Edinburgh Fringe Perfectly Balanced Salad
Avocado (broken into chunks with the fingers)
Mozzarella (torn into large pieces)
Kalamata Olives (pitted)
Really really good tomatoes
Parma or Serrano Ham
Red Onion (really thinly sliced)
Red Chilli (really thinly sliced also)
Radish (sliced quite thinly)
Tinned Anchovy Fillets (cut lengthways into thin strips)
E.V. Olive Oil
Mint, Dill and Basil (shredded)
Black Pepper and Crunchy Salt
There’s no rules. Judge the proportions yourself according to taste but something similar to the photograph seems to work. Arrange on a plate as you wish, neat or scattered, before dressing with the oil and lime juice and finally the salt and pepper. I assure you, it’s really very good. You’ll be wiping the plate with your finger.
Each autumn performers from all the corners of the world and from every genre of the arts converge on the Scottish capital for a month. This August I was amongst them. I took ‘Anarchist Cook’, the show I’ve been ripening and maturing this last year and a half, to the world’s largest arts festival, the Edinburgh Fringe, to perform every day in one of the hundreds of theatre spaces created for this wholly unique performance fair. From August 5th to August 31st at 2:45pm (except for one Monday that I took off – I was going to take two Mondays off but I ended up doing an extra show on one of them for reasons I’ll come to shortly) I performed the show to a full house. The room I was in (The Balcony at The Gilded Balloon) was only a sixty seater but even so I’d mentally prepared myself to be ready to entertain audiences in the single figures, though after the first preview was half-full, every show following that was rammed. A combination of an original idea well written and passionately performed I suppose. Extremely satisfying and gratifying whatever the reason.
Being away for a whole month my cooking and eating habits went a bit awry. When I’m at home I find myself catering for the family most nights. Similarly in Edinburgh I was catering for a theatre full of people every day (cooking the exact same three course meal twenty six times in a row), the difference being that unlike at home where I get to eat the meal I cook with everyone else, in Edinburgh those plates went off with the audience and I rarely got more than a few leftover scraps of bread and perhaps the odd bit of neglected salad. So I had to fend for myself a lot.
The intensity of the show’s production (resetting everything in the morning and then flyering before a lightening-fast set-up at 2:30 and an equally frantic strike at 3:45, followed by washing up and dropping the clean dishes behind the stage at 5:00) meant that despite having the best intentions before heading up there, once in the swing of things I didn’t cook a great deal. Apart from a couple of meals to share with my flatmates (excellent comedians John Robins, Matthew Crosby and Matt Ewins) I found myself eating a mixture of takeaways and the most abominably un-gourmet oven-ready or even worse microwavable dinners. It was rather absurd that I was cooking such genuinely tasty and deluxe platefuls on stage while eating, excuse me, ‘shit’ either side.
One day I cooked for Jay Rayner. Yes, that Jay Rayner. He was performing a show in Edinburgh too, (just on one day, not for the whole month like me), and he got in touch to let me know that he’d like to come and see my show. He figured that since his show finished at 1:45 he’d be able to jump in a taxi and get over to the part of town where I was performing for my 2:45 start. I agreed and said I’d make sure there was a ticket waiting for him. It wasn’t until half an hour later that I suddenly realised that the day he proposed to come was my day off! I got in touch with my venue and set about putting on an extra show on that day to accommodate him. We did so, and managed to sell out that show too (in fact it proved to be quite a celebrity audience on that occasion since not only was Jay Rayner present, but also comedians Daniel Kitson, Alex Horne and Tim Key. And a critic from The Times). Absurdly though, despite cooking the finest cuisine for The Observer’s most famous food critic and the cream of the Edinburgh comedy elite, for breakfast that same day I had a Gregg’s roll, and for dinner…
…a microwaveable Rustler cheese burger*
But on some days I did look after myself. I put together the above salad one early evening and it was so good I recreated it as a starter for my flatmates on another occasion. It was creamy and decadent while managing to be also crunchy and refreshing. A balance of bitterness from the olives, sourness from the lime, heat from the chilli and the radishes, salt from the anchovy and the ham, and all this calmed by the mild avocado and mozzarella with the herbs singing on top. Try it.
*Nostalgia’s a huge factor in the success of a dish. When I was a teenager I went on a number of wonderful youth hostelling holidays with my brother and our friends, and every trip, on the train heading back to London we would treat ourselves to a cheeseburger from the buffet car. It was microwaved in it’s bun with a slice of processed cheese before getting a squirt of ketchup and sometimes mustard too. The bun was always weirdly wet on top and hard underneath, the burger itself possessing an alien quality only achievable by this method of preservation and reheating. Disgusting of course, but Rustlers microwavable burgers taste just the same, and the memories, good ones, like the train we’d dine on, come hurtling home.