John Walsh: 'I know what Kim Jong-Il objected to: anchovy and capers on the same pizza'

Tales of the City
Click to follow

As an apprentice foodie of some years' standing, I confess to a guilty admiration for the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il, if only for the dedication he shows to pursuing his gormandising interests. The main one is pizza. The newspaper Choson Sinbo, generally held to be Kim's mouthpiece, has announced the arrival of the country's first pizza parlour. Despite the fact that North Korea's population of 24 million has a tough time keeping above starvation level, let alone being able to afford a meal in a restaurant with hors d'oeuvres and an amusing house red, Kim is quoted as saying, "Our people should be allowed to enjoy the world-famous food."

Some could suspect Kim of making a fuss about the delicious, crust-based Italian dish as a way of distracting the world's attention from North Korea's imminent test-launch of a "communications satellite" in early April. (Some neighbouring nations, including Japan and South Korea, maintain that it's not really a satellite but a bloody great Taepodong-2 nuclear missile that's being test-flown, but the North Koreans insist that, nah, it's just a mobile-phone thing.) But that would be to underestimate the crackpot obsessiveness with which Kim gets his foodie way.

Five years ago, a part-time chef at the Pizza Institute in north Italy, one Ermanno Furlanis, made a Radio 3 documentary entitled I Made Pizza For Kim Jong-Il. He recalled the late 1990s, a time when North Korea was racked by a famine in which two million people died. Mr Furlanis told how he'd been approached by foreign diplomats who needed "culinary demonstrations" in an unnamed Far East country. After being ensconced in a white marble palace (and given intrusively thorough medical check-ups,) he was whisked to a military base bristling with armaments and told to show three grim army officers how to make proper pizza. According to Furlanis, the oven he was given for teaching purposes was transported on board a vast ship, and their alchemising of dough, mozzarella and tomato was inspected by none other than Kim Jong-Il himself. Of all the matters which the Beloved Leader could have addressed his attention that day, the quality of the pepperoni and mushrooms on North Korean pizzas was held to be the most pressing.

Ten years of "trial and error" in the preparation of (I'm guessing) Gardinieras and Quattro Stagiones have dragged by since those innocent days. You can practically hear generations of dough-slinging pizza cooks quaking in alarm as their puny efforts were greeted with dictatorial disgust and hefty prison sentences. Last year, Kim sent a platoon of Korean chefs to Rome and Naples to hone their technique, after their efforts featured, he said, "errors". What errors were these? Again, I'm guessing, but I think I know what he was objecting to: putting capers and anchovies on the same pizza.

He has also, reportedly, a passion for sushi, shark-fin soup, French wine and Cognac (though he hasn't yet announced, "Our people should be allowed to enjoy the world-famous Courvoisier 1953.") And his devotion to "sourcing" ingredients in their home territories is remarkable: he has sent chefs to Uzbekistan to find caviar, to Denmark for bacon and to China for melons and grapes. Really, he'd be a credit to modern gastronomy if only he weren't also a pitiless tyrant who micro-manages an impoverished economy and controls his population through a police state. But stand by for the appearance, very soon, of Beloved Margherita: the North Korean Pizza Book in all Pyongyang shops.

The word 'model' – what does that say to you? Someone lissom, undulating and effortlessly glamorous? All that, plus fine cheekbones and feminine mystique. So it must have surprised the producers of America's Next Top Model, when they announced that auditions would be held in Midtown Manhattan last Saturday, to find the sidewalks erupting as 10,000 Gisele wannabes bickered and fought. What was the blunder perpetrated by the producers? To announce that they'd consider auditioning women under 5ft 7in tall – the normal cut-off for catwalk models. Allowing every 5ft 3in New Yorker, after a lifetime of cursing her luck for being short, to think she was model material? Talk about asking for trouble. It's amazing nobody was clawed to death.