Sunday 28 August 2011

On being a chef

I've had a lovely weekend so far, and there's technically still two days of it to go even if I now only have enough voice to last for an hour or two. Old friends and new friends have combined to make me feel like a very lucky man.

Today I want to consider THE CULINARY ARTS. I love to cook and I have to say that I'm pretty bloody good at it. But cooking is as far as it goes. I'm always fascinated by Masterchef's annual slew of contestants, swivel-eyed maniacs with no fingernails or eyebrows and a celeriac ricer in their hand luggage at all times. Cooking is THEIR PASSION. It's ALL THEY EVER THINK ABOUT. It's WHAT THEY WANT TO DO.

I understand most of that. Food is my passion. Eating is all I ever think about. Cooking became a necessary adjunct to that, and one which I found I had a natural flair for. In time it's become something from which I derive a great deal of pleasure as an activity in itself, particularly cooking for loved ones and watching them shovel it down and burp proudly at the end.

Why would anyone who feels that way want to muddy all that by trying to make a living out of it? The stress, the shouting, the heat? Where's the pleasure in anything you have to do at a certain time every day whether you feel like it or not? Even the most adept and exciting home cook sometimes just wants to watch ITV2 all night with a 6 pack of Wotsits and a bottle of Fanta.

So when people - usually family members - ask me if I'd ever considered becoming a chef, I can always tell them that yes I have and that's precisely why I don't try and do it. Because "being a chef" is a dream, not a reality. It's cookery shows and travel and book deals and celebrity friends. Its your own range of cookwear and a Bentley and a brassy wife. What people never mean are the people who work their way up through catering school and then spend a lifetime in hot kitchens being shouted at by gouty men who get all the credit for your hard work, before trying to open your own restaurant at age 38, bankruptcy, alcoholism, death.

Sometimes the hardest thing in life can be to just enjoy the simple things for what they are, and not try to embellish them at all. That's what I've been trying to master this weekend*.

* My book and accompanying 6-part BBC series about how I did it - set in my achingly trendy studio flat in Muswell Hill with an old record player in it and fashionably distressed walls - begins this autumn and is entitled, simply, "Shite".

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