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Jay Rayner’s Foodie Commandments

Publisher - Great British Food Awards
published by

Great British Food

Mar 08, 2018
9 minutes to read

When it comes to food, critic Jay Rayner certainly knows his stuff. On top of reviewing restaurants for The Observer, he also presents the culinary panel on BBC Radio 4’s The Kitchen Cabinet and is a Masterchef regular. Here he tells us some of the foodie rules he swears by…

On eating with your hands…

A willingness to eat with your hands is, for me, a signifier. I have long had an intense emotional relationship with spare ribs, for example; they are generally my answer to the death row-meal question. Bring me a plate of those, hold the forks, and I won’t exactly die happy, but I will at least be distracted from my impending death by the business of eating them. But, if I ever see someone eating spare ribs with a knife and fork – and I have – I get intensely angry. I know that if the two of us were to sit and talk, about anything at all, we would almost certainly have to be restrained from coming to blows. Our whole approach to life would be so completely different that it couldn’t be otherwise. Someone like that does not deserve ribs. Give them to me.

On embracing leftovers…

I like feeding people. I like a big cooking project and I like filling their plates with the end result. It makes me happy. But even as I’m doing so, even as I’m sliding the heavy spoon through, say, a shoulder of lamb that’s been braising for so long that using a knife to serve it would be classed as an act of over-engineering, I’m hoping they don’t eat it all. Because what I’m looking at is not tonight’s star dish for them; I’m looking at tomorrow’s fabulous leftover opportunities for me. A braised shoulder of lamb, which has surrendered all its tension to a hot liquor of red wine and chorizo and brown sugar, is an utter joy fresh from the oven. But the next day there are even better things to be had. Lumps of the fridge-cold meat with their hard white overcoat of fat can be thrown into a fiercely hot pan until all of it is crisp and brown. Just add the crunch of sea salt and a smear of nose-tickling mustard and life is very good indeed.

On social media…

We are meant to roll our eyes at those who sit in restaurants photographing their dinner before slapping those images all over Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. And yes, it can be bloody annoying, especially if they insist upon standing on a chair while doing so. (To be fair, my dinner is also photographed; it’s just that when I review I have someone who comes into the restaurant after the fact to photograph it for me.) However, while we roll our eyes it’s also worth recognising that they are part of a digitally accelerated process, that they are merely augmenting our covetousness. If you can remember being delighted by, say, your first Korean chicken wing, or your first proper bowl of ramen made from long-boiled pig bones, or your first Cronut knock-off, then you probably have social media to thank. For almost certainly, without the dissemination of images, enabling a greedy cook somewhere to look at an image and say ‘I want that’, you wouldn’t have got to taste it.

On vegetarianism…

The best non-meat cooking does not have a meaty twin. It’s not an echo of the real thing, the recipe contrived by substitutions and arch compromise and regret. It is itself. There is, for example, nothing with a pulse which will improve a perfectly made wild mushroom risotto: rice, wine, stock, mushrooms, cheese and the job is done. The entirely meat-free curries of Gujarat, India, would not be better if only somebody had added chicken.

On dining solo…

As a restaurant critic I have often eaten alone, usually weekday lunches out of London when none of my friends who have proper jobs can join me. I will confess that on these occasions I tend to book a table for two then announce when I arrive that there will be just one for dinner. This is not out of embarrassment; I don’t care whether people think I’m knobby-no-mates. It’s simply that British restaurateurs regard single diners suspiciously and start wondering if we’re Michelin inspectors or sociopaths or both, and who needs that? So I go and I consider the menu and the room. But most of all I study the other people, watch their body language, listen in to their conversations. When I eat alone I have a licence to snoop.

Text adapted from The Ten (Food) Commandments by Jay Rayner (£6, Penguin).

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