In 2018, Cordon Bleu-trained chef James Thompson set up a two-tonne community oven in the conflict-ridden Lebanese city of Tripoli, says Ajesh Patalay in the FT. The idea was to create a space on the front line where young men from the warring Sunni and Alawite factions “could cook and eat together with other locals”. Thompson taught the men how to slow-roast “incredibly cheap” lamb belly filled with za’atar.
“The oven went wherever it was needed.” In 2019 it moved to the Ballroom Blitz nightclub in Beirut to feed refugees from the Beqaa Valley. “All kinds of people – gay refugees, trafficked women, stateless Palestinians – gathered round the oven and found a safe space.” Thompson showed them how to cook vast quantities of fasolia (bean stew), muhammara manoushe (red pepper dip) and baba ghanoush (aubergine dip). After the explosion in Beirut’s port in August 2020, Thompson raised funds for six Great Ovens to help feed the city’s residents. He now hopes to set up more projects around the world.
Let them eat outrageous cake
The first lockdown was a time of “resourceful banana bread and wholesome sourdough”, says Sadhbh O’Sullivan in Refinery29 – baking as a form of self-reliance. But now a growing number of us want excess – such as “outrageous” cakes.
Kitsch, Marie Antoinette-worthy creations of “intricate pastel buttercream and delicate sponge” have become hits on Instagram and TikTok. British bakers such as April’s Baker, Aliya Bakes Cakes and Lily Vanilli have been doing a roaring trade throughout the pandemic. The messages iced on top are often tongue-in-cheek, playing on the traditionally feminine designs they adorn: one 35th birthday cake from Coven Bakery was labelled “hunk”. The cakes are definitely “A Bit Much”, but right now “everything, frankly, is A Bit Much”.
Ingredient of the week: marsh samphire
Salty marsh samphire “deserves a place on your plate”, writes Julia Platt Leonard in Country Life. Known as “mermaid’s kiss”, it grows in coastal areas of England, including the estuaries of Norfolk and the Somerset salt marshes. Professional chefs love its “vibrant colour, pleasing crunch and flavour with echoes of the ocean”. Nothing is better than “white fish basted in butter until golden, with a squeeze of lemon and a handful of samphire added at the end”.