I’m puzzling over something. A friend wants to know why I ‘only write about food’ on these pages? What kind of block-headed word is ‘only’?
The novelist Lionel Shriver says that ‘the impulse to cook is the same as the impulse to write books and do sculpture’. I’m not mad about her books or her sculpture and I’ve never tasted her cooking, but that doesn’t matter. She’s right. It’s the creating that matters. And the cooking does something alchemical. My son’s birthday is his birthday because I always cook him roast chicken with tarragon. My daughter’s birthday becomes more resolutely birthday-ish because I always make lamb kleftiko. That’s not to say the birthdays wouldn’t exist without the chicken and the lamb, but over the years the ritual of the roasting of the chicken and the slow cooking of the lamb have become indivisible from the birthdays themselves.
I had lunch today with a great friend who’s a garden designer. Last time we met at a restaurant in an old potting shed. This time we ate in a Victorian greenhouse that used to be a fruit and vegetable shop. How perfect that we both chose English asparagus.
Asparagus reminds me of Lionel Shriver and her impulse to ‘do sculpture’ since asparagus is sculpture, after all. But the cooking of it and the serving of it in the old fruit and vegetable shop had a perfect synchronicity about it. Our lunch would have been lunch without the asparagus. But the fact that it was so exquisitely delicious, and that our conversation was as cheering as the food, made the event a miniature, short-lived work of art.
All of which is a roundabout way of saying that when it comes to food there’s no such thing as ‘only’.