This week, it’s the contentious subject of foodstuffs. Practical solution to the endemic crime of celebrity chefs also included at no extra cost, along with convincing dystopian alternative for those who prefer their lunch to take three minutes and come from a pot.
It is 19.45 in the picturesque market town of Sherborne, northwest Dorset. I sit alone in a curry restaurant, waiting for an entry-level jalfrezi to arrive and listening to chutney classics from behind an MDF-constructed jali, separating me from the next booth. And I am midway through authentically enjoying an authentic Indian lager brewed in Luton, when Grant and Phil Mitchell (sic) burst into the neon with a disgruntled lady in tow, demanding a table:
Phil: Oi Oi! Haas abaht a bladdy ruby, me ole cobber?
Grant: And make it sharpish! We’re proper Hank Marvin!
Waiter: Good evening, gentlemen! Taking a seat, thank you please.
Phil: And the missus wants it girly tonight ‘cos…
Both: She caan’t handle it!!! (peals of hysteria)
The gruesome threesome are ushered to the next table (despite the restaurant being completely without custom bar my own) and begin to peruse the menu. Tonight, Phil will opt for a vegetable thali (because he’s been suffering from meat sweats), six masala poppadums, three naan breads, an assortment of side dishes (curiously, almost exclusively meat-based), and several pints of said authentic beverage. Grant, on the other hand, is taking no prisoners. He’s having one that “blows yer bladdy doors off” and a plate of chips to complement. And several pints of same, natch.
Grant: And daan’t hang abaht, neeva!
My vantage point behind the screen allows me a discreet glimpse at Phil’s long-suffering bride (let’s call her Goldilocks, even though she’s a brunette). She is caught deep inside a vortex of bravado and common sense, knowing the evening’s outcome depends heavily on her choice of dish: Too mild, and she faces mockery on a scale hitherto uncharted. Too hot, and…well, probably the same but at least she’ll be spared the Ring of Fire. But she cannot drag her heels, for the waiter is hovering:
Waiter: And for you, madam please?
Goldilocks: I’ll…er…What do you recommend that ain’t too ‘ot?
Waiter: For you, the chicken korma, madam. Very popular, thanking you please.
Goldilocks: Go on, then. I’ll ‘ave one of ‘em.
Phil: A korma? Wassa blaady point in that?
Grant: She’s a woman, Phil. Don’t you know nuffin’ ?
Phil: Samtimes I wander what I bladdy see in ‘er, you know what?
And so it goes on. However, Goldilocks’s ritual humiliation is cut mercifully short thanks to the timely arrival of Phil’s poppadums, which he proceeds to fill to bursting with the complimentary pickles. This has the secondary effect of creating a brief lull in conversation, for in order to save face, Grant cannot be seen to be siding with the enemy. To bridge the gap, he gestures through the screen in my approximate direction, as if to coax me into his nirvana:
Grant: Oi Oi, mate! How goes?
Experience has taught me never to engage in such affairs, no matter how alluring. With my cover now blown, I make a hasty beeline towards the bar and settle my bill, leaving an unnecessarily healthy tip to secure my anonymity. Although Phil, it seems, already has me down:
Phil: ‘Kin nonce.
A little while back, I wrote a short piece about food on another blog platform when I was attempting to find my voice. It was deliberately confrontational and probably a touch derivative, the main thrust being that food is, in essence, merely petrol to keep us all alive in order to do far greater things than the act of eating itself. This would have been apposite if written in the 1970s (or indeed earlier), when the greater irony may well have been appreciated by frequenters of those appalling trattorias, nascent curry houses and stick-in-the-mud bastions of public school cuisine. But it wasn’t.
Over the last twenty years or so, we have morphed into a nation of foodies. Suddenly, every man and his dog has developed a palate that subtle, it would leave Abigail and her guests floundering like jetsam at one of her soirées. We demand choice and quality as standard (despite having come through the worst recession since WW2) and, more than ever, we require affirmation that our opinions are justified. Why so?
Because our newly-found appreciation of all things gastronomic is nothing more than the emperor’s new clothes. We food snobs, like wine snobs, know deep down that our honed interest in the ephemeral is pretty low down on the pecking order of things that actually matter. Consequently, in much the same way that our current government operates, we surround ourselves with like-minded sycophants who will be the first to forgive us for thinking that it does. So when the bill payer clicks his/her fingers at a chain restaurant minion and they come running, no-one from either camp dares question the validity of the challenge. Money talks, deafeningly when there isn’t much around, and putting an opinionated Herbert to rights is probably not worth losing your job for.
But it is a wafer-thin confidence, to be annihilated absolutely in the not too distant future by global events, the seething aficionados of packaged goods, and common sense. I predict a time when all celebrity chefs are dragged by the hair from their culinary idylls, thrown into the stocks and pelted to death with every last leaf of kale, lollo rosso and organically-farmed, locally-sourced cucumber that inevitably ended its days in the recycling bin. When coffee houses, like televisions in the 1950s, only offer black and white as an option, and if anyone with a manicured moustache demands anything with more than one syllable, they too will be executed on-site in the manner of Charles I and their remains fed to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s pigs. And when the beasts of Smithfield, at the point of their bloody departure from this world to the restaurants of St John Street, are given the option to turn the tables, they do so on the sole condition that they feast exclusively on their perpetrators.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the future.