Exposing lies, pretensions and stupidity in the world of food.

ABOUT ANGRY CHEF

What Makes Angry Chef Angry? 

   
25 years ago when I first walked into a professional kitchen, love of food was a niche pursuit. Career choices were limited. Professional chefs were a rag tag bunch, stuck behind the scenes of hotels and restaurants. Socially awkward, often aggressive, chefs occupied a strange hinterland defined by appalling wages, terrible working conditions, antisocial hours and a lack of natural light. We all looked ill, poorly nourished, tired. Serious chefs were however united and fuelled by their huge love of food. Insult anything you want about me – my looks, my wife, my children’s looks, my mother’s morality. Say whatever words you want, just don’t insult my cooking. We may work 17 hour shifts on our feet, our lives may be a mess, our relationships may be doomed to failure, we may smell of onions, fish and sweat. We may live lives vastly removed from the customers we serve, many of their bills being larger than our monthly pay cheque. But we know food. We have eaten the finest ingredients at their freshest. We have tried the best wines. We know the techniques and skills. While most of the world plods a path of oven chips and fish fingers, we are surrounded every day by the finest foods the world has to offer. We may live like slaves, but we taste the food of kings every day.
 
Move on 25 years and the world of food is very different. The media is in love with the Celebrity Chef. They are everywhere, some brilliant, some less so. Every supermarket is full of artisan produce. Convenience foods have names that are stripped from restaurant menus. Food and restaurant blogs are some of the widest read and influential on the Internet. Social media is obsessed with food and restaurants. Love of gourmet things has moved from a strange niche pursuit to a social norm. You can buy lobster in Lidl.
 
Surely this should not make a chef angry. As it happens, the widening of societies interest in food has created all sorts of opportunities for talented, passionate chefs. It has even given us a bizarre sort of status. In a world obsessed with cuisine, a professional chef is often seen as a hero. When my wife tells people what I do for a living, they excitedly swoon, saying how wonderful it must be to be married to a professional chef. She smiles politely and thinks of the unsocial hours, the problem drinking, the interesting odour.
 
I have worked in some decent restaurants and seen some anger, even a little violence, in the kitchen. I have been a Head Chef most of my career and have run some large brigades. I rarely get angry at work. Shouting and screaming at your team never improves a bad service. My anger tends to burn slower. I see something I don’t like, it goes in to the bank – we’ll save that one for later. This website does not consist of tales of thrown pots and pans. A restaurant service can be very stressful at the time, but in the end, it does not matter. If table 6 doesn’t get all its mains at the same time, the sky will not fall. An overcooked steak can be replaced. None of it is really worth anyone’s anger. I save my anger for anyone who attacks the things that I love.
 
I love food more than anything, but science is my other love. I was once a scientist but I left it all to follow my passion for food. I am no longer an expert on any area of science, but I have retained my critical eye. I know the importance of the scientific method. I retain the ability to critically appraise information. I also have a pretty good bullshit detector (although I owe this more to my 25 years as a chef)
 
There are many things that make this chef angry. Here are just a few examples.
 
  • People making unscientific claims about the health benefits of diets, recipes or ingredients.
  • Celebrity chefs making platitudes about of obesity and then broadcasting recipes that contribute to the problem.
  • Food manufacturers making false health claims about their products.
  • Food manufacturers and retailers that disregard their importance in keeping the nation healthy.
  • Chefs, bloggers and food writers with a ridiculously inflated sense of their own self importance.
  • Restaurants that are out of touch with reality. 
  • Any misinformation in the world of food.
  • Journalists and media outlets that publish incorrect or poorly researched articles about food.
  • Chefs or food bloggers who shamelessly endorse commercial products without being completely honest about what they are doing.
  • People who present themselves as experts, complete with made up qualifications and titles, who then spout made up food science for commercial gain.
 
I get angry about these things because I care about them. I care about food, care about what people eat, care about the huge crisis caused by obesity, care about the future food supply of the world. I want to play a small part in holding the people that work in food to account. My ire is directed at some huge issues, but I make no apology for also being angry about some enormous trivialities.
 
