I'm 38 now, so I had a dinner party this week. Stuffed a couple of lemons into a bird and stuffed the bird into the oven for a couple of hours and served it up with green beans, green broccoli and scrumptious golden-brown roast potatoes. It was as delicious as it sounds, but it's the reaction of one my guests that I want to talk about. He was fervent in his appreciation for what I had achieved in my modestly-sized kitchen. It was the way he showed his appreciation that I had a problem with. I'm still having flashbacks.
Whenever I am invited to some friend or associate's home for dinner, I always act in the same way. I hang my coat up, shovel down whatever they've made me and then, crucially, I compliment them on their cuisine. I will say something like "That was nice" or "Well Phillip, you've done it again". It's a good morale-boost to the chef; they've spent the afternoon hunched over a stove, the least I can do is say "Your rice was brilliant", or the equivalent. That's how I've always expressed my appreciation: with words.
I invited three guests to devour the poultry on Wednesday night and, in fairness, two of them were absolutely textbook. Both Lord and WWF remarked on how soft the bird was, how crispy the vegetables were and how, in general, it was a great effort on my part.
The third guy was the problem.
He's called Jelson and he is a Dutch man who cycles everywhere, is late to everything, and keeps his cycle-clips on throughout all of his appointments. And the way he chose to demonstrate his thoughts on the meal was to lift his plate to his face and lick it clean.
We watched in horror as his tongue slid about his plate, removing gravy, mustard and anything else he'd failed to eliminate with his knife and fork. I've got a record player, so we did at least have some Diana Ross on the go, but it was a depressing sight, and even with Diana on a low volume you could still hear him grunting like a hog. Once it was clean, he set the plate down, and it glistened. We looked at him, he looked at us, he said "What?" and I went to get the Viennetta.
I returned to find Jelson now drinking neat gravy straight from the glass jug and explaining that I should take his behaviour as a compliment. Lord was explaining to him that in the UK we use words to compliment the chef. Jelson was yelping the phrase "Words mean nothing" and WWF had his eyes shut and was just saying "You don't lick your plate, man," again and again.
I did take Jelson's point, to a degree – though I didn't like seeing his lips and nose covered in gravy as he made it. Anyone with a working knowledge of MasterChef knows that words alone don't cut it. You watch John Torode and he'll throw in some pantomime when he's judging food. He'll shake his head and look like he's thinking about the war, before he gives his take. The word "delicious" counts for much more if it's guttural and almost inaudible among the tears. These days it won't do to merely dab the corner of your mouth and say "lovely".
But equally, if Torode likes a trifle, he doesn't lose his mind and drop his face into it.
The dinner party wound down shortly after Jelson had licked out his ice-cream bowl. I wanted him out before he licked the table or the other guests' lips, and I sat listening to "Baby Love" and considering whether I should invite him to dinner in the future.
I think I will, in fact. At the end of the day, it's a boost to know a Dutchman likes your cuisine. And more than that, it'll keep me on my toes. Serve anything substandard and I run the risk of seeing him spit it out, and it's difficult to think of an LP that can keep the atmosphere on track in those circumstances.Reuse content