“Please please don’t do it” My husband pleaded.
“Why not? I’m a big fan!” I said.
He just closed his eyes, shook his head in surrender and said “you’re shameless.”
We were having dinner at Maze, one of Gordon Ramsay’s restaurants in London and a few meters away from us was Jason Atherton, the restaurant’s executive chef. I had always admired Jason and rooted for him when I watched the BBC’s Great British Menu a while back. I was delighted when he won the honour of cooking the starter of Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato with Croque Monsieur and the main of beef, ox cheek and potato puree for Heston Blumenthal. Jason also has the honour of being the first British chef to complete a stage at Ferran Adria’s El Bulli.
“I’m going to wave and say hi!” I told my husband earlier in the conversation. And hence his response that I was shameless.
I think my husband was afraid that another “Ethan Hawke” episode would occur. You see, many years back we were having dinner in a restaurant and I had spotted Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman dining as well. I decided to go up to them and ask for their autograph only to be told by Ethan that he would not give me an autograph! That’s right. He politely told me “I’m sorry but we are having dinner.” Of course then, I was disappointed but that way years ago and now I know better than to disturb celebrities while they are having dinner…
I don’t think my husband ever recovered from that experience and he always had this notion that if we tried to say “hello” to a celebrity we would get turned away.
“But what about the Bono incident??” I asked.
“Bono was different. I didn’t approach him.” He said.
Again, rewind many years back, when my husband was taking his MBA in New York, one gorgeous and sunny day he was taking a walk around Central Park and a black SUV passed in front of him. Beside the SUV were a number of bodyguards on foot and a few on motorcycles. He peered inside the vehicle recognized it was Bono, the lead singer of U2!
My husband couldn’t find his voice to speak and so he just mouthed “Bono…”
The bodyguard immediately stepped infront of my husband as if to stop him from getting any closer.
Bono rolled down his window and stretched out to shake my husband’s hand!
“I’m not worthy!” said my husband…
“In this world, none of us are…” Bono replied, gave him a smile and drove away.
So, of course, I did say hello and Jason was kind enough to pose for a photo… not only that… during dessert he came back to our table and asked if we wanted a tour around the kitchen… AND not only that… he gave me a signed copy of his Maze Cookbook! How fantastic was that?!
Maze and Maze Grill were my favourite restaurants in London so I am glad I have the cookbook. This risotto is adapted from it and is fantastic! It’s made with pumpkin puree, a creamy risotto and toasted walnuts for that lovely crunch.
Sometimes it pays to be shameless…
Recipe – serves 2 to 4 as a starter
- 50 ml olive oil
- 2 shallots, finely chopped
- 150 grams risotto rice (I used carnaroli)
- 500 ml chicken stock or vegetable stock
- 3tablespoons freshly grater parmesan cheese
- 2 tablespoons mascarpone (I used cream)
- 4 to 6 tablespoons butternut squash puree (recipe follows)
- 50 grams diced butter
- salt and pepper
- parmesan shavings, toasted walnuts to serve (I also added some chives but recipe calls for sage leaves)
- To make the risotto base, heat the olive oil in a saucepan and sweat the shallots for 5 minutes to soften, without colouring.
- Add the rice and cook, stirring for a minute.
- Add the stock, a cup at a time.
- Once the rice starts to absorb the liquid, continue to add more stock until the rice is plump, and al dente. This will take around 30 minutes. Be patient.
- Stir in the parmesan, cream and squash puree until evenly combined.
- Finally, add the butter cubes, stir and season with salt and pepper to taste.
- To serve, divide among warm plates. Scatter with parmesan shavings, toasted walnuts and wood sorrel, or sage or chives.
Butternut Squash Puree – this makes much more than the recipe requires but it is delicious as a side dish.
- 1 large butternut squash about 1 kilo
- 150 grams butter
- 1 vanilla pod, split
- sea salt
- Peel, deseed and dice the butternut squash. Melt the butter in a pan.
- Add the squash and cook without colouring for about 15 minutes over a medium heat until very soft.
- Whiz in a blender until smooth.
- Scrape the seeds from the vanilla pod and stir them into the puree. Season with salt to taste.
Toasted Walnuts – melt 25 grams butter in a frying pan, add the 100 grams shelled walnuts and saute for a minute or two until lightly browned. Drain on kitchen paper and sprinkle with salt and sugar to taste.