My name is Keith, but I also answer to, amongst other things, Dad, and Kitan.
I was born slap-bang in the middle of the Swinging 60s, into a Northern English Working Class culture where simple, nourishing, home-cooked food was the norm, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year. Back then, there really was no other option. The resources (read: cash) were simply not there for eating out.
Even a humble pub meal was beyond our limited budget. The only time we ate anything that wasn’t prepared in our own kitchen was our once-a-week Saturday lunchtime meal from our local fish and chip shop, which was considered a great treat, and quite decadent. My, how times change, non?
Not that you will ever hear me complaining about this situation, quite the opposite, in fact. It gave me a true, in depth appreciation of what precisely constitutes “The Good Stuff”. It started me off down a path that ultimately gave me the skills and knowledge I now possess, which means in turn that in future, whatever the world may care to throw at me, I’ll always have the ability to eat well.
Variety, and all that…
Sometime in the early 1980s, I had the first of many food epiphanies. While on a visit to my sister’s place, I had my first taste of a curry, when she made the turkey based delicacy for which she was somewhat famous. This was something that our mother would never have even dared to contemplate cooking, and so was utterly beyond my experience. I was, it has to be said, instantly addicted.
Seeing as spicy food was totally forbidden at my parents house, my curry eating sessions in those early years were limited to visits to my sister’s home, some 80 miles away. I planned visits around the merest hint of the appearance of a curry at her table, or I would pester her into submission until she gave in, and made one.
Give a man a wok…
Once I left school and entered the world of work I finally had money of my own, and my food horizons began to expand, with regular visits to curry houses, pizza parlours, and Chinese restaurants. I was still not cooking for myself, as yet, though. All that changed forever in 1991, when I was forced to quit heavy engineering after a back injury.
Wanting rid of me, my employer offered a redundancy package. I gladly snatched the cheque out of their hands, and ran. I had just moved into my own place, and so for the first time was able to cook whatever I chose to. I invested some of my ill gotten gains on a wok, which came complete with a recipe booklet, and a small but informative book on Indian cooking, one that I still refer to now. I still have the wok, too, and the recipe booklet, sentimental fool that I am…
Trying out those early recipes kick-started me down a path of relentless reading, researching, experimentation, eating, and analysis, something that is still going on to this very day. I’m always on the lookout for something new, or a better way of doing something, becoming what the great chef Anton Mosimann once called “The eternal apprentice”, constantly aware that there is always something else to see and learn. When we travel, for example, I’m on the lookout for cookbooks. How did that place we ate at last night do that wonderful thing with the fish…?
When I started my university studies in the early 1990s, my first course was an introduction to the social sciences. The course authors cleverly used food as a “hook”, a meta-subject that all the various social science disciplines had something interesting to say about.
Take a simple cup of tea, for example. Behind such a seemingly innocent beverage lies a complex and often brutal history. Similarly, one cannot begin to discuss the British obsession with Indian food without thinking about why we were there in the first place! To this day I’m still fascinated by the economic and social dimensions to our food choices.
And now for something completely different…
In the mid 1990s life took another interesting turn, when quite out of the blue I happened across the most wonderful person I have ever met, who just happened to be Swedish. Apart from a 4 year sojourn in Belgium, we’ve lived in Scandinavia ever since.
This has, of course, meant that I’ve learned to truly love and appreciate fish, as well as becoming a lover of coffee so strong that it was once described by a colleague in England as “Swedish Mud”.
To her eternal credit, Mrs. Paleovirtus continues to this day to be my most beloved guinea-pig, happy and eager to test out my latest creations.
Our very own personal Anglo-Swedish hybrid, Paleovirtus Jr, having grown up with “The Good Stuff” at home, would often refuse to eat the “bajs” on offer in the school canteen, reserving her utmost contempt for instances when they would attempt to replicate British standards, such as Shepherd’s Pie, or Fish and Chips.
Thankfully, Paleovirtus Jr. has always taken an active interest in cooking, so I am confident that our family’s foodie traditions are in good hands…