The road not taken: Kit de Waal on her imaginary restaurant

I’d run a small, chaotic little restaurant with a terracotta floor covered in dangerous rugs.

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I came to writing late in life so I’ve already tried loads of different jobs: massage therapist, legal executive, waitress, researcher, trainer and backing singer. I didn’t love any of them. I was either not quite good enough (waitress, backing singer), unappreciated (legal executive) or just plain bored (everything else).

These days, as well as reading fiction, I go to bed with Yotam Ottolenghi, Diana Henry or Claudia Roden, seduced by their recipes and love of food. Apart from writing, the closest I ever come to losing myself in any activity is cooking. So I suppose if I wasn’t a writer I’d be a chef. Not the gooseberry jus, chocolate soil, coconut reduction (made that up) type of chef – there would be nothing fancy or delicate about my food, nor would I want to spend years learning  how to gut a rabbit.

I would be more cook than chef, more stout Italian mama cooking for 20 men bringing in the olive harvest, or French housewife putting a sign outside her front room inviting you to come and eat, no menu, no choice.

My kitchen would be spotless. I’d have vintage pots bashed by time, cast iron skillets, double boilers and stone terrines. I’d make hearty stuff with dumplings and whole carrots, three types of meat, stews, cassoulets, chicken in wine with unpeeled bulbs of garlic, lamb simmered with prunes and saffron, roast peaches with gingered almonds, suet puddings, rustic tarts, stuff you put in the oven at dawn and eat at dusk. I would make cordials and pickles, curds, sauces and jams. I would bottle autumn fruit and serve it warm at Christmas with rum syrup, clots of cream.

I’d run a small, chaotic little restaurant with a terracotta floor covered in dangerous rugs. I’d buy red wine by the barrel (no white) and dribble home-made liqueur into flea-market glasses. The plates wouldn’t match, the antique knives bone-handled, heavy, almost redundant; huge dinner forks of tarnished silver, spoons for everything. At eight o’clock, an old man would appear and play jazz standards for his dinner. He’d have a mysterious past, a broken heart. My food would be the best thing in his life.

At midnight, I’d drag a chair to the back door and have a fag with the maître d’ (think a genial John Malkovich). We’d gossip, plan the next day’s menu, complain about our feet.

This article is from our “Road not taken” series

This article appears in the 13 December 2019 issue of the New Statesman, Christmas special

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