You’re making the Greggs run when you feel the familiar pocket-rumble. You reach for your phone and study the new message: “Table for four tomorrow night, if you fancy it? It’s a little Jay Rayner fave.” You were sure you would be living off shame-spiced takeaway carbs this week, but you say yes, for your flatmate is incessant about the restaurant in question right now, but about all “quality” restaurants, generally. Your flatmate is a true champion of culinary excess. Your flatmate is a Gourmand.
The Gourmand is impossibly clued up on the hottest places in town while remaining cognisant of their lesser-known but “important” sister eateries. They are up to speed on the respective philosophies of the chicest head chefs as well as the alliances and feuds between them. They swear by Ottolenghi’s Simple and are actively coveting a set of single bevel Japanese knives. The Gourmand has sous vide’d themselves into a life of strictly seasonal recipes and lovable rogues delivering ad libs to camera over steaming piles of lewd jambalaya, authentic hand-ground pesto and painstakingly home-fermented kimchi. They are lost in the food-content sauce, analogue and digital: think Vittles, Bon Appétit, and Google alerts in-place for cookbook releases.
They dream of opening a food truck of their own one day and run niche concepts by you almost weekly. “How about Crispy Skin as a name? For a fried chicken joint?” the Gourmand asks you later that evening. “Each item on the dish is referenced only by its protein serving.” “Quality,” you hear yourself say.
The Gourmand has endless culinary insights befitting their voracious use of Instagram. You wonder if they are actively in the business of seeking out places their friends haven’t been to, in the hope of staking a claim and creating hype they can feel some ownership of. You can’t be sure.
They are dotted all over the UK. In London, they’re enamoured with quality establishments like Four Legs, St John, Monohan Ramen, Trullo and Silk Road. In Bristol, it’s the concise menu at Marmo; in Stockport, the show stopping treats at Where The Light Gets In. Scoot over to Anglesea, and it’s Ellis Barrie’s mastery at The Marram Grass. They are – naturally – eagerly waiting to try out Margate’s Sargasso, the brainchild of the head chefs at Brawn. They have their finger on the pulse of bottle shop culture, too, frequenting your Top Cuvées, P Francos, and endless indy iterations in London, and your Bottle Chops and Wine Freedoms in Leeds and Birmingham respectively.
While you’ve gone to M&S to feel special, the Gourmand is busy in the kitchen batch-cooking bathtub lasagna with milk. “It’s quite rich, but I’m going to make a few portions,” they tell you on your return, a faint coating of moisture on that well-fed head. You’ve taken to going for walks in these moments, and so you dip out again, lest you be pushed over the edge. You watch later as they consume the entirety of their creation in a fugue.
To the Gourmand, Great British Menu is the purest representation of top-level cooking, therefore making it the best mainstream food show going; they marvel at Gordon Ramsey’s canny ability to talk obscene sad sack restaurateurs back from the brink on Kitchen Nightmares, and they’ve made their way through as much Bourdain as the internet can offer.
Come see them in Whitstable Bay, shotting oysters by the half-dozen; there they are in The Spärrows in Manchester, eating central European spätzle; and here, look, it’s a young couple embracing ironic gourmand-ification of British comfort food at Norman’s Cafe in Tufnell Park. The Gourmand appreciates the majesty of British cuisine, even in its most modest forms – though the lower the brow, the greater need for the dish to be self-aware.
You’re at the dinner now, that booking for four has come around. You think about the G-word (“gentrification”) for a moment while you tease open your langoustines on a charcoal tablet in a restaurant that used to be a youth centre which used to be a pub, but you think better of it. You look over and the Gourmand is scanning the wine list for “anything orange or biodynamic, both in an ideal world”. You say the desserts sound nice, that you haven’t had a crème brûlée in ages, and then they launch into a monologue about the post-pandemic decline of fine dining in favour of classic, hearty, home cooking. “People just want to have a real experience that’s sustainable and regenerative, and feel like they are the beneficiary of human gastronomic endeavour,” they say as they scrape sinew off a tiny little bird.
For the Gourmand, Boiling Point is a masterpiece, a new benchmark in one-take, stress-out cinema; lockdowns were an opportunity to hone their French dessert-making, and the complete Keith Floyd DVD box set takes centre spot on the bookshelf. Rachel Roddy’s Insta profile is an Italian recipe refuge; Dan Barber’s is a celebration of America’s northeastern terroir; Rene Redzepi’s is a glimpse into Scandi excellence, @caffs_not_cafes is a quaint thrill and @ecstasy_cookbook serves as an indulgent guiding light.
Back in the kitchen now, and each “low and slow” home-cooked feast is more opulent than the last. The cookbooks are battered to heck. You reckon they have early-stage gout – you can’t be sure though. “It’s a five-meat ragu, and it’s very traditional,” they’re saying as they stir another mad pot of sludge. “Never cooked with veal before. Pretty special,” they say as you slot sad, 85 percent-potato fishcakes in the oven and set a timer. You watch as they flip through a dictionary of taste pairings; you hear whispers of “sexy shallots” and “powerful rosemary” before you quietly exit the kitchen and sprint out the front door.