Start off with a young woman walking up the steps to her apartment building, juggling handbag, computer, briefcase and shopping while she presses in the code that will open the door, walking through the bland carpeted silence of the foyer and going up in the lift to her apartment, undoing the several deadlocks, still juggling bags, dropping them on the coffee table.
She loves her apartment, small sitting room, tiny bedroom, large marble bathroom, so elegant, so tasteful, so much her space, minimalist but comfortable. She pours herself a glass of red wine, opens the cupboard with the microwave and sink in it, and puts a slice of pizza in to heat up.
You’re supposed to be able to wrap it in paper towels and have it come out as if it’s been freshly cooked but whatever she tries it ends up soggy or somehow stale. She tries not to let it be redolent of group houses and forgotten pizza growing mould in cardboard boxes under piles of discarded clothing, a way of life now also most happily discarded. The red wine is a good one; taste that instead.
So, what’s this? Is it an extract from my new chick lit novel? Or is it a poignant little urban tragedy? Maybe even an urban myth?
Here’s another: the young woman picking up her children from creche, late as usual but there was a crisis at work. She was going to cook some vegetables and make a pasta sauce but no time. The kids will love KFC. She knows that the ‘F’ in KFC stands for fried, but just this once (another once) won’t hurt. She pours herself a glass of white from the cask in the fridge, a good one it is, two-litre, and says to the children that, all right, they can eat out of the packet. Just this once.
The next paragraph in both scenarios is the turning on of the television. Settle back, take a good swig of wine, and watch Celebrity Chef. Pick up the copy of the gourmet magazine you bought at the shops and flick through the pages.
The television program might not be called precisely that but that is what it will be about — some famous person telling people eating rubbish how to cook amazing food.
There is a paradox here. The more we eat takeaway and junk food at home and the less we cook for ourselves — to the point of building luxury apartments without kitchens — the more rampantly do programs and magazines and books about food proliferate. As if we are becoming a nation of virtual eaters.
Unfortunately we are not getting thin on this diet.
Some cooks are famous and therefore are given television slots, such as Stephanie or Rick Stein. Others are catapulted to fame by their programs, like the Fat Ladies or Nigella.
She is pretty celebrated these days for her beauty and sexiness as she cooks, her erotic greed as she opens that gorgeous red mouth wide and stuffs it full of wicked food, or sensuously licks a utensil, before dropping it down for some unseen fairy to whisk away and wash.
The slight frisson: how much of that tumbling black hair is actually falling in the food?
My first observance of Nigella was as the acerbic restaurant critic of The Spectator, which is very low down in the fame register. She turned up cooking on the telly bearing the sad narrative of her husband’s illness and death.
She achieved considerable celebrity in this medium; we watched her cooking for friends and small children on family occasions, such as birthday parties, or jolly Christmases. We saw, rather jerkily photographed, her friends. We went shopping with her at local speciality shops.
We admired her pantry, much larger than most of our kitchens, which she raided for the goodies she’d put there for that purpose. We wondered how she kept such a small waist with all that gorging, though clearly her bottom was pretty large and her breasts were opulent.
Some people didn’t give a stuff about the food; they watched the program for its sexy presenter.
‘What a root rat,’ said a young man of my acquaintance.
So what about my opening narratives?
The businesswoman in her kitchenless luxury apartment — or maybe it has a gorgeous gleaming never-used designer cooking space — the single mother succumbing to KFC once again, both watching chefs performing amazing culinary feats on the telly.
There are ironies, and possibly sad ones, in these scenarios, but maybe these women aren’t too hopeless; they are at least looking at, even if they aren’t eating, interesting food.
It’s got as far as being an idea.
Maybe, one day, they’ll make some.
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