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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Lettuce Pray for the Victims of Violence in Cooking

A funny thing happened on my way to dinner in London last week. I was walking up Regent's Park Road in Primrose Hill on my way to reserve a table at a certain Greek Cypriot restaurant whose name sounds something like Lemon (that ought to disguise it enough) when the gentle hum of village life was suddenly rent asunder by the sound of a helicopter roaring overhead.

Not a typical Primrose Hill scene. It hovered near the park, causing picnickers to evacuate with speed, and then came to land, barely squeaking in between the trees. As I stood there with my mouth in the shape of agape, three people burst out of the helicopter wearing full orange protective clothing and bulky rucksacks and started sprinting down the street toward me. Hmmm, I thought. I didn't realize the OMON security forces would find me so fast, but they too were seen heading toward the Lemon restaurant, my very own destination, with half the village in curious tow.

And yes, of course, I followed. Being a journalist and knowing that you would all be agog with curiosity, I felt I had every right to crane my neck and have a good old sticky beak look. Couldn't see a thing. But evidently there had been An Incident. "Some irate bugger has gone and stabbed the cook," a sprightly geriatric gleefully explained. And the persons in orange garb were not out to get me, but to get the chef's intestines back into their rightful place.

Dinner's off at the Lemon tonight I thought, so I walked up the road and made a booking at Odette's instead. (Twice as expensive as the Lemon, but they do a fabulous monkfish in ginger and serve a wicked apricot tart.) Now I have always felt that cooking was a violent sport -- torturing vegetables, doing unspeakable things to chickens, scalding, searing, holding things slowly over naked flames. But to go one step further and actually insert a very sharp knife into a very soft tummy of a very talented practitioner seemed to be going a step too far.

The news was confirmed by a friend of mine who was the consulting surgeon at the hospital where the chef had been whisked. But he had an even juicier piece of news to tell. The knife wielder was none other than the Greek restaurant's other chef.

Well! That must have been some spat. Naturally speculation was rife around the Primrose Hill tables that night: Maybe the first chef didn't have a sense of humus. What a pita. Watch the stringy bits in the stew. Some even contended that the helicopter was not delivering medics at all, but rather it was a crack force of emergency chefs called in at hasty notice to do what they could to save the moussaka.

Needless to say, the restaurant that night was packed and will be until the chef comes out of hospital and relates his tale. I have my spies in place to pass the news on the minute it breaks. And in the meantime, I fancy people will be sticking to less aggressive fare.

A soothing salad perhaps? Vegetables in a light broth? This recipe is from Myrtle Allen on Ballymaloe House in Ireland and will serve four to six.

Cucumber, Lettuce and Mint Soup

2 tablespoons butter

4 medium potatoes, peeled and diced

2 medium onions, peeled and chopped

2 large cucumbers, diced, but not peeled

1 liter chicken stock

2 cups lettuce leaves, shredded and diced

Salt and pepper

Chopped mint


Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan. When it starts to foam, add the potatoes and onions and turn them in the butter until they are well coated. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cover with a lid and sweat them on a gentle heat for about 10 minutes.

Add the cucumber and pour in the chicken stock. Bring the soup to a boil and then turn down to a simmer and cook until the cucumber is almost soft. Add the shredded lettuce and simmer for just one minute more.

Remove from the heat and cool a little. Then liquidize the soup, adjust the seasoning and mix in the chopped mint. Serve in bowls with a swirl of cream and a little more mint.