I am sure that many of the people whom I direct my anger against are victims only of their own ignorance. Many people actually believe that their new alkaline diet can cure a variety of ailments. Others are genuine in their belief that their new super ingredient has huge health benefits. Many of the most intelligent people I know struggle to understand that correlation is not always causation – on occasion I am victim of that misunderstanding myself. Chefs are convinced they are telling the truth when they talk about sealing meat in a hot pan to lock in the flavour. A genius Italian chef I know is convinced that risotto should only ever be stirred anti-clockwise.
 
Much food pseudo-science is unfortunately so entwined in our knowledge that for many people it is hard to separate. The majority of people buying gluten free products have no allergy to gluten – they do so because they believe they are buying a healthier option. Food scientist friends of mine (who should know better) tell me they are going on a juice diet to ‘detox’ their body after Christmas. I know medical professionals who swear that Echinacea can cure colds. I was talking to a well-known food blogger recently who said ‘anything home-made is better for you than any processed food you can buy’. The world of food is full of misleading information. I do not have all the right answers. But I do have a critical eye and a mind trained in scientific investigation. When I hear people telling lies about food it makes me angry and that anger gives me the energy to challenge and fight. Never mess with an angry chef.
    

Levels of Anger

   
I become angry about issues of huge importance and those of great triviality. When a posh food blogger starts banging on about how her low alkaline wheatgrass and dandelion smoothie will flush toxins out of your lymphatic system, it frustrates me because it is so clearly not true. Such a claim could never legally be made on a packaged product with the same ingredients and yet similar things are published every week in national newspapers. I believe that most of these people have no idea that what they are saying is made-up science. On my Scale of Ire (SOI), I would give someone like this a 3-6 out of 10, dependent mostly on how much commercial gain they are trying to make out of their made up claim (3 if they genuinely think they are helping the world with their lifestyle advice, up to 6 if they are pushing a book, product or lifestyle consultancy). 
 
I will be angrier about a food manufacturer making false or misleading claims about their products. Consumers should not be misled. Food manufacturers should know better. A misleading or untrue health claim gets a 7 or 8 out of 10 on the SOI.
 
I get angry about pretentious chefs, overly showy or ostentatious restaurants, ridiculous names of dishes, restaurants or recipes (with special ire reserved for the needless use of adjectives), the all too common misuse of apostrophes in menu writing (I realise that I am on thin ice with my command of English – I am a scientist with years in professional kitchens so never spent much time on grammar – but apostrophes follow a simple rule and I hate simple rules being broken). None of these are as serious as misleading the public with scientific untruths, but they make me angry anyhow. An apostrophe mistake get’s a 4 out of 10. Truly horrible pretentiousness and self-importance in a chef gets anything up to an 8. Stupid dish names get a 4-5 with extra for each pointless adjective. Chefs serving food on stupid serving implements (shovels, tennis rackets etc) is a horrible crime, but the excellent ‘We Want Plates’ has this covered brilliantly.
 
I will reserve the 9s and 10s for people who I believe are really doing damage to the world of food and doing so knowingly. Food companies using underhand tactics to sell unhealthy foods. Celebrity chefs using their influence in ways that could harm the health of the nation. Self-styled health and nutrition gurus who give pseudo-scientific food advice with terrible health implications. An anger rating of 9 or 10 is a rare thing, reserved for people who knowingly cause this world real harm for the sake of their personal gain. It is rare, but it does happen.
    

Things We Believe to be True (until they are proved otherwise of course)

   
There is no such thing an healthy food, or an unhealthy one. Healthy eating is about balance. Despite what the media would have you believe, the advice from scientists has remained fairly consistent over the years. Eat a balanced diet, lots of fruit and vegetables, not too many calories, not too much salt. Try not to become overweight; it’s bad for you. If you do, you are eating too many calories so cut down a bit.
 
Sugar is not bad for you. Too much sugar is bad for you. Too much sugar and too much fat is even worse for you. Too much water is bad for you. Too much kale is bad for you. If you want to cut all sugar out of your diet, you would have to cut out all fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, dairy, and eggs. Very few people could seriously suggest that this is a good idea – I would suggest it might make you very ill. It is all a question of balance.
 
