The Plagiarist in the Kitchen by Jonathan Meades - review

JANE SHILLING
The Plagiarist in the Kitchen by Jonathan Meades

“There are no new foods. There will be no new foods. There are only rediscovered foods.” Thus the writer and film-maker Jonathan Meades, who spent 15 years as a newspaper restaurant critic testing the truth of his assertion.

While the Italian Futurist, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, insisted in The Futurist Cookbook that the perfect meal requires “absolute originality in the food”, Meades describes his own culinary manifesto as “an anti-cookbook... an explicit paean to the avoidance of culinary originality... to the notion that in the kitchen there is nothing new and nor can there be anything new”. Even the title is nicked “without permission” from Julian Barnes’s 2003 Pedant in the Kitchen.

He observes that the habit of plagiarism has a distinguished lineage. The rap sheet of authors who “lard their lean books with the fat of others’ work” includes Montaigne, Shakespeare, Swift and Sterne, whose own denunciation of plagiarism was plagiarised from Robert Burton — “surely a gag precursive of Duchamp”.

Meades is himself a pungent and vigorous denouncer: television chefs attract his odium (“crass tossers with...spray-on grins”) as do English sausages (“slurry in a condom”) and, in an exuberantly non-kosher recipe for pork braised in milk, the Old Testament books of Exodus and Leviticus (“those dismal rulebooks — all officiousness and menaces”).

He prefaces his version of Elizabeth David’s La Sauce — a hefty confection of rabbit, hare, brisket, pork, two bottles of heavy red wine, chocolate and a cup of strong espresso — with an essay querying the origins of David’s recipe, the authenticity of Cecil Sharp’s folk song collection and the Tate Gallery’s account of the scar on the face of the naked woman in Christian Schad’s 1927 self-portrait.

The Plagiarist might not look like a working cookbook, but between bursts of explosive provocation, and vaguely disturbing abstract monochrome images, there is plenty to eat. Avocado on toast (after Nigella Lawson?); Martin Scorsese’s mother’s meatballs from Goodfellas; Meades’s mother’s deep-fried eggs. If you require ideas for cooking brains, tripe, eels or fresh blood (fry in duck fat with garlic and breadcrumbs), you will find them here.

Across the foot of each page runs a border of culinary exhortation: “Concentrate... Get Treatment for Squeamishness... Vegetarianism is curable...” The lone example of an original recipe — a fig and ham tart with goat’s cheese and chestnut honey — concludes in cautionary fashion: “Leave to cool. Taste. Chuck in bin.”

True to the lamellate intricacy of Meades’s range of reference, even this peremptory repudiation of culinary innovation has provenance: close cousin to Edward Lear’s nonsense receipe for amblongus pie: “Serve up in a clean dish, and throw the whole out of the window as fast as possible.”

£13.60, Amazon, Buy it now

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