Why is Tony Hendra (AKA Ian Faith and the Academy's Dean of Wit) such an amazing cook? Tony is a master of details. He's got his program down. He only cooks his favorite foods and since he has spent decades doing so, his recipes and techniques are works of art, every time. We should all be so brilliant and dedicated; but in case you are at the early stages of your cooking life, or not as passionate as Tony, you can still learn lessons from Mr T.
Number One. There is no need to be a master of 100 recipes or to go to cooking school. A few favorite recipes perfected will see you through a lifetime of satisfying meals, and will always delight your family and friends, no matter what else is going on. Chaos can be raging like wildfire all around you, but if you can put a delicious dinner on the table, life calms down at least for a while. Amazing results come from just wanting to feed yourself and sharing that food with others. It's guaranteed that more people will love you. Gathering your crew for a nightly feast happens to be a smart way to manage a family too.
Tony has spent years choosing his tools, perfecting his knife skills, building collections which include antique, ridiculously thick, beyond gorgeous cutting boards which are almost too heavy to transport (I know because I wanted to steal them all); hand made ceramic casserole and Dutch ovens; every type of knife, including crescents. Tony's knife skills are as good as any chef's but Tony: please get yourself a better sharpener! You could do better than using other knife blades to sharpen. However, that doesn't really matter. Tony can bone a rabbit in less time than it takes me to make an Old Fashioned and he is capable of spellbinding everyone around him while carving a smoked duck.
Tony never makes the mistake of using too many ingredients. He also doesn't make stupid mistakes with knives or mise en place because he pays attention and focuses. Dinner and cooking is serious business to this man. Preparing dinner is his transition from the end of a hard days work to relaxing, creating in a form other than writing comedy and spending time with the people he loves.
Not for one moment would Tony consider standing up while eating, or not paying attention to his food. Every day is a celebration of food and wines and cheese, especially cheese. No matter where he goes this guy carries his own butter, chocolate and cheese like the rest of us carry our lipstick and cash. Even on planes! He is so picky that he hides his chocolate and cheese in his own house so he does not have to share. These traits do not mean Tony is greedy. Rather, it means that when he craves a certain pick-me-up, he doesn't want to find his food stash stolen. When I needed an afternoon boost I poked around the kitchen and discovered his chocolate bars behind the spice jars. Nothing get past the Dean. His favorite brand of chocolate? Ritter Sport with Whole Hazelnuts. Finding his cheese is easy because he likes the stinky kind (especially époisses) so stinky that his family insists it be kept in hard-to-find nooks.
As a rule, never ever throw away bones, ever! Tony’s ghost might haunt you. His pots of stock simmer at all hours on back burners. This man is a stock master, the real stock broker. He has stock on hand at all times (in the freezer or on the stove) to flavor any sauce or deglaze a pan. Spoonfuls of stock of this quality transform the plainest fillet into scrumptuous meals.
Tony's expertise after decades of cooking? Knowing the exact second to take a breast duck out of the pan and place on the plate. Knowing how to dissolve a family crisis with a family meal. Knowing that the simplest dish made well will bring a table to silence with the very first bite. Knowing how to make a dinner party go on for hours. Knowing how to get those guest to leave. Knowing the secrets of a beautiful life. Can you see why the Dean loves Tony?
Finally, Tony's tips for the world's best cousous: measure exactly the same amount of stock and grain. That is the KEY to great couscous; plus sliced braised leeks, freshly ground cumin, ras el hanout (it's fresh if it smells good), yellow raisins all mixed together when couscous is ready...