Meet the Expert – Glynn Christian

Meet the Expert

Please could you tell us about yourself?

My blood pounds with pioneering. Is this because I am a gt-gt-gt-gt grandson of Fletcher Christian, leader of the 1789 mutiny on Bounty and of his revolutionary Tahitian wife Mauatua? Possibly. There’s always been questioning, questing and exploring, continued inevitably after I arrived from NZ in 1965 to share the excitements of Swinging London.

At 21 I had single-handedly written, produced and directed for one of the first radio and TV departments in an Auckland advertising agency. Having won prizes and seen my commercials exhibited abroad, I wondered how good I was on the world stage. Through Kiwi associates in London I was the first brochure writer for Clarksons, who created the back-to-back jet-based inclusive holiday. I was there before holidaymakers in Majorca, Menorca, Ibiza, on the Costas, Italy, Jugoslavia, North Africa, the Caribbean and more. Clarksons’ boss Tom Gullick insisted I wrote about local food specialties, saying clients might never eat them (olive oil was for ear ache) but that they felt more at home recognising dishes than a 12th century church. This is how I discovered a singular skill – tell me a food fact and I remember it forever, just as others endlessly spout football scores or pop lyrics. I realised that knowing how ingredients worked, created better tastes than blindly following recipes.

In 1974, these experiences generated MR CHRISTIAN’S, a delicatessen just off Portobello Rd market, now credited with a major role in changing specialty-food retailing in Britain – at last you could get what Elizabeth David talked about, as well as unpasteurised cheese, proper ice cream and yoghurt, real bread, rose water, fresh yeast – so many things. This led to Cheese and Cheese Making (MacDonald) and then broadcasting weekly on LBC radio, each slot based on an ingredient.

Days after I turned 40, I was talking about the UK ingredient revolution (eg farmed salmon) on BBC TV’s Pebble Mill at One, followed by years of three mornings a week on ground-breaking BBC Breakfast Time TV. Here I honed my personal style, basing broadcasts journalistically on ingredients with a Glynn Gosh Factor – I didn’t expect you to make my Sweetcorn Fritters but did want you to know that the longer you cook corn, the tougher it gets. There was also A Cook’s Tour, the first foodie TV series filmed abroad, others including Sri Lanka, China and Royal Thailand, a fish series, a tea series plus over 20 episodes of The Entertaining Microwave, the first and only such TV series. And then there’s the first bio of Fletcher Christian – and so on . . . Gosh! Did I really?

Why did you pursue a career in food?

It wasn’t my idea. I came to Britain to write film, and did so. Her Private Hell is the UK’s first successful ‘blue’ movie, available from BFI. I used food and entertaining to help, which expanded excitingly as I travelled for Clarksons and shared new ingredients and styles. I think I was first to broadcast the use of phyllo pastry and certainly introduced pink peppercorns. But it was someone else’s idea to do the deli and to call it Mr Christian’s. TV came about after I was interviewed as an explorer about my sailing expedition to Pitcairn Island, researching the first bio of Fletcher Christian. It was someone else’s idea that I should be Elle UK’s first food editor, have the honour of writing for the Sunday Telegraph weekly for so long, creating books for Sainsbury’s, leading foodie cruises, being UK judge at the Hong Kong Food Festival, help start QVC here and TVSN in Sydney. I never had to apply for a job.

What is your biggest achievement/lesson you have learnt?

The greatest comfort is knowing from direct feedback that my ingredient Gosh Factors have been far more useful than mere recipes but also that after almost 40 years some recipes are still being used, like Hello Sailor! Bread and Butter Pudding.

REAL FLAVOURS, The Handbook of Gourmet and Deli Ingredients was voted Best Food Book in the world and the prestigious Guild of Fine Food gave me a Lifetime Achievement Award for the contribution the book, my broadcasts and other work had made to the specialty-food trade, as well as for pioneering work on The Great Taste Awards, which I am proud to have named.

