For those of you who read my blog regularly, you will know about my camel hump adventures during the filming of Al Chef Yaktachef for Abu Dhabi TV. This was three years ago and from that day on, I have been wanting to write an article about camel hump. Finally I did. If you buy Lucky Peach’s Travel issue no. 7, you will find my piece with a picture of the sweet baby camel who gave up his life to provide me with the best camel hump I have ever eaten. Admittedly, I have not had so many but the few that I have tasted were nowhere near as good as this last one. And not so much because of my cooking skills, although I cooked it for less time than an Emirati cook would have, but mainly because the baby camel was a particularly fine milk-fed specimen. As a result, its meat was particularly tender.
Well, the title is slightly misleading but this feast I was invited to in the desert in Doha last week was very close to Christmas and just as festive even if a lot more exotic than a Christmas meal. I had been to the same farm before but at a hotter time of the year and not for a full meal. This time the weather was just fabulous and the meal totally amazing.
I always thought I would be dead by the time I was 35. Then I reached that age and thought that I wouldn’t make it past 50. As I approached my 50th year in perfect health, I decided that if I wasn’t going to be buried in a cemetery, I might just as well have a birthday picnic in it except that I never got round to organising it. It took another decade for me to make it happen, almost. It was going to be in Bunhill Fields where Blake, Defoe and Bunyan are buried. A perfect place for a foot in the grave party. I got the necessary permission (there is a garden right by the cemetery) and sent out the invitations. I also asked my lovely friend Amy, who is chef at Chez Panisse, if she would come and cook the picnic with me and she very kindly said yes. As the date approached, I obsessively checked the weather forecast but it was not looking good. So, Zaha, who I have been friends with more or less since I moved to London in 1973, suggested I move the picnic to her stunning gallery. An offer that I was very grateful for and of course accepted. Here are a few photos from what turned out to be a fabulous event, all taken by my very talented young intern, Sophie Minchilli.
It is not the first time that I team up with the lovely Fuchsia Dunlop for an exotic multi-cultural feast. Last time we had combined Chinese, Gujarati and Lebanese while today it was mainly Chinese and Moroccan. Fuchsia prepared the starters, a magnificent selection of Spicy Sichuanese chicken (here’s her recipe for it), green soybeans with ‘snow vegetable’ (a Shanghainese pickle), edible chrysanthemum leaves with firm tofu, fish-fragrant aubergines, kohlrabi salad, spicy cucumber salad, Shanghai ‘smoked’ fish and pressed pig’s ear. The latter being a perfect masterpiece as you can see from the picture above.