Gazza scores and we all make a meal of it

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I have spent most of this Euro 96 tournament time in the depths of Canada, well away from the action. Not trying deliberately to avoid it, just going through with a family visit to relatives near Toronto which had been arranged long ago. Still, it was worse for brother-in-law Keith, whom we were visiting. He loves football and lives in Canada, which is a lot further from soccer action than anywhere in England.

"I hope you're not doing anything on Saturday morning," were Keith's greeting words, "but I've fixed up for us to watch the Scotland v England game at Roger's flat in Toronto."

Roger is a chef. So is Keith. So were Scott and Mike, the other two people present in the flat. I don't think I have ever been the only non-chef at a breakfast party before. I wonder if you can guess what chefs cook up for each other at breakfast time when nobody's looking?

That's right. Full English breakfast. Tomatoes, mushrooms, bacon, sausages, beans, etc...

Not much was said during the game, except when Scott asked me if I'd like some pepper. Roger was too busy cooking to watch. Scott and Mike, I think, had not seen a soccer game before, and were probably there mainly for the excellent breakfast.

So it was left to Keith and me to supply the running bar-bore commentary without which no game is complete, though the only comment I can remember now came from Keith just after Paul Gascoigne had scored his wonder-goal (side flick over Hendry, thunderous half volley) and flopped over on the turf in celebration.

"When Gascoigne scores a goal like that," said Keith, "he's a genius. When he lies on his back like that, inviting all his mates to jump on him, he's a wally. Wouldn't it be wonderful if the rest of the team just walked back to their own half, leaving him lying there? But it will never happen."

During one of the duller moments of the game, I mentioned to Keith a recipe I had seen in the Radio Times a few weeks previously, the name of which was so trendy that it had bemused me. Seared Scallops, Black Fettucine and Sun-Dried Tomato Salsa.

"Still using sun-dried tomatoes in England, are they?" said Keith, not unkindly. "Actually, it's pretty pointless using them in a salsa, as it would just drown it. Salsa is meant to be full of fresh, raw flavour not sun-dried ones. And anyway, a recipe like that involves very little cooking, if any. It's all assembly. But most restaurant cooking these days IS assembly, not cooking.

"Little tasty bits joined together, not real cooking ... Bit like modern football," he added, as another Scottish move broke down.

I missed the England v Holland match but was back on Saturday for the England-Spain encounter.

Unfortunately this clashed with our village fete - another bit of dodgy planning - where the madding crowd dissolved at about three o'clock as everyone went home to watch two hours of Anglo-Spanish stalemate. Everyone, that is, except Rupert, who is a chef and was on duty behind the village barbecue, dispensing burgers and baked potatoes instead of his more usual tomato coulis and sabayons and things...

"I hope I never see another baked potato in foil in my life," he said to me sadly, looking down at the well-carbonised griddle bars.

"Tell me, Rupert," I said, trying to sound well-informed, "do you think restaurant cooking is more assembly than real cooking these days?"

"I'll tell you what I do think," he said, avoiding the question as effortlessly as a top politician. "I don't think it's beef that should be banned in this country. I think it's duck!"

"Duck? Why duck?"

"Because it's boring, that's why! I'm so tired of cooking duck. There's nothing much you can do with it except undercook it pink or overcook it. I can't understand why people go on asking for it! This is just duck breasts I'm talking about, mark you. A whole duck is different, or even better a whole goose..."

From somewhere in the distance of the village cheers broke out. Spain, we learnt later, had just lost on penalties.

"What you do with a whole goose is this..." continued Rupert, but I was edging away by now.

I don't want the entire Euro 96 tournament to be spent discussing the art of cooking.

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