I remember the moment when hip-hop came to Birmingham. The Gilmartin brothers, the sort of heartthrobs of my school in Chelmsley Wood, were given a spot during assembly to demonstrate their break dancing skills.
A square of lino was laid down and away they went spinning on their heads and caterpillaring across the floor. It was 1987 and Public Enemy had released their first album Yo! Bum the Rush Show.
That summer I watched transfixed as the rappers performed on Top of the Pops with Flavour Flav jigging around, an alarm clock hanging round his neck. All I wanted, at that particular moment, was to experience New York.
Some three years later I was walking through Greenwich Village on my first visit to the city. During the trip I had my first taste of Mexican food. Today, when supermarkets heave with produce from around the world, being 17 and not knowing what a chili pepper looks or tastes like would be a sign of bad parenting.
But that’s how it was on my estate in 1990 – we just about had broccoli! That trip to America introduced me to the delights of different flavours and I’m always looking for opportunities to expand my knowledge.
Which is why I was delighted to be invited to a masterclass on flavour given by the chef Neil Nugent. Nugent is the co-owner of York restaurant J Baker’s Bistro, loved by the likes of AA Gill and lauded by many foodies.
The location was L’atelier de Chefs in Wigmore Street, a gorgeous space that hosts cookery courses. This was not a recipe class but one that showed how best to get flavour from food and that included busting a few myths. Neil started by demonstrating how butter actually masks flavour.
He made a tomato risotto, cooking the dish without butter and asking us to taste it and then adding butter for a second taste to see which we preferred. Sans butter was so much more interesting, you could really feel the natural tomato flavour in your mouth.
We then tasted a buttersquash soup that had not been salted and then with salt added. Again, as Neil explained, when you added the salt that was the main flavour that came through – hiding the taste of the squash.
Next up, salad dressing made with water not oil as, according to Neil, water is a better carrier for flavour. He created a tangy dressing with fresh lime, ginger and soy sauce mixed with water. It reminded me of the food I enjoyed so much in South East Asia. The sharpness came through rather than drowned out by olive oil.
Finally, we tasted asparagus skinned and with light shavings of Parmesan cheese rather than sprinkling salt all over this delicate vegetable. Neil left us with another top tip – don’t store potatoes in the fridge as the cold kicks off a process where the starches turn to sugars. And that does not make for good chips!