In an industry renowned for machismo, Alex Jackson, former head chef at Rotorino and Dock Kitchen, sought the home-cooking wisdom of French grannies for guidance when designing the menu for his new restaurant
“Provence is a country to which I am always returning, next week, next year, any day now, as soon as I can get on to a train. Here in London it is an effort of will to believe in the existence of such a place at all. But now and again the vision of golden tiles on a round Southern roof, or of some warm, stony, herb-scented hillside will rise out of my kitchen pots with the smell of a piece of orange peel scenting a beef stew. The picture flickers into focus again.”
Elizabeth David, French Provincial Cooking, 1960
What is home cooking, and who does it? Undoubtedly, the image that first comes to mind is that of a woman, bound to the domestic space of the kitchen by the gendered division of labour, providing food for children, a man — anyone who sits at the table. An understanding of the complex operation of satisfying appetites and constructing meals within the economic, cultural and temporal constraints that define most lives, is passed on from woman to woman like an invisible cloak worn all the time, at least in our imaginations. But also, where is home cooking? The domestic space is not a constant, and the contents of cupboards and fridges vary widely throughout different regions in the world. While there has been some homogenisation of grocery shopping in the wake of globalisation, visiting a supermarket or open-air food market abroad is testament to how othering grocery shopping can feel. One home cook’s everyday ingredient is another’s luxury.
While a glut of seasonal vegetables or fruit could feel decidedly mundane to a cook who lives in the region where they are grown, they are an imported luxury to others. Which brings us onto Alex Jackson’s new restaurant Sardine, located next to the Victora Miro gallery in London, which serves, as he puts it, ‘Provençal Granny Cooking’. Sardine’s menu reads like a “best of” home cooking from Provence: soupe au pistou, quail with olive sauce, tomato stuffed with veal and tarragon, ratatouille, lamb cooked on a string over wood with haricot beans. It is old-fashioned food, and provincial – Provençal – with roots in the routines and landscape of domestic life in the south of France, closely linked to what is produced there, and the region’s cross-pollination with Corsican and Italian food cultures.