One thing I didn’t mention in yesterday’s blog about Christmas foodie telly was the link between sex and food.
The same interview with Nigel Slater that I mentioned yesterday also has the cook and writer declaring that: “People who are good cooks are often good in bed.”
Now, it’s not for me to boast, but he may be onto something. But I wouldn’t think it’s a question of how good a cook you are, but rather of how much you enjoy food.
When I’ve written, occasionally, about having a ‘food orgasm’ (and here’s an example) over something or other that I’ve eaten, I’m not trying to be pointlessly smutty (not that there’s anything wrong with a bit of smut, you understand).
But there are times when it’s difficult to know how else to indicate the stunning impact of something on your tastebuds. And not just on your tastebuds, but on every realm of your being – spiritual as well as physical.
Those sardines will stay with me for a long time – they already have – as will a number of meals I ate in Barcelona four and five years ago and can still remember in great detail.
And there was definitely a moment like this at Bistrot Bruno Loubet last month, when I had my first taste of the hare royale.
So it’s not about how fancy the food is. Or rather, fanciness is not a measure of how good food is and what you’re response will be.
I remember sitting outside Le Bosquet, a very nice bistro in Paris, enjoying a meal of foie gras on toast, followed by sea bass stuffed with thyme and crème brûlee to finish.
At the table next to me sat a young woman who had just arrived from the States. She’d been met by a New Zealander, who was looking after her for an evening as a favour for a friend.
While he ate three courses, she picked at a bowl of salad leaves and, when it came time to ask for the bill, the bowl was still half full (or half empty, depending on your point of view).
Now it takes all kinds etc, but if you took someone out for a meal, would you think that the relationship with food that was suggested by her behaviour was indicative of a sensual person?
So yes, I think Mr Slater is on the right lines.
And perhaps therein lies the key as to why some people expend so much energy worrying about others enjoying food ‘too much’?
HL Mencken, who came up with quite a few good quotes in his time, described puritanism as: “The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy” and immorality as: “The morality of those who are having a better time.”
I’ve heard the former used to describe the core philosophy of the Daily Mail. This is the same publication that famously carries in its pages a toxic combination of faddy diets and pictures of female celebrities where they point out the cellulite etc.
Pleasure is not conducive to the Mail’s agenda – guilt and insecurity are what matters.
Not that the Mail maintains such attitudes in splendid isolation. There’s a Puritanism, one way or another, in pretty much all the news media in this country.
Some years ago, there was a short-lived TV magazine programme for people in the media. In one edition, a senior journalist with Le Monde was being interviewed about the late François Mitterrand and his extra-marital affairs.
He explained that, in France, having affairs was considered simply a part of life – the questions that were being asked were about whether the former president had funded his mistresses from public money.
And he went on to note that the French thought that Britain was like a teenager that had only just discovered sex.
Thinking about newspaper coverage of sexual affairs in the UK – and not just that in the tabloids – you can see what he meant. And this is also a country with a very mixed relationship with food.
Going back to Mitterrand, he also enjoyed his food. Knowing that he was close to death, he invited close friends for a last meal at which he ate two ortolan – a tiny songbird that is consumed whole, having been drowned in Armagnac and which, because it's an endangered species, is illegal to eat.
I don't know whether I could eat one – not because of sentiment: I eat plenty of other birds – but as much as anything because I don't like the idea of crunching the bones.
But traditionally, it is also eaten with a napkin over the head. That is said to intensify the aroma and taste, but it is also described as a way of hiding the sight from God.
It was the last thing Mitterrand ate. Refusing food thereafter, some days later, he died.
There is something that I admire in that; in the control, in the appreciation of food, in the understanding of pleasure.
Pleasure is liberation. And controlling pleasure – whether it’s what we eat or who and how we shag – is power.
It was the first day back at work today after the Christmas break.
Over the last 12 months, I've occasionally baked cakes and made chocolates to take into the office. This is enormously popular, for some reason or other.
Today, one of the first things that a particular colleague asked me was how the baking was going. A little while later, she sneaked over to my desk with a little plastic tub.
In it, she'd put a few little pastries that her mother had made for the festivities. She'd carried them back from the Continent as a special gift for me; a way of thanking me for the chocolates and cakes; of returning the gift.
There was something so deliciously nefarious, so delightfully conspiratorial and so completely flirtatious about the exchange around this that, even if these morsels of sweetness had not been tasty and light and quite perfect, I would have been walking around with a grin on my face for the rest of the day.
Pleasure. The French understand and embrace it. One is left to wonder just why we seem so very scared of it.
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