Out of the kitchen and into the bedroom

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The Independent Culture
Hell of a lunch. A scallop like God's own scallop, steamed in God's own steam, sitting in a little puddle of octopus-ink, and there, on top, a little baby octopus, dead as dead, stiff and lightly char-grilled, its arms outstretched in supplication. We know what to do with supplicants: engulf and devour. A lot of people left theirs. Literary types. Journalists, asking questions, too busy thinking up the next one to hear the answer to the first. Octopus? Yik. They're not putting that in their mouth. Certainly not. Words into other people's, yes. Different thing altogether.

On it went. Foie gras. Ballotine of salmon in a herb crust. Lamb. Raspberry souffle. Petits fours. Pear tart. Lunch. I was sitting next to the wine woman. She used to work for Shell but now she worked for Bibendum - marketing, yes? - and all her friends thought she was mad but, well, it was fascinating. These Australian wines: this Coonawarra white: what did I think? Deeply female, I said; musky, powerful, voluptuous. I wanted to take it home, chain it to the bed, pleasure it for hours on end. "You're oversexed," she said. Her boyfriend worked for Shell, too. He was about to be posted to Australia.

I know about Australia. Wine, oil, you name it. Sometimes the oil-lines are all you can see for hundreds of miles: surgical scars left from seismic surveys or pipelines. If you follow them you end up in the middle of the desert at a place called Moomba where men in steel-tipped Red Wing work- boots perform high-pressure industrial magic. The oil goes off one way, to be shipped out; the gas goes another, to Sydney, surfacing in kitchens full of shouting men, steaming scallops.

I said: "Will you go out there with him?" She said: "How's your salmon? What would you like to do with that?"

The author made a speech. This was a book launch. Drew Smith: a food man, a food writer, a foodie. Used to edit the Good Food Guide, now a consultant to new food businesses. Has written a novel: The Circus. Well, you have to, these days. You have to write a novel. Unless you're a novelist. If you're a novelist, you can piss off. They don't want your sort. How would it look on the dust-jacket? "Pumphrey Brobostigan is a novelist. This is his seventh novel." You wouldn't buy it. You want novels written by models, architects, criminals, doctors. I'm surprised I'm still here, frankly. I am a columnist. This is what I do. Where's the mileage in that? Where are the marketing tie-ins? (I'm thinking of changing my doctor. Medicine is all he's ever done.)

The wine woman was looking for marketing tie-ins. The novel contains a gastronomic cir-cus. Drew Smith put on a red top-hat and did bits of it out loud. They are taking it round the country: wine, book, hat, lunch. Lunch won't be quite the same. Ours was cooked by Marco Pierre White. But still. Read the book, eat the meal, drink the wine. Nobody mentioned the boudin noir. There's a scene in the book where a woman ... well, you can imagine. I didn't see a black-pudding man at the launch; a marketing tie-in foolishly missed, although I shall be adding a pudding - supple, perfectly cooked - to my own batterie du boudoir.

This foodie stuff. I don't know. Perhaps we're like convent girls. We used to dream of convent girls. "If they're wearing a crucifix," we used to tell each other, "you know, not the plain sort but the one with the little man on, you're away." It was a good theory, but what did we know? Nothing. "How did it go last night?" we'd ask each other. "Oh, great," we'd say, "I got to number seven." But we didn't know what number seven was. We didn't even know what number three was. The only person who actually knew was Graham Lord, and he wouldn't say much. "It's okay," he would say; "It's nice. They like it, too." We assumed he was lying. We assumed we were lying. Convent girls? Gasping for it. All those nuns and rules, and then they go mad when they get out.

"Shell girls were like that, too," said the wine woman. "I didn't know they had nuns in Shell," I said. "They don't," she said; "But they have Shell men." She slid a petit four into her nice pink mouth and wriggled. Perhaps we're like Shell girls, too. After years of sludge food, thawed- out food, warmed-over food, good-enough-for-the-likes-of-us food, we've suddenly escaped and discovered food food, and we've gone mad. Respectable, responsible English women now discuss different vintages of olive oil. Thin-lipped, red-cheeked British men in woollen suits, men who would once have regarded garlic as a difficult adventure, now queue up in Soho delicatessens, being knowledgeable about polenta. We didn't just vote out a pack of knackered, braying, corrupt phonies; we voted out Brown Food and voted in sensuality and lightness of being, and you can't turn on the television now without seeing somebody cooking, eating or talking about food.

But we've still a way to go. Down the escalators, in the filthy reeking crumbling disgrace of the London Underground, sitting in a blood-spattered urinal disguised as a train, a youngish woman with a Harvey Nichols carrier bag is dismantling a sandwich. She tears the crusts off one by one and drops them on the floor, then crams the rest of the sandwich into her pursed mouth and chews them as if she is being force-fed a leper's corpse. At Holborn station, two lardy, porky, burger-clutching dog-faced men in dirty sweat-suits are stumbling up the escalator behind another woman. "Ear!" they shout; "Cn'see yer pan'ies! Yer pan'ies!" Show us yer wabs. Show us yer squeaker. Two hours before, I was eating God's own scallop; now I am seeing God's own vengeance. The sandwich woman, with her tittuppy self-regarding weight-watching, was designed to sleep with these semi- human grease-pouches. In the bedroom, her fastidious mimsiness will turn to lust incarnadine, while their glottal braggadocio will mutate to incompetent fear, all droop and bluster. We are what we eat; and how we eat is what we sleep with. But do I care? No. Fate cannot harm me; I have dined today. !

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