Magazine article The Spectator

Food

Magazine article The Spectator

Food

Article excerpt

OK, the game's up. I admit it. I don't know anything about food. Worse, I like salad cream. Sometimes, even, I yearn for salad cream and can feel quite faint for the lack of it. When, recently, Heinz said they were about to stop producing salad cream something ludicrous to do with it not quite fitting into the condiment culture of the new millennium - I had to be talked down from the ledge. You may, actually, have seen this as it was broadcast quite extensively on SCN - Salad Cream News - a special, subscription-only satellite channel for people totally fed up with CNN, which rarely covers salad-cream issues in any meaningful depth, if at all.

When it comes to food, I just can't seem to get anything right. I can go to Tesco and spend L100 and still have nothing for supper. How does that happen? And cooking? Well, I failed the practical of my home economics O-level because no one told me you had to cut a cauliflower up for cauliflower cheese. Mine looked like a nuclear test-explosion in the Pacific. The last time I really made an effort was for my son's fourth birthday when I stayed up until 4 a.m. - 4 a.m! - to make him a football cake, complete with green icing and little Subbuteo men. However, it was worth it. Indeed, he was so thrilled when he saw it that he burst into tears and said, `But, mummy, I wanted a Power Ranger one from Tesco.' I wouldn't have minded so much but it did taste absolutely terrible. You know that dry, polystyrene stuff flower arrangers use? It tasted like that stuff looks as if it might taste. And, do you know, I am going on 40 and I have never, ever had a dinner party. Until now.

I want to learn to cook. Truly, I do. I do get fed up with salad cream on Sunblest, scrummy as it is. I want to be able to cook, and have people over who say, `This is wonderful. You must give me the recipe' and, `Might we just watch the final bulletin on SCN before we go?' So, I will have a dinner party. I will even buy a cookbook. But whose? Well, being a child of the TV age, I will choose a TV chef. But which?

Delia? Too mumsy. Dresses like a lady cellist. Ainsley Harriott? Ohhhhh, what am I like? Annoying! Shove off! Gary Rhodes? Will someone please, please tell him that his increasingly absurd, sticky-up hair-do is moronic, not postmodern ironic. That somewhere along the line he's not only lost the plot, but also the `post' and `dern' and `i'. Nigella Lawson? Too scarily perfect. Wears pale pink cashmere sweaters, I bet, and washes things according to their washing instructions, rather than bunging everything in and hoping for the best. Jamie Oliver? Yes, Jamie Oliver. He's the `in' chef at the moment, isn't he? His second book, The Return of the Naked Chef, is topping all the bestseller lists. OK, he is a bit weedy. OK, I wouldn't fancy his chances in an armwrestling contest with, say, Clarissa Dickson Wright. (But, then, I wouldn't fancy Mike Tyson's chances in an arm-wrestling contest with Clarissa Dickson Wright.) But he does have bee-stung lips and a spiral staircase, and that's enough to do it for me.

So I get the book, then invite my guests. These are my Uncle Derek, a 70-year-old intellectual and George Eliot scholar who is kept awake at night by such questions as `Was Daniel Deronda circumcised?', and his wife, Jessy, who is younger than me, and their son, Jonah, who is eight. I know I've cheated a bit here. I know they will not be especially tough critics. …

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