Meeting Jean Christophe Novelli was much like meeting a handsome French Prince on his shiny white horse with a full French love armour in coat. He’s the guy Princess Fiona was meant to marry, he is definitely not Shrek!
I had been asked by Clarion Communications to attend an event at his cookery school or “Academy” all the way out in Luton because Jean is the new face for potatoes. Yes, you did read right: potatoes. Who would have thought these guys needed some amour from Le Michelin deux star, Jean Christophe? What do potatoes need but mashing, roasting and chipping? Some je ne ce quoi?
Oui, there is a Potato Council, who promotes potatoes. And what is the likelihood of the Potato Council ever going to make you do anything other than mash, boil, roast and chip potatoes? Are they really going to change the way we eat potatoes? Make them trendy? Can you make a potato trendy? Is that like asking someone to make eggs trendy or flour or anything common like that, that we all have in our kitchen
When I think of potatoes, I don’t really think about potatoes, not at all really – just what I like them with, mash with pan fried seabass coated in thyme and rosemary breadcrumbs, Ferdie’s chips with tuna sashimi, roasted with my honey, mustard and soy chicken with all the trimmings. That’s really as far as it goes.
However, the Potato Council informed us that there are over 400 varieties of potatoes and we got to taste some, it was fab, I got to say that I didn’t go to a wine tasting or a cheese tasting, I actually managed to go to a potato tasting. Tasting about 6 different varieties of cold potato dishes (they were cold because Hungry In London & I, especially I, was terribly late and they (the Potato Council, Jean Christophe Novelli, Big Spud & Domestic Sluttery were sitting there waiting for us to arrive in Jean’s cosy Academy – we did manage to get the slowest train possible).
Why is there a potato council, I asked, not to sound too controversial but it felt like it. The room silenced as if I had made a complaint about the salad being cold! Its cos, like there is a council for beef or pork or chickens, there’s one for potatoes was the answer.
Potatoes are actually really good for you, says Jean Christophe in all seriousness. He’s been loving potatoes since his ma-ma had been cooking them in 7 different ways for her 7 different kids every night after school. “They are full of nutrients, vitamins and folic acid, especially with the skins on. So cook them with the skin.” Well, didn’t we all know that already and still don’t do it? “Its only bad for you once you load them with butter and cream,” says the Frenchman, who cooks French food…
Jean told us about his poor upbringing and how potatoes form so many dishes of his life, as we sat with lovely glasses of wine in his academy which costs £998 per lesson -by the way, you get a certificate and photo opportunity and everything including an over night stay in Luton town!
Then he made potatoes boulangere with a few bits of lamb– see The Roast Potato blog for Jean’s recipe. We got to have a spoonful of the cold version he/ someone made before we arrived. We even met his daughter, Christina Novelli who happens to be a pop star as well as his kitchen assistant. It was very exciting! He has assistants to turn on or off his Novelli ovens. It was bling!
Jean’s kitchen is covered in pictures of himself and all his achievements, not very English but ostentatiously French! And why not! We are in a French house! He has accomplished great successes in his lifetime.
This time, Jean Christophe is the face of Master Spud. You can win a chance to appear in a TV ad with him if you submit a winning recipe here at The Many Faces Of Potatoes site.
All the six potatoes all taste really different as you would hope at a potato tasting.. I love potatoes anyway, and we all really enjoyed the Marabel kind – no need for butter there as it actually tastes of butter already!
I tend to use Maris Pipers for everything but that is because my local supermarket only sells them, King Edwards, White, Baking or Charlottes. So isn’t it cool that the Potato Council are informing us that there are many other potatoes around? Great, but I can’t buy them! Perhaps they should speak to the buyers at all the supermarkets because I am sure we would buy them if they are around to buy.
The issue with potatoes is the supermarkets in my opinion (they do tend to rule the world these days). They even grow them in the sand in Egypt so that they don’t get soiley – preventing third world’s countries from their own crop grow for their own consumption as well as using all their water! Potatoes need a lot of water! Also how they only sell the right sized potato, the right looking shaped potato. The others get discarded.
I just hope Jean and the Potato Council can recommend that there is nothing wrong with dirt, odd shaped ones, small ones, big ones as well as all other different types of potatoes. Jean is unfortunately not going to change my mind about putting butter in my mash and I am going to roast my potatoes with fat (ok I use olive oil – see Ferdie’s potatoes recipes here for the perfect roastie and here for a beautiful Russian Salad)
As Jean was telling us some stories, I asked him about his dogs, he has 25 dogs roaming around in his farm! Most of them are Doberman Pinschers. I wondered if he has a dog walker, “no” but he says “I don’t trust them. I walk 6 on each hand and I do 2 rounds, it’s a dangerous business.”
Hungry In London and I giggled all the way home and wondered if Jean had the lamb boulangere for dinner that night as we were ushered with no immediate rush onto our cab back to the train station, being very hungry in Luton.
Click on Vimeo clip abaove to see Jean Christophe execute this dish