YBFs Floating Red Onion

The YBFs

Gavin Wren Food Opinion Pieces, Writing

Young British Foodies.

Every year, there’s an awards ceremony dedicated to the grassroots talent in the food industry, the unsung heroes and the up-and-coming visionaries in the food world. These awards celebrate the people who are really, really into food, but haven’t received the recognition they deserve yet. Let’s call them foodies (despite my disdain for that term) because that’s what the awards are called, the Young British Foodie awards, or YBFs for short.

Entries for the 2017 tranche of accolades has just opened, anyone can enter into the various categories, from foodservice, via alcohol to food writing or social media sharing, on the YBFs website.

As a celebration of these awards, I want to share my 2016 entry. I’m positive it only narrowly missed being a finalist, at least that’s what I like to tell myself. I hope you enjoy it, while I get on with putting my 2017 entry into words.

But… you said everything would be OK, you promised you’d make things work! How can you let me down like this? How dare you! I can’t believe you did it. I can’t believe you treated me like this, led me down the garden path, wasted my life, used me and then trampled on my dreams! I’m never talking to you again, that’s it, we’re over! Wahhhhhhhhh, wahhhhhhh!”

Sound familiar? It does to me.

I wasn’t the recipient of such rage from a jilted partner, nor did I scream those words in furious anger as the jiltee. It’s actually a verbatim transcript of the internal dialogue between myself and the cookbook, directly after baking a recipe for banana bread which didn’t quite work perfectly, resulting in a soggy bottom, even after an extended bout of cooking. The ingredients and method which I read over and over seemed so personally written, like a clandestine love letter. But they were a lie, a mistruth and a breach of the bond of trust I had laid in you, the author, to look after me.

You see, when a recipe fails, it induces palpable rage in me, followed by sadness in my heart. Because making a recipe is an intensely personal and solitary pursuit, surrounded by fierce emotions like joy, sadness, fear, uncertainty, anxiety and more. They sprout from my soul the moment I start trying to force ingredients into the prescribed combinations, hoping to elicit the required results to sustain my body for yet another day or simply to impress people who don’t really know me on social media.

The heady delight of a triumphant recipe is akin to falling in love or taking drugs, the consummate pride and joy which success embodies eloquently plays a tune with my soul.

Unlike the incandescent rage which streaked through my consciousness like a Dantean fury upon realising that my banana bread still had a soggy bottom. It flashed through my body like wildfire, my skin reddened and my blood pressure leapt. Suddenly, as if by God’s will, the banana bread took flight, glorious flight, soaring, wings above the clouds, arcing through the air like an ethereal baking effigy launched onto the sacrificial funeral pyre of cakes, a deafening clang emanating as the cake, baking tin and all made fierce contact with my galvanised steel kitchen bin and promptly disappeared from view.

It was all over.

The two hours spent making that cake were a significant portion of my Saturday but an entirely insignificant period of my life, which pales into ghostly refrain compared to the time destroyed watching the lives of people I don’t particularly like on social media, a considerably more fractious and debilitating passtime than making a cake that wasn’t quite right at the bottom.

Yet, very little can entertain emotional apoplexy like a failed recipe can. A recipe embodies an unspoken contract, a subconscious and non-verbal agreement. When making a recipe, I’m laying my faith in the author to provide entertainment with words and imagery, to guide me, ensuring that nothing bad happens during their culinary watch.

Which makes a failed recipe feel like an art teacher guiding me through painting a glorious self portrait with heart and soul, only to walk over near the end and pour paint all over the canvas and set fire to it. Having invested time, consciousness and a large chunk of my soul, it feels like my dreams have been torn up, leaving me wanting.

Recipes require us to put a lot more than time, money, equipment and ingredients into their creation, they ask us to put faith in them and to hand over our fundamental human needs to eat, to be nurtured, helped and guided. A recipe has to cradle our insecurities and fears until the food is on the table and in our mouths.

When that guiding hand appears to let me down at the final hurdle, it feels like a big, bold bras d’honneur, regardless of whose fault the failure is. Because, of course we are all but perfect human beings, damaged by others, never ourselves. It’s always someone else’s fault, isn’t it.

That, however, is an entirely different conversation.

My unique perspective on food, once a month.

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