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Food

How to put the focus on food

Forget Michelin-meals. In the company of someone special – a toasted cheese sandwich is full of flavour

must have only been about four years old, but I remember my dad standing on the kitchen counter desperately jumping up and down trying to get spaghetti off the ceiling. The strands of spaghetti hung like vines of ivy dangling just out of reach; the ceiling ever so slightlytoo high.

A pretty ludicrous scene, you’ll agree. Dad had heard an old wives’ tale about perfectly cooked pasta sticking to the wall, so upon cooking pasta for the first time in his life he panicked and assumed the ceiling is as good as a wall.

For hanging lights, or for cornicing, I think that is probably true, but for testing pasta, it turns out a ceiling is nowhere near as practical as a wall! I suppose the silver lining was that his pasta was perfectly cooked; for there it remained, hanging above us until we eventually moved house.

I think of this every time I go to test pasta to see if it’s done. I’ve cooked it so many times I can tell by the smell and the look of it whether it’s done or not. I taste it of course, but more out of greed than necessity. But that is the wonderful thing about food – it’s so extraordinarily evocative. The taste, the texture, the smell of particular foods can bring back so many memories you may have completely forgotten about.

Often when I ask people to describe the best dish they’ve ever eaten it rarely comes down to the food alone. What you get is a story of friendship, or romance, or laughter and the food is intertwined with this experience. You get a little woven tapestry of important events in their life as told through food and for me there is no better way of navigating someone’s story.

The act of sharing one’s favourite dishes is deeply personal as well as fascinating, much more so than you might think at first. Through discussing the food people love to eat, I have been able to discover a different side to guests being interviewed and find out about much more than just the dishes that have shaped their lives. I’ve been told about the evening a guest proposed to his wife – sitting on the beach with the sand in between their toes, greedily eating lobster while he prepared to ask the question that would change their lives forever. I’ve been let in on secret trips and magical meals that were stumbled upon by accident while exploring new cities. I’ve been exported to tropical climes throughout Thailand, Australia and Japan and I’ve breakfasted with fisherman in Portugal.

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Food is, for so many people, about so much more than the food itself. It is all about memory and context. You can be eating the best meal in the world, but if you’re bored by the people you are with then the food just doesn’t have the impact that perhaps it would if you were sitting there with a great friend, catching up and setting the world to rights. In the company of the people you love, a toasted cheese sandwich trumps a Michelin-starred meal any day of the week.

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