Photograph by Ching
Some people think in colours. I think in food. While others may remember their travels via awe-inspiring archaeology or stunning sunsets, I remember places by smell and taste. These include a trolley the size of a Toyota hatchback carrying pungent local cheeses in France. Some cheeses were shrouded in ash, others studded with herbs, sitting under a glass dome in creamy perfection.
Or the perfect dumpling soup made by the cleaner in my husband’s office in Shanghai. I still dream of those little parcels. They opened to reveal a gift of perfectly pink pork, flecked with vibrantly green spring onions, bobbing around in a golden broth. Glistening with oil and served with a smattering of white pepper, they still make my mouth water.
I like to write about food even more than I like to eat it. The glorious revelry of a great meal, without even having eaten a thing, is like having the option of an extra snack each day. It makes you hungry before lunch, while writing in afternoons leaves you cravenly anticipating dinner. Fine dining, café culture, restaurant reviews, a simple slice of hot buttered bread, chocolate, cocktails… there is no end of possibility to food fiction, its many pleasures and the intriguing history behind cuisine.
I’ve interviewed Michelin star chefs who have been charming (like Raymond Blanc) and others who have been unable to concentrate for 20 minutes, being too busy to try and impress the crowd.
I write about food because I love writing and I adore eating. When both passions combine it’s a pleasure, not a chore. They say if you perfect a passion you will get paid to do it. I’m lucky that I get paid for my passions, although even after nearly three decades of writing, and almost five of eating, I wouldn’t consider having mastered either one.
Many people profess themselves to be food writers, often thinking that if they start blogging it will be an open invitation to free meals. Others couldn’t imagine anything worse. Even some seasoned writers come out in a cold sweat if asked to pen 500 words of gastronomic praise.
All I know is that I enjoy food writing and I am a firm believer that if you can do something you are passionate about, it shows, whether that’s writing or baking.
Baking is another a passion of mine, and I’ve been known to whip up cakes for every occasion including three tier wedding cakes – and even a birthday cake in the shape of a hotdog for my son’s 17th birthday.
Perhaps it’s the happiness that food evokes which makes it so important to me. Food is one of the simple pleasures that make life worth living. A flawless avocado keeps me happy for hours, and chocolate covered orange peel has been known to reduce me to hot tears of joy.
My idea of a perfect present is a culinary gadget or a cookbook. They’re more interesting to me than any novel. My friends warned my husband he was heading for divorce the year he bought me ‘just’ a blender for Christmas – I couldn’t have been happier if he had bought me diamonds.
Photograph by Ching
Want more literary food love in your life? Below are some of my favourite examples of content that will get your tummy rumbling.
1. The Umbrian Thursday Night Supper Club by Marlena de Blasi
A recent discovery, this is a translation from Italian but loses none of the impact of mouthwatering food descriptions, along with a narrative that sweetly encapsulates Italian life.
2) The Kitchen Diaries: A Year in the Kitchen with Nigel Slater
Nigel Slater is one of Britain’s national treasures! The food writer has also hosted his own cookery shows on TV. A diary of Nigel’s meals through the year (with recipes), it’s my perfect comfort read. If ever I’m feeling homesick I dip in, as it takes me back to the seasonality of Britain. I love the way that he gets ridiculously excited (as I do) about perfection in the simplest of foodie things.
3) An Englishman in Paris by Michael Sadler
I love France — Paris in particular. Sadler’s narrative of his move across the Channel and in particular getting to grips with the foibles of French food and dining makes it a tale that I come back to time after time.
4) Delia’s Complete Cookery Course by Delia Smith
Despite my mother being an awesome cook (I didn’t taste shop-bought cake until I left home) the kitchen was her domain. I was not interested (or able) in cooking much more than boiling an egg. When I set up my own home I decided that unless I wanted to go hungry I’d have to learn, never even considering that processed food would fill the void.
Enter Delia’s book, one which has been reprinted time and time again. It was my first cookery book and remains on my shelf today, dog-eared and recipe splattered, having survived six house moves and a 10,000 kilometre journey from the UK to Singapore. Delia Smith was one of UK TV’s first celebrity chefs. Her easy guide covers everything from bread to cakes — with every recipe a success. If you only ever own one cookery book, make it this one.
5) Julie and Julia by Julie Powell
It started off as a secretary’s blog cooking her way through a year of Julia Child recipes in her small New York loft apartment. The blog became a book and later a film. The DVD is a regular go-to for me whenever I need a foodie fix.