Food & Drink: Gastropod

WHEN announcing the Jeremy Round Award for young restaurant reviewers, sponsored by Evian mineral water and supported by the Guild of Food Writers, the Gastropod mischievously omitted a lower age limit. The winner is 13-year-old Mary Jane Docherty, who wrote about a meal she enjoyed at The Connaught as part of the prize she won as runner-up in last year's Sainsbury's Future Cooks Competition. Sophie Grigson, one of the judges, said: 'We didn't choose her for her age, but because her writing was refreshing, didn't try to emulate other reviewers and was witty without being laboured.'

Miss Docherty confesses to being overawed by the splendour of The Connaught, remarking that 'all London hotel lounges look grand to me as I am stunted as a result of living on thin Northern food with all the best cuts going to the whippet'. Before her meal she was given a guided tour of the kitchen by the chef, of whom she says, 'M Bourdin cares about truffles the way dogs care about bones. He flings them about in his cooking with the generosity of a drunken matelot.'

She ate quenelles de haddock, roast sirloin and chocolate mousse, failing to find fault with any of it, and concluded that 'lunch at The Connaught costs about the same as three Guns 'N Roses CDs, lasts nearly as long and is much more digestible.' The Gastropod is heartened that one of such tender years has got her priorities properly sorted and is amused by Mary Jane's playful parting shot: 'I think inspecting the kitchen before lunch is a brilliant idea. I believe there is a place called Harveys that encourages you to do just that.'

A SOUND engineer, a photographer and the Gastropod were the only males in the dining room at Westminster College when Radio 4's Woman's Hour recorded a programme celebrating the women who changed the course of post- war cookery, to be broadcast on Bank Holiday Monday. A BBC book called Out of the Frying Pan ( pounds 12.99) includes chapters on Prue Leith and Claudia Roden, who were on the panel in the dining room, and Jane Grigson, who was represented by her daughter, Sophie. In a remote kitchen were Josceline Dimbleby and Marguerite Patten.

Jenni Murray, the presenter, explained that she would be shuttling between the two sites via videolink and, to check sound levels, she asked everyone what they'd had for breakfast. Prue had not enjoyed a BBC sandwich, Sophie had relished a bacon one, Josceline purloined somebody else's chips and Claudia finished up some leftover split-pea and spinach soup. Only Marguerite Patten, who recently published her 159th book, had eaten a proper breakfast: a bowl of cereal with a banana chopped in, washed down with a cup of tea.

Known during the war as the Queen of Making Do, Ms Patten was a regular fixture on the Kitchen Front, extolling the virtues of whale meat and telling resourceful housewives how to make mock crab and oatmeal sausages. In 1946, she appeared on the first edition of Woman's Hour. A pioneer of cookery demonstrations (and heroine of the current generation of TV cooks), in the Fifties Marguerite toured the country as a variety act; she even appeared on the revolving stage at the London Palladium.

THOSE who like their radio a little spicier won't want to miss the last sitting of Table Talk at 1.05pm tomorrow on Radio 3, when Leslie Forbes will be talking about taking drugs with Hank Wangford, the singing gynaecologist and fully paid-up member of the Sixties counter-culture. Hank takes Leslie through the history of psychoactive cookery, from Brion Gysin's hashish fudge to mushroom tea, exploding myths about the hallucinatory properties of bananas and nutmeg along the way. Tune in, listen up and prepare to have your consciousness expanded.

IN THE wake of the debate that has been spluttering fitfully across these pages about the relevance of the Michelin guide in this country, the Gastropod enjoyed a hot cheese souffle, loin of venison with an intensely reduced sauce, plus a side order of local asparagus and a plate of British cheeses to polish it off at Read's, near Faversham in Kent - surely the least likely looking Michelin-starred restaurant in Britain.

From the outside the building is reminiscent of a primary school. In fact it was a mail order depot before David and Rona Pitchford opened their restaurant at Painter's Forstal 17 years ago, deriving the name Read's from the partners' initials. For the last few years, the Pitchfords have boasted a red M in the Michelin guide, but little suspected that in 1993 their efforts would be rewarded with a full Michelin star, recommendation as the County Restaurant of the Year in The Good Food Guide, and, finally, the Gonzalez Byass Customer Care Award.

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