Newest Review: ... time he does something nice, simple and widely achievable you get a sudden blast of some epic by Coldplay or similar does, however, reduce... more
The Engrossing Account Of A Boy Who Loves His Toast
Toast: The Story of a Boy's Hunger - Nigel Slater
Member Name: missrarr
Toast: The Story of a Boy's Hunger - Nigel Slater
Advantages: An engrossing read by the "Proust of the Nesquik era"
Disadvantages: Personally I can think of none, but would appeal most to people who like TV cookery personalities
A while ago I had a "one day..." aspiration to work for a TV chef. As I have now changed my mind, and as I try to be as anonymous as possible on here, I suppose I can now speak the truth about them. So I shall.
First off, I love to cook. Not in a poncy, French sort of way (no offence if that's your sort of thing!) but in a homely, healthy, showing-how-you-love-someone sort of way. I like to reduce wastage as much as possible and cook from scratch whenever I can, time and work-related exhaustion allow. Or commuting based exhaustion more to the point!
So I love Nigel Slater's shows. His half hour offering for the BBC show him trying to make the most of the weekly shop (okay, okay, he has top quality ingredients, a spotless kitchen, shops in trendy indie London shops and generally is largely enviable) but his recipes have both a sense of comfort food and simplicity as well as quality and good old fashioned common sense. The point? You don't have to waste food and good hearty home cooking doesn't have to reduce your dinner party guests to barely-concealed multiple orgasm at the table. This is cooking for the love of it, and for people you love. Without Nigella's simpering pals Compo, Tallulah and Tarquin, but good that you could imagine serving to your loved ones happily and in a relaxed way, standing about in the kitchen necking wine while you cook it in front of them having a good laugh.
That said the fact that every time he does something nice, simple and widely achievable you get a sudden blast of some epic by Coldplay or similar does, however, reduce me to yelling "HE'S JUST MADE EGGS ON TOAST!" at the TV. It's good music, don't get me wrong, but the grandiose crescendos of all these hot indie tracks culminating as he serves up a stuffed mushroom has started to give me the giggles.
And he needs a hair cut. But I can't criticise on that front.
Anyway, on to his book.
A while ago I popped into an Oxfam bookshop near work and was surprised to see not one but two copies of an autobiographical work by Slater. I had no idea it even existed and on reading the back cover was very intrigued to read it. Despite his - or his producers' - tendency to overhype the emotional and dramatic significance of plonking a plate of Welsh Rarebit in front of a camera - I do like his style and his food. Unfortunately I was a few days short of payday and thought I'd have a good chance of popping back in and getting one of the copies a week later - no such luck.
I had to wait a few months until I finally got to read this book when the lovely Mr Rarr remembered my ranting about missing out on it and bought me a copy for Christmas. I couldn't wait to get stuck into it.
The idea is the recounting of Slater's childhood, his story told via his association with food, which became a major influence in his life and ultimately his career, although the book checks out before the majority of that aspect of his life takes over.
What we see instead is his relationship with his mother and father, his thoughts on life in the West Midlands and his observations on his family's social status and the awkwardness that goes with it. It opens with the thought that you can't not love someone who gives you toast, even if they don't do a very good job of it. Instantly I enjoyed the approach to writing that Slater employed in telling his story.
Another inclusion into the story are the first hints of sexual awareness, and some of this comes almost disconcertingly early in the story, recounted in a matter-of-fact way by the writer, who crafts his tale not child-like but simply, allowing the reader to believe it is the account of memories left with the man who grew from that young boy. As if we can see what is happening to him and the impacts seemingly fleeting moments would have on him as he grew older, but not told negatively by the writer, just with the open mind that his childhood self possessed.
I love the way that Slater tells his story with an accompaniment with his memories about food. It seems a very precise account of his childhood thoughts - I wish I could remember things so precisely! - but as with theories on scent, I find that food is a very powerful memory trigger and for someone who makes food their career, if not their life's work, much more believable than if there had been no consistent reference point. That his memories and passion for food start to build into more of a part of his older childhood life than just highlights and social recollections of his younger days, make this a very well-rounded account.
I loved this book and I feel I have a better understanding of the TV cook - not chef - particularly after one passage in which he talks about his education of French cookery. There are times when you feel for the childhood Slater, times when his humour against his surrounding adult world are touching and sharp at the same time.
This book is both easy to read and also engrossing, and no part of his upbringing is left lacking in my opinion. It evokes sympathy, empathy and support but Slater does not at any point in my opinion play the victim, just telling his life as it was through the eyes of the young boy he once was and complemented by the memories and inspirations of the foods that he loved.
I recommend this to anyone who enjoys good food and autobiographical accounts that show a subtle humour and aren't afraid to be honest. I think Slater has done brilliantly in his account and the fact that it is advertised as being an award-winning book is thoroughly understandable in my opinion.
I might even let him get away with ramping Coldplay up to top volume next time he serves up fish and chips without shouting at the TV. Or at least, I'll do it fondly.
Fairly wide, £6.29 new on Amazon and also at lower prices used, other dealers etc.
Summary: A read that I really enjoyed which opened my eyes further to this man's very honest approach to food
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