"In my first attempt, I made it [spaghetti bolognaise] only using mince and pasta and nothing else!" Adam Luttrell - Coles Cooking club member
I feel a bit chastened today. I shall explain why in a moment, but first some introductory waffle.
My lovely husband got me the latest Coles' Magazine yesterday - they are all gone today. It is, apparently the most popular free magazine in Australia with well over 4 million readers. When I picked up one month's copy the check out chick - young girl - said how much she looked forward to each edition because it had such delicious food in it. I have just finished flicking through it, looking for ideas for the blog, and came across their Coles Cooking Club article.
The Cooking Club was started a few years ago. It's a private Facebook group with currently 46,321 members. It's stated aim is:
"about lifting up other people and giving you the tips you need. We ask everyone to treat each other with respect and kindness. Healthy (on-topic) debate is welcome, but please be thoughtful about differing opinions."
Which is in line with the stated aim of Coles Magazine itself:
"Coles magazine is aimed at inspiring all customers with easy-to-prepare and tasty recipes, regardless of their dietary preferences."
A bit Jamie like really. Of course there is more to it than that because, of course it is basically a marketing/advertising exercise. I found this, admittedly old (2012) statement which is quite transparent about the overall aim of the publication.
"Sally Wright, publisher, ACP Custom Media and Books, said in a release: “We are strengthening what is already a popular supermarket pick-up and a powerful marketing property; the increased frequency gives Coles’ customers more of the exclusive Curtis Stone recipes they love while also providing suppliers more opportunity to promote their products in an editorial environment that we know shoppers embrace.” Mumbrella
Jamie too is making money of course, but I have to say that I'm a believer in making money as long as you also do some good things and don't hurt people or the environment along the way. I have no doubt that a lot of bad things can be said about Coles and its suppliers, for example, although they seem to have good relations with their farmers at least. Who knows really. They also do good things with various charities, and have various environmental commitments. The same goes for Woolworths of course. But yes, the overall aim is to make money. However, if you do it by making people feel good about themselves then I'm all for it.
Which brings me back to one Adam Luttrell - this month's featured Cooking Club member. He - an ordinary non-cooking guy feels good about himself because of the Cooking Club and the support he has received, even if it only means that he can now cook a spaghetti bolognaise, which would make those Michelin starred chefs turn away in horror. Well it uses dried herbs - minced and dried garlic, chicken stock powder and tomato paste - not even a tin of tomatoes. But you know, it probably tastes alright - even pretty good, and a food stylist and professional photographer can make it look good too. This is how he describes his journey from just mince and pasta to the above:
"This recipe took a long time - in my first attempt, I made it only using mince and pasta and nothing else! After recovering from the shock, my wife showed me how to make it her way, so one night I observed her and wrote down what she did step-by-step. Eventually I started to add my own seasoning here and there, breaking away from her recipe and making it my own using different flavours. My secret is to have a fine mix of seasoning, such as dried herbs, and plenty of garlic - the more, the merrier."
So here is a man who never cooked at all, working doggedly away at producing a simple dinner that his family will like eating, and that satisfies his creativity. Yes he talks about creativity. He began on this 'journey' to use a terribly clichéd word these days, because it was pointed out to him, that if his wife died the family would have to exist on frozen dinners because he would not have known how to cook. So he set a first target of learning 7 dishes for each day of the week and has progressed to having fifteen folders full of recipes to choose from.
And what role did the Cooking Club play in all of this?
""I wanted to be able to ask cooking questions and not feel silly for not knowing the answers". What he discovered was a group of like-minded people - those who wanted ideas and advice from their fellow cooks. He soon felt confident enough to share his creations and the support he received in the group has seen him continue to post regularly in the Coles Cooking Club. ... "I love the enthusiasm of the people in the Club - they're a very supportive and talented bunch. I've taken a lot of inspiration from the recipes and ideas posted by other members and even tried my best to replicate some of them."
Yes I know - it smacks of marketing speak and doubtless he (if he exists) was prodded and guided as to what to say. But it sounds like he sees himself as an experimental and creative cook who takes pleasure in feeding his family - he now shares the cooking with his wife. Which has to be good doesn't it?
Why I am chastened is that deep down I consider this particular dish anyway, below par - which is extremely patronising of me. If it was me I would have used fresh garlic, and at least tinned tomatoes? Why would you not use fresh herbs? I am chastened because this is an ordinary bloke who is now happy to cook for his family, rather than let his wife do it all, and yet I am critical of the end result.
My mother, whom I consider to have been a good cook used all manner of awful things in her cooking - Bovril, Bird's custard powder, packet cake mixes, packet jelly, those desserts that were just a powder to which you just added milk - well I think that's what you did. Nowadays that kind of thing is much improved. There are all manner of quick fixes out there, like marinaded meats, and partially prepared salads. The range of frozen, tinned and readymade sauces and condiments is enormous. You really don't have to make them yourself. I use lots of those things myself - hence all those half-open jars in the fridge.
In spite of having Michelin starred chef Curtis Stone as their ambassador, the Coles Magazine is not aimed at Michelin starred chefs, or even aspiring gourmet home cooks. They might sponsor Master Chef - which is definitely the Michelin star end of the spectrum as far as cooking contests go, but any spin-off from the Master Chef thing in the magazine, and Curtis Stone's recipes too, are aimed at simple, achievable good food. Food that 'ordinary' people can achieve. There are sections of the magazine that do indeed use a lot of readymade and half prepared stuff, but there are also sections that use 'real' fresh food, and there are also always lots of little tips and tricks. This month's focus was on reducing waste, and whilst some of those tips were pretty feeble, some of them were interesting.
I guess I'm not a joiner of any kind of self help thing, although I will search for quick answers to things like computer problems on the net. I guess if you are wanting to improve your cooking then things like the Coles Cooking Club might be worth it, though I'm guessing you get quite a lot of marketing stuff thrown at you.
When I first started teaching in a primary school I was shocked to discover how 'stupid' some children were. I lived, and still live, in a bubble of people with a similar level of competence in all things, who are well educated, and intellectually curious. I always have - even when I was growing up poor in East Ham E6 - London's docklands - and Hornchurch, Essex - London's outer suburban fringe. Just because you live in a poor area, or your family is poor, does not mean that you are surrounded by the stupid. The same variance in brain power exists in those environments as in the posh private schools. It's just that it's more likely the brain power will be crushed by circumstance. So reading the Cooking Club article - a section of the magazine that I confess I generally and snobbishly ignore - made me realise that even simple things must seem hard to those who have not tried before. It's what Jamie tries to overcome in his sometimes irritatingly chirpy videos and books. And it's what the Coles Magazine attempts to do as well, whilst also increasing their marketing and PR reach.
They have a team of people responding to Cooking Club questions apparently, so let's hope they do encourage them to use fresh food as well as the products they have possibly been paid to promote.