Spy chef Len Deighton dines another day

Paul Bignell
Sunday 23 October 2011 03:37

When spy author Len Deighton wrote his first cookery book, in 1965, it caused quite a stink – literally.

Forty-five years later, the book that introduced legions of young British men in the 1960s to take to the kitchen, lured by the promise of impressing the opposite sex, has been re-released, sans garlic.

Despite being best known as an author of hard-boiled, pacy thrillers – the adaptation of his debut novel, The Ipcress File, put a young Michael Caine on the map – the publicity-shy Deighton, now 81, is also something of a culinary whizz. "It was entirely due to my mother that I started cooking. Her steak-and-kidney pudding was superb and when I served her version to Michael Caine he enjoyed it as much as I did."

As an art student Deighton saved up to buy classic French cookery books. To make sure they didn't get splattered with oil he drew "cookstrips" – cartoon strips that showed simple, step-by-step instructions. These strips feature in the new book.

Before becoming a writer, Deighton was a successful illustrator (his credits include the cover for Jack Kerouac's On the Road), a travel writer for Playboy and an airline steward. He now divides his time between homes in California, Guernsey and Portugal and hasn't written a novel for 15 years. In an age of technologically adept, ever-so-serious Bournes and Bonds, it's hard to imagine Deighton's sardonic, overweight, working-class spy Harry Palmer using an iPhone.

But if he were to write another novel, he says: "In the 1950s I came to know Beirut very well: cosmopolitan population, great cuisine and many stunning ancient sites. If I was to write a spy novel, Beirut would be at its centre."

'Len Deighton's French Cooking for Men' is published by HarperCollins at £9.99

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