Christopher Hirst: Can you believe the man's sauce?

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On and off, I have frothed about Loyd Grossman for years - his preposterous accent (as Jack Lemmon said in Some Like it Hot: "Nawbody talks loike that"), the inadequate spelling of his first name and, most of all, the expensive, if cheaply made sauces that bear his imprimatur. It is time to report on the fruits of my repeated fulminations. According to the Radio Times, Loyd Grossman has become the leading brand name among TV celebrities. His burgeoning range of foodstuffs, which has recently expanded to include "radiatore" (radiator-shaped pasta), earns him £25m a year.

This gives His Loydship a nominal brand value of £50m, some £2m ahead of the runner-up Antony Worrall Thompson, another occasional target of my ire. I still find it hard to appreciate how the inscribing of the holy trinity of names - Anthony, Worrall and let's not forget Thompson - mystically enhances the performance of the Breville juicer. Similarly, I have expressed periodic disapproval at the frantic mugging of Ainsley ("Let's get cooking!") Harriott (nominal brand value £30m), the exquisite posing of Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen (£20m), the irrepressible chirpiness of Jamie ("I'm totally doolally about herbs") Oliver (£6m) and the relentless propagation of clichés by Alan Titchmarsh (a paltry £4m).

But somehow Grossman gets my goat more than the others. The most recent TV advert for his sauces deliberately played on the irritation he effortlessly induces in any sapient viewer. "Don't forget the extra virgin olive oil!" he brayed at a housewife engaged in sauce-making, presumably in case she was about to sauté her garlic in a spot of Castrol. (Actually, making a pasta sauce is one of the most enjoyable things you can do in a kitchen.) Bearing in mind Loyd's oleaginous injunction, I peered for extra virgin olive oil in the product list on the label of his version of puttanesca sauce. Sure enough, there it is, but lagging well behind sunflower oil. We're not told how much extra virgin olive oil there is in the sauce, but since it appears between garlic purée (2.4 per cent) and anchovy paste (1.3 per cent), we can guess that it forms 2 per cent of the sauce. This is equivalent to 7ml or one-and-a-half teaspoonfuls in every 350g jar. Still, I'm sure it's never forgotten by Loyd.

I wonder if he uses an eyedropper to measure it when boiling up a batch of sauce? I know he makes it personally, otherwise he wouldn't have included the cheery reassurance on the label: "I made them - so you wouldn't have to!" Exactly what the role is of Premier International Foods of Chilvers Way, Histon, Cambridge, which also appears on the label, remains a mystery. As I pointed out once before, Loyd somehow does not find space on the label for the interesting meaning of "puttanesca". It means tart's sauce. The working girls of Naples cooked it up from stock cupboard ingredients as a warming restorative after a night on the streets. Dead easy to make, it combines olive oil, garlic, anchovies, chilli peppers, tinned tomatoes, olives, and, oh yes, capers, which Loyd sees fit to omit from his version.

Despite the stingy inauthenticity and expense (£1.69 for 350g) of his sauces, I have no doubt that Loyd's nervy, beaming phizog will stare out from more and more products on the supermarket shelves - and not just here since loydgrossmansauces.com has a website in Russian. Still, you might say, what are the odds? Newman's Own outgrosses Grossman and no one complains about that. Quite so, except there is one difference. All the profits from Paul Newman's massively successful sauce empire go to charity.

The unexpected benefits of a heatwave

The announcement by the Met Office that last month was the hottest for 28 years sent hacks scurrying for records of June 1976. Now that was a scorcher. Temperatures reached 32C (90F) for 14 successive days from 23 June. Beer sales went up by 80 per cent, hundreds fainted on the Tube and the Speaker of the House of Commons waived the "no nudity" rule (I made that last bit up). Back then, I was a visiting officer in the DHSS. I was a far from efficient civil servant, particularly when the tar in the street started to ooze underfoot.

One day, I toiled up a long hill in south London to see an old chap who was claiming supplementary benefit. "Blimey, you look hot, lad," he said, as I deliquesced in his hallway. "Would you like a cold Guinness?" It was the right thing to say. In the middle of the hottest spell since the war, I gave him a heating allowance. He hadn't requested one and indeed was reluctant to accept, but I insisted. "There may be a cold snap on the way," I said, as a torrent of sweat coursed down my face. It's unlikely that my benefactor is still around to enjoy his unexpected weekly bonus (about £4 back then), but I hope he occasionally raised a cooling glass to Mr Taxpayer.

Catering for those with convictions

"This is a unique circumstance which I have rarely, if ever, come across," said the lawyer of career criminal Gary Cowan, after his client confessed to three more crimes on top of his 184 previous convictions. Cowan wished to extend his prison term in order to complete a catering course. The lawyer might have been surprised, but I'm not. Judging by what I've received on my plate over the years, criminality is often to be found behind the swing-doors of restaurant kitchens. Among the many offences that spring to mind are an all-fat lamb cutlet (Scarborough, 1993), a virtually barren pizza (Waterloo, 1999) and a minuscule fragment of turbot (Whitstable, 2003). In each case, I'd like to see the perpetrator sent down for a good long stretch. Maybe they could take a cookery course while they're inside.

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