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The Perfect Sauce, but at What Price?

The Perfect Sauce, but at What Price?

With food sales on the rise in the harsh economic pinch of 2011, Euro Foods’ Blogger Amanda Bathory, considers the ‘Come Dine With Me,’ revolution and explores the allure in being master of kitchen affairs. 

Today the BBC published the following statement in relation to a very slow economic growth predicted in 2011:

‘…BRC director general Stephen Robertson said that the consortium’s latest retail figures represented a sharp change in consumers’ spending habits. “February’s figures are a return to a more realistic picture of how things are for customers and retailers. Customers are cautious and are cutting back in a big way on non-essential spending,” he said. Last month’s fall followed a strong January, when retail sales rose 2.3%. According to the BRC figures, sales of clothing, furniture and home accessories fell in February, on a like-for-like basis, compared to a year ago.

Food and drink and footwear were among the areas that saw growth….’[1]

As a company driven by delicious cuisine, it was enlightening to discover that foods are a glowing luxury in the dark, depths of global austerity. (Other people are thinking about food too, it’s not just us.)  Although classed as “Non essential spending,” this does not indicate, by any means, that ‘essential’ foods are mundane. An injection of curiosity into a simple meal can set the imagination alight with escapism. Food ‘fit for a King’ would certainly distract from the creature comforts many are missing out on, in the wake of unwanted budget cuts. Food might be on your mind for a reason beyond basic hunger. The media is saturated with food related momentum; articles (to which, Euro Foods contributes,) television programmes, book publications, radio shows, famous chefs and beyond, are encouraging the public to widen their culinary knowledge and get cooking for themselves, rather than relying on ready meals or restaurants.  

With the ‘do-it-yourself’ mentality full throttle, television programmes like MasterChef are showcasing some of the best raw talent in the UK. Greg Wallace and John Torrode cry ‘Cooking doesn’t get tougher than this!’ and go on to applaud each competitor’s skill in the kitchen, setting them challenges that might even wobble a seasoned professional. Not only that, but the average cook is now an expert food reviewer, casting a steely eye over a stranger’s most accomplished meal, assessing the suitableness of the wine, a la Come Dine With Me. We marvel at the raw expertise as one of our own, John Smith, completes these tasks with a calmness that seems alien to our own kitchen experiences. These people are Gods. 

To achieve such fantastic dishes, a home cook cannot be moderate or thrifty. Instead, they make use of specific, well sourced and produced ingredients and have a level of skill that has emerged through hours of practice. Like a chef in a professional kitchen, they are creative and innovative in their approach. In a dull and bleak consumer climate, food shopping and food potential is something that puts fire in the belly and ignites excitement in the mind; those ingredients, hours of practice and creativity we saw on MasterChef and Come Dine With Me, are entirely accessible and imitative. (Indeed, there could be nothing worse than a dinner of fish fingers and over-cooked peas, before settling into an episode of MasterChef with a sad stomach.)

With daily encouragement from food journalism, media outlets and the victorious home cooks, we cook and critique, develop our palettes and broaden the spectrum of our food imagination, until our own kitchen nightmares quickly fall away. The blockade in the brain, which normally draws the sensible line between home cooking and professional cooking, is demolished. If those home-cooks can achieve that level of accolade, why shouldn’t anyone else? Suddenly, a dinner party invitation is leaving your hand and falling into the echoing, dark hollow of a red post box. The heat is on, get the pan ready.

Why is the challenge (and stress) of your own dinner party, more appealing than heading out to your favorite restaurant, when the cost might actually be very similar? It could be argued that a dinner party is more financially humble than eating out and that guilt is an unfortunate factor. With many struggling against the new budget cuts, it can be awkward to indulge so publicly. When cooking for a party of five, however, you may be spending the same amount of money but approaching the indulgences associated with food more delicately.

The Euro Foods blog has held an ‘e-dinner party’ for one thousand visitors since its launch and is no stranger to getting creative with food, with many exotic ingredients in our stores. We have invited our dinner-seeking visitors to read about Masala Bazaar inspired cuisine, encouraging an interesting food shop and emphasizing the ‘do-it-yourself’ mentality, leading by example posting recipes and cookery techniques. Our bloggers have become impassioned gastronomes during the week, with no food topic left uninvestigated. Like the contestants on the numerous cookery shows, they have no professional cooking experience, but the appetite for food-knowledge is unrelenting once it emerges; it comes home and riffles through cook books, peering into the contents of the fridge like it’s the dawning of a new age. The thirst to improve is unstoppable and all absorbing. It became apparent that although not professional chefs, as a food company we engaged the interest of our followers, through using our product knowledge in innovative ways.

The ‘Come Dine with Me,’ revolution of recent years, has grown (certainly in the media) as the economic pinch strengthened its grip, bringing about a desire for culinary knowledge among the general public. In the same way we expect to be given all information on product packaging, home cooks are expected to prove their commitment to food through specialist expertise. It goes without saying, that the expectancy and anticipation that lingers throughout the day before a dinner party, is electric. It is similar for those who anticipate a sumptuous hot dinner, waiting for them on the table after work. We expect a huge amount of skill and talent from normal cooks; such is the availability of information and recipes, online and in cook books. It is this expectancy across the board, which could be another cause in a food spending rise. Family cooks are expected to fulfill nutritional needs and hosts are expected to deliver gastronomic delicacies.

With little money available to pursue auxiliary endeavors, food is an ‘essential’ which satisfies secondary desires; artistic expression, taste, comfort, craft and intelligence could otherwise be left unattended due to financial strife. A dish that looks and tastes beautiful requires intelligence, artistry and planning. Increasing the money allocated to the food shop, in order to pursue what the economic pinch leaves on the wayside, feels justified.

Why has the food sector seen growth? We are probably just hungry.

[1] www.bbc.co.uk (08/03/2011) UK economy growth forecast for 2011 cut by BCC [online] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-12672276