In this special guest edition of our Chef’s Blog, we welcome Blue Apple CEO and co-founder Brian Allanson who takes us on a journey back to his Merseyside childhood and the early influences that spawned a career of passion for food and catering.
I was born and brought up in Liverpool in the 60’s and to our family food was simple and merely sustenance, unless it was Christmas, when we ate for sheer enjoyment until we burst!
I was the middle one of three boys and without a sister around (she came along 10 years later) I ended up being the one Mum showed how to play the piano, how to knit and how to make basic snacks like omelettes, bacon sandwiches and scrambled egg on toast. Even though I was about 7, I put this to good use on a Sunday morning by creating a hand written ― albeit badly spelt ― breakfast menu using a combination of the above with a price next to each dish. I loved the preparation, the cooking, the serving, the smiles on my Mum and Dad’s faces and after all that I even got paid! Thus was born my initial interest in food, restaurants and entertaining.
With the advent of colour TV, I watched whatever I could and one of my favourite shows was ‘The Galloping Gourmet’ a.k.a. Graham Kerr. He was a really charismatic guy who would run into the studio with a glass of wine in hand and prepare a dish live on TV. When the adverts where about to begin his catch phrase was, ‘It’s time for a short slurp’ and he would raise his ever present glass of wine. Once he had made the dish he would then go into the audience and pick the prettiest girl he could find to join him at a his pre-set table, to sample the result of his creation. When he ate, the camera would pan in on a close up of his face and he had the ability to impart an almost ecstatic pleasure of what he was tasting, to the audience and of course the pretty girl, using his unique facial contortions.
Subconsciously this only strengthened my love for cooking and eating by adding the obvious pleasure that wine and pretty girls brought to the equation. This spurred me on to expand my repertoire from snacks to proper recipes and after getting a copy of Marguerite Patten’s ‘Every Day Cookbook’ for Christmas, I was equipped to be the next Galloping Gourmet.
But being 10, who could I have at the dinner party that would appreciate it?
My Auntie Gwen and Uncle Ken, who weren’t really related but my Mum and Dad’s best friends, were the obvious answer. They had no children of their own so me and my siblings were the closest thing. They also had more disposable income as a result and spent their time package holidaying over most of Europe. My Uncle Ken was constantly tanned and looked like a comfortable leather armchair due to his use of olive oil and lemon as a sunscreen. He fried rather than tanned.
From their travels they brought back unusual liquors for my Dad and talked about eating horse meat, putting ground black pepper on strawberries to bring out the flavour and adding salt to coffee to take away any bitterness. These were the people who would give me an honest appreciation of my cooking prowess and I had to find a suitable dish to wow them with.
Apart from my Marguerite Patten cook book, I spread my search to my mum’s collection of recipes handed down through generations. These mainly consisted of hand written recipes for cakes and preserves, ripped out articles of meals that had taken her fancy and an old copy of Practical Housekeeping. What I also found was a series of recipe cards that Mum had collected from her Woman’s Own magazine. Each card had a list of the ingredients needed, the method used and most importantly a full colour picture of what the finished creation should look like. I approached my Mum with the card that stood out for me…. Veal a al Crème Flambé.
This was veal escalope, sautéed with mushrooms, garlic and onions, flambéed in brandy and finished with cream. It had everything that Auntie Gwen and Uncle Ken would like (Later their names were abbreviated to Ken de Gwen in honour of their European associations). My mum’s reaction was echoed by Peter Kay years later, ‘Garlic….….garlic! Brandy… oh I don’t think your Dad’s got any of that…….and you set it on fire! Veal…..for goodness sake?’
I managed to convince her that boiled bacon ribs, mince on chips or a pan of Scouse wouldn’t cut it for Ken de Gwen. Don’t get me wrong though, I remember loving all of those dishes, especially watching episodes of Happy Days, The Incredible Hulk or the Dukes of Hazzard with a plate on my knee and the Liverpool Echo acting as both the support and insulation between my legs and the plate.
Once I had agreed the menu with my mum, the arrangements were made, the ingredients were sourced, the table was set and I chopped, sliced, flambéed and served. The meal was duly consumed and rapturously enjoyed by Mum, Dad and Ken de Gwen. I was even given a £5 note for my efforts by Uncle Ken and told that one day I should have my own restaurant! That has stuck with me all my life. If it wasn’t for the support and appreciation of my family the simple act of indulging my passion when I needed it most and of course the Galloping Gourmet, I wouldn’t have chosen a career in catering and wouldn’t be writing this ……I think it’s time for a short slurp!