Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Light bites

First things first: if you're a fan of Jay Rayner's ability to deliciously flambe a substandard restaurant, it's previous publication Wasted Calories And Ruined Nights you want. Chewing The Fat: Tasting Notes From A Greedy Life, a collection of Observer Food Monthly columns written over the course of a decade, is the literary equivalent of a succession of unpretentious small plates served up with no garnish (which he brands "the art of the superfluous"): tasty morsels that are easy to wolf down greedily in a single sitting, if not always quite sufficiently substantial to really sate the appetite.

Not that Rayner refrains entirely from expressing spicy opprobrium, railing variously against picnics, buffets, time-limited restaurant slots, what passes for sustenance on trains and at service stations, and gin ("As far as I'm concerned, having a favourite gin would be like choosing a favourite war criminal, only with a greater impact on my life"), among other things. But to counterbalance the Scoville-scale rants are columns in which he celebrates some of the joys of food: messy culinary creation, solo and slow cooking, the way that the addition of a pork product will immediately improve any dish.

Other pieces are more confessional - admissions of guilty pleasures (burnt toast, Mr Whippy ice cream); of how a kitchen cupboard clear-out of unopened and half-used jars "forced me to acknowledge all my unrealised ambitions as a domestic cook"; of the hypocrisy of parents who police their children's diets but then indulge themselves in secret; of his embarrassing inability to leave a dining table "without everyone being able to read, from the Jackson Pollock across my chest, exactly what I've just had for my tea".

There's sage advice too (taking your own sharp knives on a self-catering holiday is a top tip) and even some visionary ideas for labour-saving kitchen gadgets. Sign me up for a fishbone magnetiser, for sure.

(An edited version of this review has been published on the Buzz website.)

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