more about me, food and writing . . .


marmaduke scarlet: who am I?

My name is Rachel Kelly, living and cooking in North London, obsessed about food and an enthusiastic, if amateur cook, writing a foodblog because I love trying out new recipes and ingredients and sharing this with my friends (generally a pool of willing guinea pigs).

I am often challenge some of my own prejudices about food and recipes; I’ve taken Jeffrey Steingarten’s “The Man Who Ate Everything” view to heart that he couldn’t really write well about food unless he rid himself of his prejudices. (Well I have mostly attempted to. Nothing of course will ever make me eat beetroot or bananas, although I have learned to love couscous).

Despite the piles of cookbooks that litter my house and generally provide me with useful ideas, I love surfing the net for inspiration too. One of my frustrations has been that there aren’t really many websites for people like me? That probably sounds a bit grandiose! What I mean by “people like me” is someone who doesn’t really need to be babied through the basics of cookery but one who does like to know the implications of what I am doing. I am not a scientist. I’d even go so far as to admit that on my school report at 13, my physics teacher wrote “her decision to give up physics was a wise one”! But I am interested in some of the underlying science of cooking. I will freely admit that my copy of Harold McGee’s “On Food” is largely unread, but I would love someone to explain to me why you need to do certain things at particular times or tell me about some of the properties of ingredients or techniques, the sort of thing in fact covered in books such as “Don’t Sweat the Aubergine” by Nicholas Clee and several others.

I am also interested in the history of food; why we do what we do and the way that we do it; how we Brits have absorbed (not to say nicked) ideas and ingredients from around the world over the centuries. For some years I have also been interested in some of our lost knowledge and the decline of regional cooking in the UK. And it’s not just about lost knowledge, I am also passionate about eating seasonally; being far much in sympathy with which British fruit and vegetables are available right now.

I am fascinated about how we don’t “make do” the way we used to; apparently the UK throws away a third of its food every year, which then ends up in landfills. But in these tough recession-hit times we should probably be erring on the side of frugality. Food is one of most people’s biggest expenditures and I am as keen to save money as the next person. Clearly one of the ways to do this is to eat at home, so my passion could actually save me money too. And I do enjoy trying to find creative ways to use up leftovers without getting too bored.

And lastly, I love to know about the provenance and history of a recipe. What made you cook it? Where did it come from? Was there a “quest” involved? I am not so interested in learning about your friends and neighbours or your neighbour’s dog (unless of course the food ended up inside the neighbour’s dog) but I am interested in how you came to cook that recipe and what you learned from it. What I want is tried and tested. I don’t want something that has been cut and pasted from someone else’s website. I don’t mind that you are using someone else’s recipe, but I would like to know where it was sourced and how you varied it; what worked and what didn’t. I even enjoy learning about your culinary disasters or your own food prejudices. Frankly, I think us beetroot and banana haters should stick together. And it is always possible that if say you hate anchovies, that I can convert you with a persuasive recipe. Or perhaps not (some things aren’t meant to be changed!)

So why the website? Well as I was bemoaning one night with a few friends over a couple of small sherries that I couldn’t find what I was looking for on the web; how much rubbish and plagiarism there was out there in the internet ether, someone said “well why don’t you set up your own site?” . . . er . . . quite. Why didn’t I? So I did.

Why Marmaduke Scarlet? Well, right then and there one of my friends set me up with a website account. He gave me about five minutes to come up with a domain name and the Marmaduke Scarlet was my answer.

Who is Marmaduke Scarlet? He is a fictional chef in one of my favourite children’s books “The Little White Horse” by Elizabeth Goudge (and the film “Return to Moonacre”). Marmaduke is a grumpy, misogynistic and gnomish chef who cooks like a dream . . . ahem.

Has my blog changed me? Well it has energised me and enervated me in a way I would never have suspected. I have rediscovered my passion for cooking and entertaining, but just as importantly my love of writing. I am also enjoying all the intricacies of learning to build a blog as well as my own website. And digital photography is finally beginning to make sense!

It is a cliché to say that all of this is a labour of love. It's more than that; an absolute joy. Frankly I can’t understand why it has taken me so long!