Wednesday, 10 February 2010

ad hoc

I sat down at my desk this morning feeling gloomy and despondant, as I am wont. It was snowing AGAIN, little flakes of hell drifting down from the sky making everything cold, making Spring seem even further away. I had woken up in the night feeling monstrously sick (am I dying again? Or was it the 18 drinks + massive supper + red velvet cupcake that did it?) and spent a few sleepless hours listening hard, straining my little ears, for burglars.

So I was tired, bilious and grumpy as I turned on my laptop. And I had run out of things to say. The cupboard was bare. I had an inkling of an idea to write about making choux pastry, as I'd seen a thing in the paper about how eclairs are the new cupcake but then I thought "Urgh, more pastry, more sweeties, more sugar - do not want."

I was all ready to leap from my window in despair when two things happened.

The first was an email from my very stylish former colleague at the Evening Standard, Sophia, who now works in Dubai, to say that I now have international readers! And to also say her friend Katie had made the quinoa risotto and it had been a success.

Well, what can I say? I cheered up immediately.

And then there was a ring on the doorbell. And it was a nice man with a package for Giles. So I opened it and it was... dun dun.... Thomas Keller's new recipe book from his Napa Valley restaurant ad hoc! It's called "ad hoc at home". For some reason Keller's not crazy about CAPITAL LETTERS (his New York restaurant is called "per se").

"What is it?" called Giles from upstairs.

"Nothing!" I shrieked. "Just an Amazon thing for me." And I scurried back to my room, cackling, with the cookbook under my sweater.

So, Thomas Keller - he owns the French Laundry, that very smart, very modern restaurant, also in Napa Valley; it constantly wins all those Best Restaurant in the Universe prizes. Only we went two years ago and had a terrible time. Just awful. And I don't mean that in a "posh-food-is-all-rubbish" way, I just mean that we didn't have a nice time.
The fact that we were practically in this man's HOUSE, eating the world's most famous food, paying through the nose to do so, only made the whole thing so much worse. There was just too much food. There - I said it! TOO MUCH! There were something like 24 courses and I wanted to kill myself after course #12. I started to sweat and gibber, and nod off at the table. I had to go outside into the cool American night air to walk around the gardens and slap myself round the face in order to go back for course #13.

I know. Don't say it! I am aware of the ingratitude, of the philistinism of saying that there is "Too much food" at the French Laundry, but that's just how I felt. How I still feel.

But THEN we went to Ad Hoc, sorry - ad hoc - Thomas Keller's other Napa Valley restaurant - it's the kind of restaurant that Americans describe as "family style", which I think roughly translates as "relaxed". And Ad Hoc is relaxed, in that way that Americans do "relaxed", which means that the service matches any of the best restaurants in London and everything is spotless, chic and fun.

We had fried chicken, which had been marinated all night in a herb lemon brine and then dipped in buttermilk (obviously) and was just unbelievable. They also do a thing at ad hoc where the vegetables are all really interesting and the salads are practically as tasty as the hot, fatty, salty chicken.

And, the ultimate accolade - it's where Thomas Keller is most often seen off-duty. So there you go, we agree with each other on something.

So, as you can imagine, I'm pretty excited about this cookbook, and it'll probably make a few appearances here. I'm at that stage in my life where a cookbook full of the most artfully created "family-style" cooking in the world does wonders for a bad mood.


  1. You think he will notice that you have his book, now that you have blogged about stealing it? He is pretty observant.
    Another food(ish) blog you might enjoy.
    They might end up linking back to yours... Never hurts to get Link Juice.

  2. Oh it's fine, he rarely reads this. Hide in plain sight, that's what I always say.

    Yes, I've heard about this linking thing. I am so dim when it comes to blogging... stuff. xx