If you love food, you’ll love this episode. We are joined by MasterChef judge and editor of Waitrose Food Magazine, William Sitwell. Among his many notable accomplishments, William was the narrator of Michelin Stars – The Madness of Perfection. It’s a fascinating BBC documentary on the competitive nature of modern haute cuisine with lots of great behind-the-scenes action (I’ve seen it twice).
We start by learning of William’s foray into college journalism before he waded into politics in his 20’s. An unlikely turn of events had him writing for Women’s Journal, penning such grippers as, “How to date again in your 40’s.” Asked during the interview for Waitrose Magazine why he felt qualified for the job, William responded, “Well, I eat!” Sitwell, the food writer and critic, was born! We discuss the anatomy of a long lunch – noon to midnight – and how the British version differs from the Continental one. In his recent book, Eggs or Anarchy, Sitwell chronicles the life of Lord Woolton, Minister for Food during WWII.
We learn why Hitler couldn’t find the Ministry when it decamped to Wales and why Britain, with only 40% food security, was increasingly vulnerable to starvation as the war stretched on. Paul learns how staggered rationing works and how such rationing encouraged Brits in the countryside to hunt game.
Sitwell’s earlier book, A History of Food in 100 Recipes, explores the earliest recorded attempts at cooking and baking. The first recipe: hieroglyphic instructions for making Egyptian flatbread. We speculate on the first cooked food – the flame making the meat easier to chew. Also: a detailed recipe for lamb and pork ravioli from 1470 in which the pasta is boiled for as long as it takes to say five Lord’s Prayers.
Finally, we discuss the advent of the London food scene with the Roux Brothers in the early 70’s. They started Le Gavroche in 1967, followed by The Waterside Inn at Bray. Many young chefs came through their kitchen and went on to launch top restaurants of their own: Marco Pierre White, Gordon Ramsay, Marcus Wareing. In a sign of how parochial London was then, one could only get olive oil at a chemist (pharmacy) and its commercial use was cleaning out waxy ears. Today, of course, London is a mecca for chefs and foodies alike and boasts many of the world’s best restaurants. Sitwell admits there is a lack of good provincial cooking in Britain (unlike in rural France and Italy), but says things are improving. And, we touch on why so few women run kitchens today and if that’s likely to change. Enjoy this wonderful exploration of food, history and the good life with William Sitwell. Cheers!