It’s the time of the year when, according to tradition, a look back over the preceding 12 months is in order.
And who am I to buck such a trend?
Sometimes this is a general review, but it can be specific to a subject too.
So here – but in no particular order – are a few of my favourite food-based memories from the last 360-odd days.
Meal of the year
It has to be that charity dinner in the spring at The Zetter, with Raymond Blanc and Bruno Loubet cooking, for pretty much obvious reasons.
Memorable it most certainly was – perhaps particularly because we could spot, easily, who was behind which course. And because it was clear that Blanc had brought with him produce from his kitchens at Le Manoir – the baby vegetables that somehow managed to be jam-packed with flavour and the air-dried duck that he’d been demonstrating on the television only a week earlier.
Single course of the year
The marrowbone at 7e Vin in Paris. Utter fabulousness.
I called it food for the soul then – I’m sticking with that now. My first experience of marrowbone in Carcassonne in July was good: this managed to be even better.
Restaurant of the year
Bistrot Bruno Loubet. No longer a discovery for us, but now a firm favourite – consistently wonderful food.
But also a mention for Au Casot in Collioure – not least because it’s wonderful to eat such simple but fresh and first-rate seafood right next to a beach, overlooking such an incredible scene.
Restaurant discovery of the year
L'Amphitryon in Collioure. Finally, a genuinely memorable ‘posh’ eatery in our favourite place.
The cod with aïoli (pictured left) was quite superb, while the cassis sorbet re-introduced me to blackcurrants – I could happily have eaten it by the bucket.
Never mind Ribena: this was something very grown up.
Then there was Two Fat Ladies at the Buttery in Glasgow, which came up a really excellent – and stunningly good value – Sunday lunch, and Michael Caines @Abode in Manchester, where I enjoyed an excellent tasting menu.
Best fast food of the year
Fish and chips, done properly, in dripping and with proper mushy peas, in a small cafe on the dock side at Scarborough. It took 10 minutes to cook from the start – so that's 'fast' in my book.
And it was gorgeous.
Book of the year (recipes)
This might be about to be Michel Roux’s Desserts, but otherwise, Raymond Blanc’s Kitchen Secrets.
Book of the year
Raymond Blanc’s A Taste of My Life, for the reasons explained here.
But special mentions also for Matthew Fort’s Eating Up Italy, Nigel Slater’s Toast and the very, very important Shopped: The shocking power of Britain’s supermarkets by Joanna Blythman, which also made me take stock and adjust my life.
Personal achievement of the year
Christmas Day – lunch and dinner, not least for the presentation, but also for managing to plan it effectively enough to stop it being a trial.
And realising that I can now cook a few dishes without constant recourse to a recipe. That felt like a sort of culinary coming of age.
Gadget of the year
The mandolin and the mincer attachment for my mixer are good, but it has to be my potato ricer, which is just fabulous because it makes really fabulous potato purée.
Investment of the year
After umming and erring about it for some time, I finally shelled out for some Le Creuset – and realised instantly why it was worth it.
And after mentioning it here, a number of readers told me that they wouldn’t be without it.
Quality pays off.
Ingredient discovery of the year
Lard. Simple as. After Oliver Thring’s article on the subject in the Guardian early this year, I started exploring the issue – not just of lard, but of natural fats.
And I started cooking with them too, with great results. Lard and dripping are cheaper than the over-promoted artificial, so-called ‘healthy’ fats too. Any connection, one wonders?
But honorable mentions also go to the Bath Soft Cheese Co for Bath Soft and Wyfe of Bath, plus pigeon breasts, which are an all-year pleasure, and frogs’ legs, which were a very pleasant surprise.
And I can't forget blackcurrants – but that was less a discovery and more a re-discovery, as mentioned above.
Favourite ingredient of the year
Rhubarb still rates highly. One of these days I'll manage to create something really special with it, but in the meantime, I edged closer with a number of experiments – some more successful than others – in the early part of the year
Non-eating culinary moment of the year
Meeting Raymond Blanc. Charming and passionate. I’m afraid I was close to being rendered speechless.
Not quite – but it was a close-run thing.
Food TV of the year
Masterchef: The Professionals and Service, both of which saw Michel Roux Jnr soaring in my estimation.
Thank goodness we’ve left the era of chefs having to be shouty bullies. He treated people with respect and understood the difference between objective and subjective criticism.
Both programmes were not just competitions, but were also about giving people real opportunities to develop. And his demonstrations of classic dishes on the former programme were just an education.
The former too was about real people with real talent and skill – something sadly lacking in so much so-called 'reality TV' these days.
But let’s not forget Kitchen Secrets with Raymond Blanc – educational and enormously entertaining.
Cultural surprise of the year
It came late in the year – Christmas Day – but the Disney/Pixar animated feature Ratatouille is a delight – and a big surprise, not least because it champions food as pleasure over food as fuel, and it also links memory and food.
And it’s funny and gloriously animated. The kitchen scenes are extraordinary, full stop. But the realisation of food in an animation is nothing short of astonishing.
I've been fond of animation since I was child – this brilliantly brought this together with food. A wonderful combination!