‘Why can’t our politicians be more like chefs?’ came up at dinner the other evening, and it needs a short reply. For a start, politicians at the moment seem especially curmudgeonly. There hasn’t been anything close to innovation since those nine newly independent MP’s, but they bundled themselves into an inconsequential corner like embarrassed children at a school disco. The capacity to inspire somehow eludes the politics of today. This might sound cynical and jaded, but it only takes a look at a really interesting kitchen to see hard working tangible inspiration.
I ate at Sonder in Edinburgh recently. Politicians could take a hint from them. Salsify, Black Garlic and Whey is everything our government has failed to be, inventive, gutsy and impassioned. This was in spite of the décor, which has replaced what was formerly a Mexican bar with vaguely austere tables in eastern-bloc-blue (with no table cloths). Odd features like Mexican tiles and the old booths which I had knocked back bad mojitos in, somewhat undermines the Nordic-cool. The booth might have seated four to six but for two of us it was wastefully luxurious. It did offer the hand-wringing waiters a stage for their explanations of the menu, they were endearingly remote from the scripted smoothness of a more experienced staff. Memorable were the lamb and the short-rib. They were served with tolerably self-indulgent flourishes and sauced tableside by our still-bashful waiter. The Salt-cod starter came up a little short, a garnish of its own dehydrated skin tasted like a hot afternoon at Billingsgate.
I understand Sonder because I have been to restaurants which do minimalist Nordic better. Its progenitors are burning brighter, but that doesn’t cut the pluck of this little place. To open a new-scottish ‘kitchen experience’ (their words, not mine) amongst the fried-chicken and Chinese supermarkets of South Clerk, takes a nerve which I really can’t knock. Their dessert may have been only a moderate stab at mille-feuille, with too-sweet rhubarb, but by the time that came around I was thoroughly wrapped up in the nervous enthusiasm of the teeming open kitchen. It is fun. But far more than that it is inspiring.
To serve a plate of food which in no way resembles the tense reality of the sous who chopped the shallots, or the saucier who had to remake the hollandaise, is dedicated vision. And to create something different but brilliant is nigh impossible, but done almost daily by good chefs. Consistency in these respects are what defines the success of a kitchen brigade. The generation of a dish, the messy conception and following perfection of an ideology arriving eventually- or perhaps not- on the menu, takes discerning qualities which we see our politicians lack at every turn.
In short, the people with the necessary fervour for creation become architects, painters, writers and chefs. Especially chefs, fall a million miles from the ham-fisted racketeering of politics. And though that might be bad for politics, that’s for someone else to write about. As long as places like Sonder keep emerging, politicians can be as ineffectual as they like.