I once saw this great film called ‘Big Night’ which was about these two brothers who were starting a restaurant. It was beautifully crafted and their roller-coaster relationship built through stages of drama and intimacy all the way to the Grand Opening scene at the end. But the part of the film that has always stayed with me is the finale, a sublime moment of understatement. One brother, the morning after their exhausting and climactic ‘Big Night’, enters the kitchen, and all in real time with no cuts, takes out some eggs, cracks them into a bowl, whisks them up, heats the skillet and makes himself a plain omelette. That’s it. We watch him do the whole thing. Just before he’s finished, his brother comes in, and they sit in silence eating the omelette together. A moment before the end, one of them puts his arm around the other.
I can’t tell you what watching him make that omelette did to me. Somehow it looked like the most delicious thing that had ever been cooked and so when the film ended I headed straight for the nearest cornershop and bought myself some eggs and butter. I raced home, salivating copiously, and repeated the process I’d just witnessed in my Mum’s kitchen. And true to its promise, it was the most delicious thing I’d eaten in living memory. I still often make plain omelettes now – very occasionally I add cheese, but usually just leave them plain. Whenever I’m travelling for work I always order omelette and chips from room service and eat it with a little mustard, not ketchup (which I feel totally ruins it – don’t get me wrong, I love ketchup with most things and spread it liberally on hamburgers etc.)
I’ve started eating the omelette with mustard at home now too. Sometimes with some thickly buttered bread on the side, but never complicating it with mushrooms, tomatoes or onions, no way.
Before my formative omelette experience, the most delicious thing I remember seeing in the movies was the meal Barbara Streisand and Walter Matthau shared towards the end of ‘Hello Dolly’. I can’t remember precisely what it was they were eating, she was talking and chewing and wondering at the deliciousness as she cut and served the food from a huge platter. The whole restaurant looked sumptuous and every mouthful she described made me crave a seat at the table. I could smell the rich gravy and succulent, tender meats. I’d still like to taste that dinner now, in fact.
My earliest memory of having my saliva glands and stomach juices activated by fiction was in 1978 when I read ‘The Fantastic Mr Fox’ by Roald Dahl on holiday in France (I’m pretty sure that was it) where the descriptions of chicken in particular had my belly rumbling all afternoon while I impatiently awaited a grown up to come home and make me something that would put me out of my misery. It was intense.
Many years later I read a book that, though I had a totally full stomach at the time, transcended even that experience – ‘The Hunger’ by Knut Hamsun. If you’ve never read it I urge you to go out and buy it at once – it’s an amazing book. Recently, when I was enjoying my Paul Auster obsession, the one book by him I could never seem to lay my hands on was called ‘The Art Of Hunger’. I was amazed when I finally found it that it was all about how much he loved Knut Hamsun’s book. I felt validated and an even stronger bond with the man who’d written such amazing books as ‘Mr Vertigo’ and ‘Moon Palace’. Two adventures I’ll never forget, the latter, I believe, based on ‘The Hunger’.
However, that said, I never got into the scene in the movie ‘9 and a Half Weeks’ where they do the food sex scene, in fact I’ve personally never got the food and sex connection, sensuous as food can be, mixing the two has never turned me on. Further, food can actually get in the way of sex. I’ve had countless evenings of rampant promise curtailed by eating too much at the restaurant earlier in the evening. Driving back feeling bloated and over-full of chocolate mousse (can never resist it – if it’s on the menu, I’ll order it, no matter what) and whatever extra sweets they served with the coffee has put pay to many a night of potential carnal pleasure in my bed. Also, the dreams I sometimes have after indulging in too many meat courses can be so traumatic as to make me seriously consider vegetarianism, (though usually only until lunchtime.)
The one thing I won’t eat though is torture food. I just can’t bring myself to order fois gras, which has apparently been force-fed, or veal, which I heard is a baby creature, prematurely taken from it’s mother and kept in a dark box so the meat stays white. There’s such a variety of choice available, shame on you if you need to go to those lengths to satisfy your palate.
I’ll leave you with a spiritual angle if I may. When I was first taught meditation it was by a man who simultaneously instructed us in the preparation steamed veggies. It was of paramount importance to cut them in the right way, always along the seed lines, never across, or else the vital chi energy would leak out. Now I don’t know whether it was the heightened states of Jamie-consciousness I was reaching in those days, or just the newness of it all, but I was continuously bowled over by the perfection of the colour, texture and taste combinations God had put together among his fruit an vegetable designs. The way a courgette has that light green interior and dark mottled skin, and it’s perfect line of tiny seeds, the snappy crisp of a red pepper with it’s weird pod in the centre and it’s bright shiny skin, the fractally repeating branches of fresh broccoli and cauliflower, the simplicity of a potato, pods full of peas, corn on the cob, the colours and tastes and shapes and smells, well, I was blown away and still am in fact. Whenever I enter a huge food store and see the variety in front of me I’m immediately reminded of the glory of Natural design and humbled in it’s presence. And simultaneously I’m aware that if a person from certain regions of Africa were standing where I am he or she would most likely have a heart attack at the mounds of abundance, just not be able to take it in – they’d probably, like me, think they were dreaming.