Retro Chef – Robert Carrier.


“Famous long before the term Celebrity Chef was coined, Robert Carrier epitomised fine dining in 1970’s Britain. His restaurants, cookbooks and television programmes put truffles, brandy saffron and spatchcock into the lexicon of many people still shaking off the memory of lumpy gravy, tinned fruit and food stamps” – The Times June 28th 2006.

By way of introduction, Robert Carrier owes the distinct honour of being the author of the first ever cookery book I owned. I received a copy of Cooking for You as an eighteenth birthday present from a group of my school friends who seemed a little puzzled that I didn’t want a pair of gold hoop earrings instead. I had other designs.
I had been brought up in a family where cooking was at the very epicentre of what we lived for. Both my father and mother were keen cooks and had striven over the years to educate our palates with exciting dishes that were far from the norm in a South Wales valleys village. Despite the fact that so many ingredients were hard to come by, my parents remained undaunted and sourced from afar what was both unavailable and unheard of at our local grocers. Chicken Marengo, boeuf stroganoff , goulash, curries and the like were everyday fare at home, whilst meat and two veg, chops peas and chips and mixed grill reigned supreme all around us.
Robert Carrier had served our household faithfully and I recall my parents glued to the television watching him gracefully produce his flamboyant repertoire to a nationwide audience through his television show “Carrier’s Kitchen”. Happy times.
My book was packed into my trunk for university and was the arbiter of many memorable meals that were cooked for friends and house mates. Admittedly it took a brave decision to cook one of his dishes in those days. Mr. Carrier was never one to skimp on lavish ingredients, and they were often painfully expensive. On reflection, it was well worth every penny, and I guessed he always knew it would be.
For example, I have a recipe open in front of me as I write for Pigeon Prince Ranier III, no doubt created for the head of the Grimaldi Royal Family of Monaco. He spares no detail in ensuring the home cook emulates every aspect of the wondrous creation. He says, by way of introduction to the masterpiece;
“ A dark coloured pigeon is thought to have the highest flavour, and the light coloured one the most delicate. The legs should be of a pinkish colour; when they are large and deeply coloured the bird is old. The breast should be fat and plump. The tame pigeon is smaller than the wild species and is better for cooking. Tame pigeons should be cooked at once, as soon as they soon loose their flavour, but wood pigeons may be hung for a few days. A squab is a young pigeon.” Chapter and verse, with no margin of error allowed. His ingredients go on to list truffle, foie gras and Cognac as the support act to the main protagonist. His was the world of fantasy food, and this recipe title spares no discretion in revealing its intended audience.
He could however be simplistic in equal measure. He wanted everyone to be invited to his party. No one should be left out. In his cookbook named after himself he claims;
“Good plain cooking is not beyond the ability of any man woman or child above the age of twelve. And yet, add a little imagination , a surprise ingredient, or a new cooking method, and everyday food can become gourmet fare” The chapter in question includes recipes for both pork chops gently braised in a simple cider sauce and a magnificent roast suckling pig. It was for his reader to set the budget, cook, eat and enjoy his meticulously penned creations.
To attempt to chronicle his career in such a small space would do him little justice, as he achieved so much.
Though not British by birth, he came to Britain in the early fifties and throughout his life here, he embarked on a glittering career of restaurant ownership, television work, and of course cookery writing both as a food journalist and author of many first class cookery works. He even owned a theatre in Monmartre for a while. He spent time in Italy, France and Morocco where these countries stamped their mark on his cooking style.
He created a hotel, restaurant and cookery school from the dilapidated Hintlesham Hall that he painstakingly restored to a magnificent standard. He owned a renowned restaurant in Camden Passage, that shaped many British chefs, one of which was Shaun Hill.
However all good things must come to an end, and sadly he died in 2006.
I think that Robert Carrier’s influence served to steadfastly up the game of British cuisine for the best part of fifty years. Few food writers can boast such an august career.
His passing was marked by many eulogies and obituaries as befits a man of his stature. As a closing thought on his life, career and achievements, I will leave you with this image of him evoked in his obituary in the Times
It was said that his dinner parties were prepared as though they were theatre – well lit and acted with panache.
Of them he said, “I entertain several nights a week, it is my life”.

Based around his contributions to the Sunday Times Colour Magazine this dense paperback is crammed with his classic repertoire. No expense has been spared on the beautiful colour plates to entice the reader into dabbling in the Carrier cooking mystique. Well worth hunting out from reputable dealers.

One of Carrier’s much later books, it was written whilst using his ornate mansion in Marrakesh as a base camp. This is a masterpiece that celebrates the centres of excellence of Provençal food, whilst showcasing some of the mighty chefs who work there. Pictorially sublime, it is one of my favourite books, even though it rests in the “coffee table” genre of food writing in my personal library.

As previously mentioned this was my very first cookery book. For me it took me beyond the confines of the classics learned in the domestic science lessons at school and added a finesse to dishes that lacked the polish that British cuisine so desperately needed in the 70’s. Vintage dinner party material from that era.

This fine book sports a travelogue of Mr. Carrier’s cooking repertoire. He draws on his culinary travels to bring together his global cooking and eating experiences in one volume printed on exquisite paper. Sadly, as with so many early cookery works, it lacks any photographs to illustrate the tantalising offer of fare within.

This book has its writer as the ringmaster of the show – this was Robert Carrier’s forte – here he explores the art mystique, cachet and practicalities of entertaining at home. No subject matter is left unsaid, he covers it all from thrifty offerings to the most elegant cocktail party imaginable. Theme party buffs should buy a copy for pure 70’s inspiration.robertcarrier

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