I’m just back from one of those afternoons which are so simple and yet so sublime they’re the sort of thing you want to remember. My friend Beccy had snagged tickets for the Nigel Slater talk, a perk of volunteering at the Birmingham Literature Festival, and asked if I wanted to join her. Of course I did, I adore Nigel Slater’s writing and tv shows.
We met in Yorks at Ikon gallery for lunch, though I got there early because a coffee and time with whatever book I’m reading is an indulgence I never get bored of. I wasn’t overly hungry but had some fries because the weather is miserable and fries are always a good idea. Coffee and carbs consumed, we then trundled off to the Birmingham Rep to the talk.
I haven’t read Nigel Slater’s memoir Toast, despite a friend buying a copy for me years ago, nor have I seen the televised version. I’m sure they’re very good, but the way Nigel writes and talks about food feels positive, joyful and curious, not the sort of brutish pedantic judgement of some food writers, and I want it to remain a place of comfort. Knowing too much about how some of that is borne from a painful childhood might break the spell, and I don’t think my fragile heart is ready for that.
Nigel Slater is as warm and charming on stage as he is in his weekly Observer column or on the television shows he presents. Ravinder Bhogal, chef Patron of Jikoni, was an inspired choice of interviewer, who gave just enough of her own story and thoughts to make it feel like a natural conversation. They talked about childhood food memories, lardy cake and Fray Bentos pies, foxes in the garden, filming in Iran, and the joy of being a cook. Perhaps my favourite comment was when Nigel spoke how much he enjoyed cooking for other people, but also the enjoyment of cooking just for himself; of setting the table for one, and feeling a sense of self worth to believe you are worth a proper meal even if there aren’t others around. It made me want to go home and pull out all my cookbooks and imagine all the possibilities.
The Birmingham Literature Festival is an annual festival which ran from 4th – 14th October 2018, which means you probably missed it if this is the first you heard of it. But keep an eye on their website as there is usually a spring mini-festival which is worth checking out, as well as the full festival in the autumn.
Disclaimer: My friend gifted me a ticket which she got in exchange for volunteering for the festival. She definitely doesn’t care if I blog or not.