Then make sure you actually read the entire recipe before you start cooking. This sounds like teaching your grandmother to suck eggs, but it’s essential. If you don’t, it’s like putting a gadget together and being left with a spare part and no clue as to what it does.
02 / Next, pre-heat your oven – check that recipe again, dude – it’ll tell you how hot it should be in there. Putting anything in a cold oven and then cranking up the heat is a recipe (geddit?) for disaster. The same can be said with frying pans – they should be nice and hot before you put anything into them. Get to know your heat source – too many dishes have been destroyed because the coals were too hot or the oven wasn’t correctly calibrated.
03 / Try and build a menu that involves dishes that you can prep in advance or even buy, for that matter. It takes a professional many years to learn how to co-ordinate numerous dishes or elements to that can all come together at once. Plus an overly ambitious menu will probably mean that you’ll be spending too much time away from the table. Cooking is one thing, but on the night it’s about entertaining your guests. You should be the life and soul of your own party and you certainly won’t be if you spend all of your time stuck behind the stove.
04 / Taste as you go. Seasoning is one of the most important elements when you’re cooking. Just because the recipe says five grams of salt doesn’t mean that’s all it needs. Tomatoes can differ from one week to the next in terms of ripeness and will need adjusting every time. Don’t wait until the food hits the table and everyone has started tucking in to figure out that you needed to add more salt or used sugar instead of salt. (Everyone’s done it at least once.)
05 / The kitchen is a lot like a workshop, so always use the right piece of equipment for the job. That means don’t try to cut a leg of lamb into cubes for sousaties using a puny little utility knife. And just like the workshop, if you buy good tools and look after them, you’ll never have to replace them. So never buy knives off of the television that can cut through wood, steel or frozen spinach. Nothing, I repeat nothing, stays sharp forever – and I don’t care if it is made of the same material as a space shuttle and comes with a free set of steak knives.
01 / Make sure you have matching cutlery and crockery for at least six people, as well as six matching wine glasses. You might think it’s quirky that nothing matches, but your date won’t. If you throw bigger dinner parties, just hire the gear; it’s cheaper than you think. And always use cloth serviettes – the paper ones are for when the boys come round for boerie rolls during the game.
02 / Cook on time. Your guests won’t mind having a few drinks before dinner, but if they are still waiting to eat an hour after they have arrived you’re doomed. If you need to leave things in the oven while you schmooze your guest (or guests) make sure you invest in a good timer – you don’t want to alert them to eminent disaster by smoke billowing from the kitchen.
03 / Wherever possible carve at the table – whole pieces of meat are always impressive and so are good carving skills. But make sure you have a decent-sized chopping board and a sharp knife. When you’re carving always look for the grain of the meat; this is essentially the muscle fibres that run the length of any cut. If you don’t cut across the grain your perfectly cooked meat will be tough.
04 / Don’t flambé anything at the table unless you are sober and good at it. Sure, you want to be on fire, but only in the metaphorical sense. If seduction is your aim, then serve dessert away from the table – and never, ever suggest that your guests should wash up.
There are some things only those who’ve worked in professional kitchens know. Here are two MasterChef approved kitchen hacks…
You don’t need to salt aubergine before you cook it to “draw out” the bitterness – it’s an old wives tale that’s hugely time consuming. It comes from an old medieval belief that all fruit from the nightshade family (which includes the tomato) were considered poisonous.
When boiling vegetables, a good rule of thumb is that if it grows underground it goes into cold water and if it grows above ground it goes into boiling water. In both instances, give the water a generous pinch of salt.
Every guy needs to be able to solve a kitchen disaster or create the perfect impromptu meal out of the ingredients already in his kitchen. Chef, Pete Goffe-Wood has the solve-all shopping list to cover all your culinary bases
Smoked trout , croissants and vodka.
Parmesan cheese, free-range eggs and bacon. (And pop a bottle of champers in the fridge for impromptu celebrations.)
Dried pasta, tinned tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, olives, anchovies, decent stock cubes and a variety of spices.