You can’t write responsibly about the mutiny on HMAV BOUNTY without using FRAGILE PARADISE, the first-ever bio of Fletcher Christian, or its latest version: FLETCHER CHRISTIAN BOUNTY MUTINEER. I’m equally proud of MRS CHRISTIAN BOUNTY MUTINEER, the astonishing story of the revolutionary Polynesian women who sailed to Pitcairn Island aboard BOUNTY and later became the first women in the world to have the vote, in 1838.

How do you use your favourite ingredient and why?

This is hard because I use a wide range as a matter of principle. My current favourite is Baharat, a mix of sweet spices with an unexpected preponderance of clove and a touch of cayenne. Some versions can be far too hot (I never say spicy when heat is meant – how do you then describe something with lots of spice in it?) but Seasoned Pioneers’ blend is beautifully balanced. It is a universal pick-me-up on scrambled eggs, stewed with duck, on baked potatoes and savoury scones, even in apple pie. I bet it’s great in ice cream, perhaps with very ripe banana, maybe mango.

How have you spent your time during lockdown?

Same old, same old. Like most writers I am used to a solitary life and so have noticed little change. There has been patchworking in my informal style, and work on a (pioneering) book about the totally misunderstood life of history’s Invisible Horde of eunuchs. Thick-based Neapolitan-style pizza, curries, hot scones and warm bread pudding have been delivered to apartment neighbours. Oh, and there’s been the joyful discovery of microwave jam; small amounts of superbly coloured single and mixed fruit jams in five to seven minutes. White-peach and raspberry jam in your cream sponge, anyone?

Cauliflower-Ribs-with-Baharat-Dates-and-Pomegranate-Molasses

Could you share your favourite recipe?

Cauliflower Ribs with Baharat, Dates and Pomegranate Molasses

A remarkably well-behaved recipe, so you can vary the ingredients to suit your palate. Orange zest would be a good alternative to the lemon. Cook longer if your microwave is less than 1000 watts.

Serves 1 as a vegetarian main, 2 as a first course, more as part of a mixed choice

250g cauliflower ribs
1 or 2 teaspoons butter
Zest of half a lemon
1 heaped teaspoon or more Baharat Spice Blend
4-6 dates
Pomegranate Molasses
Salt and pepper to serve

  1. Cut the ribs into pieces 5 cms (2”) long. The ribs do not need to have much or any leaf attached. Lay them flat in a microwave-safe dish, cover, and microwave (1000 watts) for three minutes.
  2. Uncover, stir in butter to your taste, zest the lemon directly over the ribs, add the Baharat. Cut or pull the dates into three or four pieces each, discarding the stones; about 12 pieces is a good number. Mix well, cover and microwave for one minute. The ribs should retain a little crispness but can be cooked longer if you like.
  3. Serve and then add dots or threads of molasses, salt and pepper.

Explore Glynn Christian’s books

REAL FLAVOURS – The Handbook of Gourmet and Deli Ingredients. Grub Street

Voted World’s Best Food Book

“Thought I understood ingredients until I read this – now I really do. This should be the first book any cook reads.” (Verified purchaser UK)

HOW TO COOK WITHOUT RECIPES Portico Books

“…food-lovers should grab this profoundly well-informed work of culinary theory.”
— The Independent on Sunday, 29th June 2008

Available with a wide range of Sainsbury’s and TV tie up books on Amazon Books or ABE.com

FLETCHER CHRISTIAN BOUNTY MUTINEER (previously Fragile Paradise) Amazon Books or ABE.com

“To be a complete expert on the Mutiny on the Bounty one needs to do the following:
1. Read this book.
2. Read Sir John Barrow’s account of the affair.
Done. You are a Bounty expert.” (Verified purchaser, USA)

MRS CHRISTIAN BOUNTY MUTINEER

“A fantastic read, many facts interspaced with a good story made it a must for any ‘Bounty’ fans out there”. (Verified purchaser UK)

“Thank Mauatua, thanks Fletcher and thank you very much Glynn for this wonderful book. Essential for those who love the story of the Bounty and Pitcairn. (Verified purchaser UK)

The HRT For Men Imperatives – “A must-read for every man over 55, and for the women and men who love them” Amazon Books or ABE.com

Forthcoming: PALACE EUNUCHS and CASTRATI VOICES – An Invisible Horde of Disconnected Lives and Loves

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