Obesity is a serious problem when it occurs and has huge implications for health. Some people find it hard to loose weight. Despite more information than ever available about health and nutrition, despite an abundance of healthier options available to consumers, despite consumers having more and more interest in the food we eat, we are loosing the battle to combat obesity and something must be done. What we are doing now is not working, so we must work hard to find an approach that will. I cannot solve this problem, although in other parts of my life I try to do my bit, teaching people with low cooking skills to cook a few healthy dishes. Here, Angry Chef, my bullshit fighting alter ego, will attempt to bring to light any misinformation that makes the fight against obesity harder.
 
There is no such thing as a superfood. Some foods, especially fruit and vegetables, have lots of micronutrients, which are a good thing. We need a balanced diet and lots of micronutrients and the best way to achieve this is to eat lots of different stuff, especially fresh fruits and vegetables.
 
A detox is a serious medical procedure that people might be put through in some poisoning cases or if they have substance abuse issues. If is usually carried out in hospitals by medical professionals. A detox does not occur when you drink vegetable juices or eat any other foods. No foodstuff or diet plan will cause your body to detox. Toxins are naturally removed from your body by your liver and kidneys and do not build up over time, only to be removed by wheatgrass enemas and the like. The principal of a food-based detox (or any other alternative therapy detox) makes no scientific sense. There is no evidence that it works. Any diet that claims to detox you is lying. Any food product available making claims about detoxing should be immediately removed from shelves. If you make claims about diet based detox programmes, the Angry Chef is coming for you. Stop immediately, you are lying to people.
 
Processed foods are not all bad. Many processed foods are only processed by the addition of heat. Flour is a processed food. So is Organic Quinoa Flour. So are cashew nuts. Most grains are processed in some way before we get them. Tinned tomatoes and tomato puree are processed before we get them, but are full of micronutrients. There are some processed foods that are not great, some are fairly shameful, but living without anything processed would be very difficult – perhaps nearly impossible.  I think I may have already mentioned – eating healthily is all a question of balance.
 
Natural does not always mean good for you. Or even better for you. I could feed you some very natural mushrooms that would kill you in minutes. Food poisoning bugs are all natural. Botulism is natural. You could probably grow it organically if you wanted to.
 
Food manufacturers are not evil. They are not desperate to fill us with additives that cause terrible harm. They exist to make money and the best way to do this is to make things that are cheap and taste good so we will want to buy them. Sometimes this means that they do some bad things, especially when the drive to make lots of money becomes too important. The ingredients that food manufactures would really love to fill their products with are air and water as this will make them cheaper. They sometimes tell lies in their marketing; they sometimes loose control of their supply chain. If they do, then there will be an Angry Chef coming for them.
 
No one should have a food philosophy. If they do, especially if they have a section about it on their website, they probably need to get a grip. When I get myself together I am going to put a section on here especially for food philosophies.
 
Within most reputable food companies there are structures in place to ensure that the food we eat is as safe as possible. It is a highly regulated industry and the cost to a brand of a food safety error is potentially catastrophic. Most food manufacturers care very much about the safety of their consumers. From my experience of both sides of the industry I would be more worried about the safety of food from small artisan producers, or small independent restaurants that I would be about the food from a large manufacturer or a large restaurant chain. I would also expect the big boys to produce a far higher level of product consistency. When it comes to quality however, that is something else.
 
Food is important. We all have to eat every day, so we may as well enjoy it. Decisions we make about food will affect the health of our children, maybe even the future of our planet. Eating healthily is simple on paper, harder in practice.
 
Large food manufacturers and retailers have a huge responsibility. Their actions can change the eating habits of our nation. They should use their power responsibly and for good. If they don’t, I am watching.
 
In the right hands, food can be beautiful. In some rare cases, it can even be art. Chefs however are not important in the world. We probably all need to get a grip. Stop being so angry.  Stop taking ourselves so seriously. All I have ever wanted in my career is to share a little bit of my passion for food with the world. All I want is to increase people’s enjoyment, understanding and appreciation of food in some small way. That is all this website is for.