Bee Wilson finds the Tories rather tasteless
The Tories are unoriginal and unappetising - and that's just for starters
After reading all the recent post-mortems of the Conservative Party, I turn to a little blue book published two years ago, entitled All Star Starters: delicious dishes and amusing anecdotes from celebrities. What it doesn't say on the cover is that the stars in question are all Tories. And reading this little volume, one feels, despairingly, that Theresa May's "nasty" doesn't begin to cover their problems.
All Star Starters is funnier than a bookful of Craig Brown's Private Eye diaries. It is funny ha-ha as well as funny peculiar, and not a little scary. Sebastian Coe's recommendation for oysters with fresh lemon juice can only be read hiding behind your fingers. "As everyone knows oysters are the most famous aphrodisiac and as Nicky and I have four children, Madeline, Harry, Peter and Alice - I guess this speaks for itself!"
Ann Widdecombe offers a surreal "recipe" for scrambled eggs with either smoked salmon or avocado, commenting gamely, "turns a snack into an experience!". The Rt Hon Ted Heath excels himself with a recipe for "grilled mushroom caps" filled with Parmesan, breadcrumbs and sun-dried tomato paste. Heath brazenly uses the dish as an excuse to recall a lunch he had with his publisher to celebrate the success of his memoirs, at which the mushrooms were served. He reminisces that "Everyone was delighted with it; indeed some did not realise that it really was mushroom, which has always been a favourite of mine in any dish." I have read this sentence about 20 times but have yet to unravel its many meanings. How befuddled must Sir Ted's guests have been, to fail to realise they were eating mushrooms? And how could he think this misunderstanding could count as a recommendation for either the mushrooms or his memoirs?
Funnier almost than the politicians' contributions are those from the celebrities, hip young luminaries of the calibre of Judith Chalmers (garlic sardines), Patti Boulaye (lettuce or spinach and bacon mix), Frederick Forsyth (assiette de crudites), Nancy Reagan ("monkey bread"), Elaine Paige (pea soup with mint cream), Fiona Fullerton (spinach ramekins), Jim Davidson (fruit salad with alcohol) and Roger Moore (artichoke true-blue vinaigrette, served with blue finger bowls). With celebrity backers like these, who needs Edwina Currie? Joan Collins OBE, one of the few top-notch celebs in the book, offers her recipe for "pasta primavera" on an erratum slip, having missed out most of the method the first time round, apart from the tip that onions can be sauteed in the microwave - oh, the deliciousness - without any butter.
Remarkably, the book comes with an introduction from the master chef Michel Roux, claiming he has "no doubt that it will become an important addition to any cook's library". We need not be so cynical as to suppose that his culinary judgement was compromised by his being so "thrilled and honoured" to help the Conservative Party. Clearly, Monsieur Roux genuinely enjoys eating Ken Clarke's wholesome black-eyed bean pate, designed for when his daughter "went veggie", adores making Virginia Bottomley's "naughty but nice" eggs Meulemeester and relishes the tuna mousse of John Major, made with "low-oil mayonnaise", gherkins and raw onion. I'd like to believe, however, that he just hadn't noticed the "prawns pawpaw" of David Mellor when he made his recommendation.
The food on the whole is a mixture of self-indulgent luxury (lots of caviar and smoked salmon), lack of originality (Margaret Thatcher's avocado salad) and sheer unappetisingness. The one exception is a very authentic recipe for gazpacho, made with good ripe tomatoes, red wine vinegar and olive oil. It comes from - who else? - a certain Michael Portillo, the man they rejected as leader even before they rejected Kenneth Clarke. Alas, poor party!