Jay Rayner on Last Suppers, Nottingham's Food Scene, and Being the Christmas Chef

Interview: Ash Dilks
Friday 27 September 2019
reading time: min, words

On Sunday 29 September Jay Rayner brings his new book to life on stage at Glee Club. It explores our fascination with last suppers and tells the stories of the killer dishes that would end up on his table. We spoke to him ahead of the show…


Tell us about the show...
I always do a live show to accompany my books - they are stand up meets comedy meets theatre. This one is built around five anecdotes from my new book and how they tie in with the food choices I make for my last supper.

The show explores the role that memory and experience play in what we like to eat. People think it's all about taste - but it never is, it's always about who you were with at the time and how you were feeling.

If that sounds a bit dry I assure you it's not. It includes the moment my mother demonstrated how to put a condom on on breakfast television back in the 1980s. And the story about how I ended up interviewing a prostitute in a bar in an Amsterdam brothel - that's all I did just to be absolutely clear in case it sounds dodgy.

Interestingly, when I spoke with Marco Pierre White he said the same. You don’t remember the Michelin star restaurants, you remember the meals by a beachside, with your family, a plate of sardines and some cheap crap wine…
When people say to me, “What's your favourite restaurant?” I say it's a very difficult question, because really it’s about the emotional association with food. That isn’t that grandiose meal with 14 waiters spiriting around you and mouthing platitudes at you; it's going to be something far more relaxed, elbows on the table. That’s what this show is about, as it's about who we are through the meals we have.

Have you been to Nottingham before?
Many times! I did my previous show there at the Lakeside Theatre. I've been there to do reviews many a times. I've written about Sat Bains' and I believe I’ve also reviewed World Service. It's an interesting city.

The food scene has gone wild over the last 5-10 years here…
It’s great. I remembered when my Jazz Quartet did a show at the Playhouse. Whenever I tour with the quartet I always make sure we have a proper meal at whichever restaurant is good - we had Annie’s Burger Shack for the whole band.

Annie’s is great - do you think meat free burgers will be requested more as a last supper?
It might be, I've not really tried one - I'm suspicious of non-meat cookery pretending to imitate meat cookery. I have nothing against non-meat cookery, as it’s a vital thing. In fact, there's a whole chapter in my previous book titled, "Thou shalt not sneer at meat free cookery" - I think it should be good because of the fact it’s vegetables, not in spite of that.

I find the notion of making an item that mimics another item just a bit odd. People say I'm being very narrow and we need to reduce by any means necessary and I do get that argument as well - I haven't actually gone out of my way to try one of the Impossible burgers but maybe I should.

We are all standing in the kitchen pretending to sacrifice ourselves, but really we are so pleased we don't have to get into conversations with the racist uncle

Someone once said to me that the Greggs vegan sausage roll is less healthy than a standard one because of all the rubbish they put in the vegan one...
I wouldn’t know about that but certainly just defining a diet by a narrow framework doesn't mean it is going to be more or less healthy. It's about what you actually eat.

Who would you have your last supper with, dead or alive?
I came up with this brilliant plan that I could combine my last supper with my fantasy dinner party. I had this list with a few great jazz people on it including Diane Krall and Geoff Goldblum, because I'd recently interviewed him and played piano with him. I also had Stephen Fry and Barack and Michelle Obama. It was a great plan which I proposed to Netflix - they were supposed to pay for me to fly everyone in on private jets. But they thought it was an incredibly stupid idea and didn't commission it.

Well if you don't ask you don't get
That’s what I thought. Although in the end I had 40 people in a room above a pub in west London and they were all my mates, the musicians I work with, family and closest friends. A lot less hassle than trying to have Barack Obama around my house in South London for dinner.

I do have one small bone to pick with you though, Jay…
What have I done?

You wrote an article debunking the Christmas cook, explaining that they are in fact not a martyr chained to the kitchen against their will
It's true - we are all standing in the kitchen pretending to sacrifice ourselves, but really we are so pleased we don't have to get into conversations with the racist uncle, and then we get excused from doing the washing up - it's brilliant, isn't it?

It was brilliant, but I am the Christmas chef in our house and my family read the article
I'm sorry for your troubles. I've blown your cover and messed it up for you.

Jay Rayner will be at The Glee Club with his show The Last Supper on Sunday 29 September 

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