my favourite; food

luxury food & drink
Click to follow

Banana split

Delicious foods, like hot baths, are something you only really appreciate when you can't have them. Before we set off on an expedition, each team member goes through the others' belongings and if they find any luxury item secreted away, no matter how small, it is removed because any extra weight on these expeditions can be life-threatening. When I come back from a trip (during which time we have lived entirely on dehydrated foods), simply wandering around Harrods Food Hall sniffing is luxury enough for me.

Usually, though, as I'm very sweet- toothed, a banana split covered with great amounts of chocolate sauce is about as paradisiacal as it gets. I must have first tried one about 50 years ago, but most memorably on the eve of an expedition in 1979. Before setting off for 18 months in Antarctica we had the Cape Town version of banana split, Iced Table Mountain. What arrived actually looked like the mountain and was made up of every type of local ice-cream and fruits and goodies. The number of calories in it could kill you.

Ideally, banana split would the last course in a meal which opened with fish soup with rouille and well fried croutons, followed by organic Aberdeen Angus roast beef, which has been properly hung (for a month and not two days), and served with Yorkshire pudding, peas and crispy fried potatoes. I know this is sacrilege because I know it should be rare but personally I like my beef ruined (or ruine, as you have to tell French waiters).


Dunkin' Donuts

There is no other food that can give me the high-pitch physical ecstasy of Boston Cream Dunkin' Donuts. These and other such Americana - nachos with gluppy cheese-and-salsa dip, Concorde grape juice, cinnamon buns, pecan pie mix - were once the ultimate in luxury for me because they could be found only in America. Now they are available in every corner shop, cinema kiosk and petrol station in the country. However, they still conspire to get my arms and thighs ting-ling, and remain the greatest delicacy.

Once, you had to cross the Atlantic to enjoy such extravagance, although their availability does not reduce their fabulousness. All it really means is that you no longer have the excuse to gorge yourself when in America.

Not that I even try to resist. In fact, I made the ultimate sacrifice for my luxury; I missed the perfect light for a photograph in Cambridgeshire because it was tea time and I just had to get to the nearest garage for a donut.

The peak of all these pleasures put together for me, and possibly the highest point in my life, was when I was walking down Main Street, in Bonaparte, Iowa. The street had just been refurbished and was bathed in glorious light. As I wandered past the beautiful opera house, drinking Concorde grape juice and eating Cheddar cheese popcorn, the pig farmer we had been filming with that day drove past in his truck and waved to me. The overwhelming feeling that I belonged to this little town in America nearly knocked me off my feet.


Steamed carrot

Chefs as a general rule feel that to prove themselves they have to use hugely extravagant ingredients and spend enormous amounts of money. They also appear to believe that food is improved by endless manipulations - simmering, passing through sieves, wrapping in leaves of this, that and the other, steaming, arranging, fiddling and presenting under polished domes. To me, this shows disrespect for the purity of the raw ingredient - a waste of time and energy, and indeed of the intense original flavour, which I consider absolutely to be a luxury. Anyone with the money can buy white truffles at pounds 1,000 a kilo, or pate de foie gras, or gold leaf to decorate chocolate cakes; they've become commonplace, albeit ridiculously expensive. But it becomes harder and harder to find any food or wine that has been really cared for at every stage from its conception to the mouth.

Without wanting to sound prissy or precious - to me, a perfectly steamed carrot, grown in a carefully tended garden, washed and prepared with respect and cooked simply and straightforwardly - that is luxury. Because it is so rare.


Smoked salmon

Nothing could be more luxurious than great masses of smoked salmon. Scottish, of course.

Its marvellous texture makes it an ideal lovers' food, rather like human flesh, with overtones of cannibalism. Ideally eaten with a slice of lemon and a glass of Dom Perignon (actually just any champagne will do when you have smoked salmon).

I don't think I first tried it until pretty late on. It was probably stuck on a little bit of bread in Cambridge when I was there in my twenties. I loved it from the first taste and since then have been hooked.

It is a real lazy person's luxury food. You don't have to do anything apart from cracking open a brown roll and squeezing a slice of lemon.

I have never tired of it and don't think I ever could. Although I also rather enjoy prawns nothing could beat smoked salmon, it's a thing I could eat forever.

My favourite shop sells the most amazing salmon by the barrel. Whenever I go up to London I always buy a great whack of it to bring home for us all to feast on.



My conception of luxury foods hasn't changed much over the years and is, I suppose, fairly typical: in the autumn, a large ripened misshapen tomato from Provence, an Italian porcini, Scottish raspberries. A grouse, a woodcock or a snipe. Foie gras and caviar.

My absolute favourite, which I adore for its mysterious erotic scent, is the truffle, white or black. I suppose I regard truffles as luxurious because they are so rare and quirky. I first tried them when I was 25; nowadays I probably have them six or seven times a year.

I associate truffles particularly with Christmas and New Year. The perfect scenario for relishing them, in my book, involves a white linen tablecloth, a crackling wood fire, candlelight, fine white china, a thin glass of Batard Montrachet and just one amusing companion.

What would I sacrifice in order to enjoy my favourite luxury? Money!


Double Chocolate Chip ice-cream

I do think that anything condemned becomes a luxury. For me that includes all third courses: raspberry cheesecake and Haagen-Dazs Double Chocolate Chip ice-cream in particular. I rarely buy any for myself, but others tend to leave icecream in the freezer, leading me into temptation. I tell them they mustn't do it but they don't seem to believe me.

I am a rather plain eater and make no apologies for liking shepherd's pie, Lancashire hot pot, fish and chips and the like. I really do hate caviar and truffles and oysters, all of which I consider to be not only a vast waste of money but also incredibly pretentious. I love asparagus and a personal favourite is cabbage at the Savoy, which is wonderful after years of watery specimens at school.

My ideal evening would be in an exquisite restaurant on the Italian riviera. The meal would consist of a small pasta dish to start, some beautiful crispy duck and then the piece de resistance, an enormous dollop of double chocolate chip ice-cream.