Sunday, 27 June 2010

Nigel is my Inspiration

The idea behind this blog is Nigel Slater's The Kitchen Diaries. It's first and foremost a wonderfully useful cookery book - the sort that helps you learn to cook almost as if you're watching someone whose taste and skill you trust implicitly do it in front of you, hearing their internal monologue about what they're choosing, how they're cooking it, how long for, with what. Somehow much better than actually watching them, or even him, on telly, and almost as good as watching someone you love cook for you.

It's also a complete delight to read, so sensual, so compellingly intimate, that it's entirely possible to pick it up off the shelf looking for something to make for supper - opening it, say, in mid-June - and find yourself still there, half an hour later, deep in October, anticipating autumn and cool enough weather to eat Nigel's 'sweet, slightly hot and absurdly sticky' pork ribs with honey and anise or macaroni with fontina and mustard, followed by a spinach salad and chilled Conference pears. It's a wonderful insight to the mind of someone who's extraordinarily knowledgeable about his subject and completely enthusiastic about it: just his daily thoughts on something that he knows a lot about and thinks a lot about.

What I particularly like about the way Slater writes in this book (I know he's written more personally in others) is how he writes with such immediacy and passion about food (and the weather, intimately connected to what he's eating, as well as his garden) and yet reveals almost nothing about the rest of his life and preoccupations. You feel you know him, and you like him enormously for what's shown on the pages - humour, self-deprecation, warmth, greed (but also austerity; he's no Nigella), a wonderfully distractable quality, great and detailed powers of observation - and yet despite the intimacy of his writing you really know nothing more about him than that he likes to cook and eat. There's no glimpse of a lover, or parents or children, or of anything more than how many people's he's cooking for on any given day (usually one or 2; sometimes 6; very rarely more than that); no hints about movies he likes or books he reads or holidays he takes or stresses at work.

So I was flicking through The Kitchen Diaries the other week, as I often do, idly searching for something I thought I remembered seeing, some kind of pasta with mint and lemon zest, and admiring Nigel's writing. That made me wish I could write a book that gave as much pleasure as this one does for me, and that made me think that an author's passion, combined with knowledge, is usually a large contributor to what makes their books pleasurable for a reader.

And then I realised that the only thing I could possibly write about with which I have a similar relationship to Nigel's with food is reading. Not just books - though they have their own delights - but the act of reading. Which in its own way is as pleasurable as eating and just as vital. How can I explain the worlds it opens up for me, the thrills it makes me feel? It's strange that a mostly sedentary and solitary activity can make you feel so alive, so connected, so human. Anyway. Here's to Nigel.

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