I eat when I’m stressed. I eat when I am unhappy, I eat when I am unwell, and I eat when I am agitated. Unfortunately, I also eat when I am happy, I eat when I am well, and I eat when I am calm. I have what I believe is known as an unhealthy relationship with food, which, in my case, means that absolutely everything I would choose to eat, is unhealthy – especially in the quantities in which I eat it.
Now, I don’t want you to think that everything I eat is unhealthy; it isn’t. I eat loads of healthy shit, but given the choice I probably wouldn’t. If I could find a way to persuade myself that a diet of chocolate and peanuts would get me past my next birthday, I would go for it. Who on this earth would choose to eat broccoli if it wasn’t good for them? Analyse it: is it pleasant to put into your mouth? No. Does it taste good? No. If it was bad for you, would you still eat it? No, no, no.
This is what chefs do: take a bunch of stuff that you wouldn’t normally put anywhere near your mouth and mix it together in such a way that you think, “Well, that looks almost good enough to eat.” So you do. There is a whole tranche of TV cooks – ok, there’s Nigella Lawson – for whom the whole process of preparing a dish is to make the final shot of her eating it as close to oral sex as possible: “Right Nigella, we’re doing courgettes et poivrons dans une sauce tomate et vin rouge au basilica, so how would you like us to prepare the vegetables?”
“Oh sod that, just give me the courgette. I’ll eat it whole. You’ll need lots of cameras…”
This, I suddenly realise, is the true essence of modern cookery: take something that is basically inedible, but good for you (this is, of course, a constantly shifting page) and mix it up with something – anything – that will tempt you to put it in your mouth, and with this fleeting realisation comes the hint of a way ahead for me. A pathway. Here’s the plan…
- Make a list of things that are beneficial to your health, but are basically not anything that you would ever want to swallow – okra, calabrese, swede, kale, an insurance salesman’s promises.
- Make a list of things that you can’t stop eating, despite the knowledge that (until general medical opinion changes – e.g. next Wednesday) they will almost certainly kill you – chocolate, butter, cream, fudge and obfuscation.
- Devise manifold ways of covering various items from list one with those from list two.
- Make a TV show and publish a lavishly illustrated book.
- Wonder about how you are ever going to spend all that money.
Let us consider the humble potato. Potatoes are eaten in a number of ways: they might be baked and served with lashings of butter, mashed with lashings of butter, roasted in something rendered off an unfortunate goose, or cut into small batons and fried. Without the application of fat, potatoes are seldom eaten.
Now, I must admit that, to date, my early attempts at food fusions have not been wholly successful. The Okra in Chocolate Sauce, for instance, was not terribly palatable initially and, after I experimented with the addition of peanut butter, had a most unfortunate colour and texture, reminiscent of slugs in gravel. I still remain uncertain what to do with the broccoli, but I’m thinking that salted caramel might be the way forward – it’s trendy, it’s salty, and it looks like the middle layer of a Mars Bar: what’s not to love? As long as there’s enough of the sauce to mask all traces of that flaccid dendroidal brassica’s malevolent tang (Hint: there is never enough of anything to mask its malevolent tang) then I must be on to a winner. N.B. broccoli is actually slightly less loathsome when uncooked and even more so when uneaten. I have tried everything I can think of with kale (up to, and including, Walnut Whip) and I have discovered that there is absolutely no way of making it even mildly pleasurable to eat. The nearest I have got is by sautéing it lightly in butter with garlic and white wine, before throwing the whole lot straight into the bin.
For many people, taste is a visual thing: if it looks good, they will eat it. These people have never eaten a whelk. Specialist food photographer’s have many tricks to make food look appetising on the page, from spraying with water to dousing in oil. For myself, I cannot think of a single foodstuff that doesn’t look better with a glace cherry on top. If God had not made apples look so alluring, we might still be residing in the Garden of Eden. Mind you, I can’t help but feeling that long, long ago, a million-times removed antecedent of today’s oyster must have looked at itself sans shell and thought, ‘well, nobody’s ever going to want to eat me,’ but people do – generally overweight business men attempting to seduce a much younger and terminally disinterested secretary with a plate of half-dead molluscs and a plastic cupful of warm champagne, before going home to a wife who does not understand him* and children who view him only as a peripatetic wallet. I have looked a shucked oyster in the face before now and, I promise you, the last thing it made me think about was sex. The first thing it made me think about was where I could hide it that wouldn’t stain the carpet and smell strongly of dead bi-valve the next time the central heating was turned on. Evolution gave oysters the protection of looking as though they had already been eaten – and that they didn’t agree with whatever did it. If only God had made apples look like oysters and taste like okra, we’d all be in a better place.
And if he’d made chocolate healthy, I wouldn’t have been so stressed in the first place.
*She does. That is why she has just spent the afternoon in the company of the vet’s de-worming assistant, hake and chips in the gazebo and PG Tips for two under the duvet.