The GastroGays: “Frying is vilified and demonized – any decent cook will tell you that fat equals taste”
Fat, let’s face it, has gotten a bad rap over the past few decades. This beautiful, greasy, gelatinous, and extremely necessary food is often demonized and sometimes even banned from people’s diets altogether.
Yet fat is essential to survival – humans cannot function without it – and its role in a healthy diet is widely misunderstood. It’s a complex subject, but the problems only start when people eat too much of it, or really anything.
Hence the maxim of the authors of a new book celebrating everything that is cooked in hot fat – that there is no good and bad food, only good and bad eating habits. Russell Alford and Patrick Hanlon are big fans of fried and their new book, hot fatis a celebration of all things crunchy, crunchy, shiny and creamy.
At the same time, they insist that it’s entirely possible to enjoy fried food and not worry about gaining weight. The key is moderation.
“Fried foods are often maligned and demonized, but we think things have gone too far. So there’s no mention of dirty, dirty, or cheat food in the book, which is the kind of language people often associate with fried food,” says Alford. “The only time the word ‘dirty’ appears in the book is in reference to a martini, so that should tell you something.”
Alford and Hanlon go online as GastroGays, working days as food writers, content creators and consultants while hosting Chew the fat Podcast – which featured Nigella Lawson as a guest – in the evenings.
hot fat is her first book and will be published in May by Blasta Books, a new publishing company founded by food writer Kristin Jensen. It’s one of a series of new titles funded by a Kickstarter campaign that has proven that there is a huge demand for accessible and quirky food titles in Ireland.
“The whole concept of Blasta Books is fantastic and we have been there from the beginning. We wanted to have something fun and do something practical and educational, but also just life-affirming and enjoyable. It’s not a big book — it’s relatively modest in what it sets out to do, and we really hope people enjoy it,” says Hanlon.
The couple insist their new book is not a nutritional plan in any way. You are in no position to give anyone health advice and do not claim to be. Instead, it’s about reclaiming the indulgence and enjoyment that comes from putting the fat back on the plate in the right places and in the right ways.
“There is a lot of negativity towards fried food in Ireland; “The Dirty Fry” or fried breakfast is considered the worst thing to eat and something that people use to cure their hangovers. But done well, it can be a real treat,” says Alford.
“Likewise, breaded fish and chips can be just perfect on a sunny day at the beach. This is a truly delightful dish to eat. It’s about enjoying the food to the maximum, it’s about indulgence and joy and having the best flavor you can get.”
The couple points out that fried food doesn’t have to be oily, unhealthy, or greasy — instead, it can be light and fluffy, crispy, and filling.
“Talk to any decent cook and he will tell you that fat equals taste; that if you remove the fat from a dish, or try to, you end up spoiling the flavor. Frying food also adds texture to a meal. You don’t have to fry everything on one plate, but that crunchy element can make everything else stand out.
“So it’s not about telling people to eat fried food every day. It’s about making sure they’re getting the most of the calories when they want something truly satisfying. Our book isn’t really that different from all the books out there that focus on baking and desserts. You shouldn’t be eating these recipes every day, either,” says Alford.
hot fat it’s also about getting more out of a fryer if you have one.
“They’re bulky and unwieldy, but so many homes only use them for one thing, which is chips. And that’s great, but there are many, many other things you can cook in it. And indeed, you can improve the quality of some dishes by cooking them in a deep fryer at home,” he says.
“For example, I love takeout in all its forms, but let’s face it, most takeout restaurants don’t use the best ingredients when cooking, so you probably won’t get free-range chicken, eggs or pork. The ingredients might also not be of Irish origin. But when you make these dishes yourself at home, you have full control over what goes into them and you can get the best ingredients you can afford.”
On the subject of takeout, Alford says both he and his partner Hanlon despise the term “fakeaway,” but enjoy making their own take-out versions of popular dishes at home. Just don’t call them wrong.
“Who wants to eat something wrong? Instead of trying to create a cheerless version of the real, why not cook it right, enjoy it right, and eat it less often?” says Alford.
The GastroGays name is something they both look back on fondly and say it has served them well. Something that started out as a hashtag on Twitter has stayed with them for more than 10 years now.
“Back then, Twitter wasn’t the argumentative cesspool it is today—it was still uplifting and life-affirming. There you could find your tribe, exchange tips and help each other. We had only been a couple for a year or two but we both loved eating out so we started sharing our experiences online. The hashtag started out as a tongue-in-cheek joke, and it just stuck,” says Hanlon.
“It became a separate account and we built it into a proper website, Instagram, Snapchat and so on. It has got us two full time jobs since we came back from London to live here in 2017. The book is just the latest in a long line of ways we’ve worked with, in and around food.”
The pair began working for clients curating and advising on social media content, showing food brands what worked online and what didn’t before diving into the influencer world. They did food photography and styling, made videos and started a podcast. Basically, they pushed as hard as they could.
“Our currency is our authenticity and our transparency. People know they can trust us and that what you see is what you get. I think without that integrity, it would be a lot harder to sell people an idealized life online,” says Hanlon. “Anyone who follows us online knows who we are and what we stand for. If something is an ad then it will be clearly stated in our post and if we have been invited somewhere and we post about it we will say so too.”
Their work has resonated with people and they’ve been seen in print, on the radio and on TV, but the couple wouldn’t underestimate how hard they had to work to make it happen.
“The first year in particular was really scary, but I suppose every company is like that in the first year. We decided that we would give this a full calendar year before we gave up. We almost gave up, but slowly things started to work out,” says Alford.
“We are very lucky. We have been together as a couple since 2010 and have managed to stay together while working together. It’s not easy – it’s amazing we didn’t kill each other – but we’re in this together and we’re committed to it. All or nothing.”
Hanlon agrees, saying that like any work or love relationship, it’s not without its ups and downs.
“The boundaries are constantly blurring. We are never free and our poor house is also our office, our studio, our warehouse and our event space. But it’s also handy to have your partner around all the time, and we’re so in agreement that we’re thinking the same now,” he says.
“We can do a lot of cool things together and we have the same interests. We are a very good match and we spend the best times of our lives together.”
Hot Fat by Russell Alford and Patrick Hanlon, €15, is available from blastabooks.com
https://www.independent.ie/life/food-drink/the-gastrogays-fried-food-is-vilified-and-demonised-any-decent-chef-will-tell-you-fat-equals-flavour-41596624.html The GastroGays: “Frying is vilified and demonized – any decent cook will tell you that fat equals taste”