451life offered a limited number of complimentary tickets to this very special event.
We went along to hear Madhur Jaffrey, Jessica Harris and star of our films Fines Herbes, Jeremy Lee, discuss their earliest and most evocative food memories with head of Oxford Gastronomica Donald Sloan.
Head chef at Quo Vadis in London’s Soho, Jeremy grew up in Dundee with a mother who was a great cook. He is renowned for his resolutely British culinary repertoire, informed by meticulous research and inspired by those he has worked with, including Simon Hopkinson and Alastair Little. The result was aptly illustrated in the introduction by chair, Donal Sloan, who told the story of having lunch with Madhur Jaffrey and Jessica Harris at Quo Vadis. Madhur and Jessica had never been there before and Madhur lifted the menu and looked at it and said – ‘this menu has been written by someone with exquisite taste’. Then, who should swoosh round the corner but Jeremy Lee...
Madhur Jaffrey hardly needed an introduction. Her first book, An Invitation to Indian Cookery, was published in 1973 and her series for BBC television Madhur Jaffrey’s Indian Cookery made her a household name. She is a world authority on Indian food as well as an award-winning actress and bestselling cookery writer –with over 20 films and 15 cookery books to her name.
Madhur talked about how as a child growing up in India she ate very bland food and then graduated to the things the adults ate. Children were very keen to eat their first spicy food, to feel grown up: ‘Eating your first chilli was like wearing stockings’.
Jessica Harris is professor of English at Queens College, City University of New York and is the USA’s most influential scholar on the food and foodways of the African Diaspora. She has written extensively on this topic, the most recent and acclaimed text being High on the Hog: a culinary journey from Africa to America.
Jessica talked about our personal food histories coming from family and community but also being distinctly regional. She had wonderful stories about the difference between her parents' tastes and backgrounds and moved on to consider whether we have the right to know or comment on other native cuisines.
The conversation that followed covered how we develop our palate, whether there is such a thing as a super palate and whether we can taste food without eating it!
Thank you to Donald Sloan of Oxford Gastronomica, the Oxford Literary Festival and the brilliant panel for such a joyful and interesting 451 event.