Food was always a big part of my family life, growing up. Not necessarily good food. Not at all, in fact. But the process of eating: sitting around together as a family – a big collective of four brothers, two parents and a dog searching for scraps – rowing, laughing and chewing the fat. The food wasn’t bad but – and I hope my parents will forgive me for this – cooking for six was not so much a question of quality as quantity.
I’m just old enough to remember what London was like before the enjoyment of food was of common importance. It was a time when the cream of French kitchens still donned the crown for haute cuisine, while the UK struggled to improve its own culinary heritage beyond fish and chips and Sunday roasts. But with the gradual debunking of the myth that posh restaurants alone could do posh food, so-called “modern British” cuisine was born. Where your ropey Chinese or curry house once stood you’re now more likely to find a back-alley supper club, or pop-up café.
In an unlikely nod to the philosopher Edward Said’s work Orientalism, the British culinary tradition, in its trajectory towards its current glory, cannot differentiate itself from “the other”; it is not in its present much-improved form of it’s own making. Bear with me here. As a magnet for foreign souls wishing to relocate, the UK has provided the steaming melting pot in which foodie cultures and traditions have mixed.
Immigration has improved the world’s cooking. And while some may lament the difficulty of finding authentic British food, if a sauce has been given depth by some kombu, sake, cinnamon or star anise, so much the better. Now seems an appropriate time to say - yes, in tandem with the wider trends at play - that family John’s cooking also improved beyond recognition. Ahem.
So now that good food is on the menu, one of my brothers and I have decided to further the family tradition of big meals and celebrate Christmas by hosting our own supper club for 40 or so lucky souls. It will be a challenge of course as there’s a lot to live up to. Many fans of food and self-proclaimed cooks should never venture beyond the safety of their close friends and family for recognition. But after travelling abroad for both work and play, scribbling away about dishes different from anything tried before and boring those around me to sleep with my rantings, it’s time to hang that pride out to dry for others to take aim. I’m looking at you, mum.
It will be a yuletide affair but fear not: there will be no dry turkey on offer but rather more adventurous fare. Spices, unfamiliar flavours and unlikely (but winning) combos will be the order of the day - modern British cuisine is, after all, on the menu. Wish me luck.
Aled John is a producer for Monocle 24.