By Kate Murphy
“Don’t throw the past away
You might need it some rainy day
Dreams can come true again
When everything old is new again”
Everything Old is New Again, by Peter Allen and Carole Bayer-Sager
Michelin stardust over the three course menu
On a recent rainy day, I met the man who has been charged with making culinary dreams come true again at next month’s Iconic Britain Ball. Chris Naylor, Head Chef at Restaurant Vermeer in the NH Barbizon Palace in Amsterdam, has strewn a little of his Michelin stardust over the three course menu he has developed for the British Society’s charity ball on December 12.
Making 1960s food new again
At first glance, the 1960s doesn’t exactly stand out as the most exciting basis for a memorable meal in 2015. To my mind, the most interesting aspect of the food from the decade of my birth was the Bunnykins plate that I ate it off. How, I wondered, did Chris find inspiration for making 1960s food new again?
“The biggest issue I have is overcoming people’s perceptions,” he explained, pausing to check that I had understood his subtle reference to my own closed-mindedness. “I have identified some really interesting dishes from the time, but I won’t just reproduce them. I’ve tried to make them more modern by adding some surprising ingredients and building up the flavours. We also use different techniques these days for preparing food, and that changes each dish too.”
“The 60s was a time of massive social change and experimentation, including with food. The middle class really developed very quickly during the decade, and people were open to new ideas. They were freer to travel and so were exposed to different ingredients. It was a pretty exciting time I think. The first supermarkets opened in the 1960s too, which gave people even more food choice.”
Chris Naylor’s menu for the Iconic Britain Ball combines nostalgia with creativity in a way that will surprise you and make you smile. In a different decade we might have even called it a psychedelic experience.
The world on a plate
The prosperity that Britain enjoyed in the decades after the Second World War encouraged us to experiment widely, and not only with hallucinogenic substances and free love. We started going out to restaurants where we learned how to pronounce and eat unfamiliar meals like chop suey and chicken tikka masala. We went on package holidays to Europe and brought wild and crazy kitchen ideas back to Britain – spaghetti bolognaise, cheese fondues, beef bourguignon, black forest gateaux. We began inviting friends into our homes for dinner parties. The more sophisticated among us provided bottled wine for our guests – chianti and Liebfraumilch were a testament to our elegance and worldliness. It was a time of optimism, freedom, fun and discovery.
The immigrants that set up corner stores and restaurants in Britain during this time increased our access to a new and exciting culinary world. One of the most notable and enduring of those restaurants is Le Gavroche in London, opened by Albert and Michel Roux in 1967 after they emigrated from France. It’s fair to say that the Roux brothers, having introduced haute cuisine to our nation, and having kept it there for five decades, are themselves British icons.
Somewhat ironically, Chris Naylor did an internship with Albert Roux at Le Gavroche. So, the man who has been influencing Britain’s eating habits since 1967 trained the man who is overseeing our 1960s meal at the Iconic Britain Ball in 2015.
And just like that, everything old is new again.