Saturday 26 April 2008

Jay Rayner, The Man Man Who Ate the World: In Search of the Perfect Meal

I should probably start off with confirmation that Cowie can't say Jay Rayner's name. This comes hot on the heels of Cowie blurting out that she liked nothing better than a good bibliography, when she meant biography. So from now on Jay Rayner will be referred to by his new name, "Ray". An amusing addition to the special Cowie dictionary.

My copy travelled with me to Chicago, Brugge and Paris and was devoured with a degree of greed that Ray himself would be proud of! It kept me company in the Blackhawk as I was bored by the pilgrim waitress!

Ray's analysis of the restaurant scene in Moscow was spot on. It's a seriously murky place. A city where you are always only seconds from disaster. Ever since I was kidnapped there I've always been fascinated by and wary of all things Russian. We ate at Cafe Puskin and devoured some seriously good and expensive caviar with some icy vodka followed by 2 grilled quail with a bitter fruit sauce. The food was delicious but the setting is false and somewhat alarming. There's nothing like being watched by a whore like a hawk to put you off your food! She was perched at the bar rather like a bottle of chilled wine sits in an ice bucket. Apparently this is normal in Moscow!

Ray discusses the way that the world's uber restaurants have evolved and homogenised. The nouveau riche cities such as Dubai, Las Vegas and Moscow come off badly. They have embraced the fact that chefs from America, London and Paris are happy to franchise themselves for serious bucks. As a result you get glitzy venues and flashy food. But not the true experience. No connection to locality. No concept of terroir.

On the other hand the old school classics such as London, Paris, New York and Tokyo are rooted in their locality. This gives them their identity and as a corollary, their integrity and ability to franchise their names out to the rest of the world.

Highlights include:

Ray eating at seven, 3 and 2 Michelin star restaurants in 7 days

A galloping gourmet extravaganza around 5 restaurants in New York

Ray's love of food blogging and social media (hello Ray!)

Ray's bowel failure in Tokyo which had me wetting myself on the train in Chicago

It's a shame that Ray didn't review El Bulli or The Fat Duck... if you are in search of the perfect meal then surely you've got to visit the best two restaurants in the world. Especially because the molecular gastronomy movement is one of the most exciting phenomena in the food world. Restaurants like Alinea and Bacchus have strung up mimicking Feran Adria and Heston's style. But none of these new school restaurants get a look in. Maybe this could be a good theme for a follow up book.

Maybe a trip to Spain would have been good - on top of El Bulli, San Sebastian would probably have a few restaurants that could be contenders.

I was interested to read about Ray's family background and his Jewish food roots. I've been reading his reviews in the Guardian for ages and one of them came crashing back to me... He reviewed Blooms with Silverbrow and opened up with this comment:

"I once said that bad restaurants were like car crashes and chest infections, in that they were never sought but were, instead, something that just happened to me. After my dinner at the Jewish restaurant Bloom's, in Golders Green, northwest London, I realised the analogy goes further. You also feel the effects for days afterwards, too. Every time I let slip an involuntary belch, which was often, I was right back there at the table - and that was not a good place to be. Never has the late John Diamond's great joke about Jewish keep-fit lessons - eat three bowls of lockshen pudding, press your hand to your chest and say, 'Feel the burn' - been so true."

I had read an interview with Silverbrow on the Trusted Places blog that referred to that trip to Blooms. The foodie world is a very small one. And the online foodie world is even smaller.

Towards the tail end of the book Ray gets very excited about food blogging. It's clearly a passion of his. And this is where I got really interested. I've yet to get stuck into Opinionated About or Mouthfuls, but I now can't wait. I've just found Steve Plotnicki's Opinionated About Dining Guide. Looks like a really interesting read. And right up any food bloggers ally.

It's a good book that's had a lot of publicity and has given me a much more in depth view of what Ray is like as a person... But it's not a classic and I wish it had included Spain and had given a better account of London's restaurants. I was also disappointed that Ray seemed to lose his enthusiasm for food and restaurants by the end of the book, to the extent that he even considered giving up restaurant reviewing. Don't give up Ray. Your reviews make my Sundays! I just hope you get your Mojo back.


Anonymous said...

Great post, as always, but: "Ever since I was kidnapped..."

GOSH, do I want to hear that story...! ...?

- Susana

Browners said...

Haha! A year ago I went with work to Moscow and landed up being kidnapped by a taxi driver who demanded (and received) a 10,000 Ruble ransom. Very scary. Very dramatic. And very unpleasant. Always be very careful in Moscow. It's a dangerous place.


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