Scrambled eggs seem a somewhat unlikely obsession for a suave, sophisticated secret agent. Yet such was James Bond’s fixation that a proofreader for Live and Let Die warned Ian Fleming that his hero’s “addiction to scrambled eggs was becoming a security risk” – which doesn’t stop Bond tucking into at least three plates during his pursuit of the sinister Mr Big.
The eggs don’t make it into the films. With the exception of the odd spoonful of caviar, screen Bonds tend to prefer liquid sustenance – though Daniel Craig is, somewhat improbably, seen making pancakes in his latest and last outing in the role. In the books, however, it’s a different story. Fleming is widely quoted as saying he wanted to stimulate readers right down to their taste buds. In the drabness of postwar Britain, the “avocado pear”, pâté de foie gras and scrambled eggs and champagne Bond tucks into in his first outing, Casino Royale – published in 1953, the same year that egg rationing ended – must have seemed positively pornographic.
Fleming uses food and drink as yet another way to show off 007’s effortless expertise. He has a typically masculine confidence in his culinary opinions, trumpeting the superiority of Highland smoked salmon over the “desiccated products of Scandinavia” in Moonraker, and deftly ordering for Honey Rider (melon, roast chicken à l’Anglaise and vanilla ice cream with hot chocolate sauce) when they sit down to dinner with Dr No. He’s even generous enough to admit the excellence of Goldfinger’s cheese soufflé.
“In England,” Fleming writes in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, “he lived on grilled soles, oeufs en cocotte and cold roast beef with potato salad.” But Bond is unfazed by the unfamiliar, enjoying Kerim’s steak tartare in From Russia with Love and enduring live lobster in You Only Live Twice. The head of the Japanese Secret Service tells “Bondo-san” that he “must get accustomed to the specialties of the country”, though as soon as Tiger Tanaka leaves his charge alone, Bond orders a double portion of eggs Benedict and a pint of Jack Daniel’s.
That detail is telling; while 007 may pride himself on being as brave with his fork as he is in a fight, his “simple” tastes betray a xenophobic distrust of anything too fancy or foreign. He’s openly disdainful of the “French belly-religion… the whole lip-smacking ritual of wine-manship and food-manship”, preferring a plainly roasted partridge at “a modest establishment, unpromisingly placed exactly opposite the railway station of Étaples” to the “bonnes tables” frequented by the ordinary tourist (one gets the sense that Bond would be insufferable on Instagram).
In Goldfinger there’s even a streak of Scottish Presbyterianism in his revulsion at the wealthy Du Pont’s guiltless enjoyment of sweet stone crabs and melted butter: “the most delicious meal [Bond] had had in his life” but “the puritan in him… couldn’t take it”.
One suspects that, for Bond, the gratification of food comes from getting it Right. He tells Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale: “I take a ridiculous pleasure in what I eat and drink. It comes partly from being a bachelor, but mostly from a habit of taking a lot of trouble over details… when I’m working I generally have to eat my meals alone and it makes them more interesting when one takes trouble.”
If you’d like to take as much trouble as Bond over breakfast, his recipe, detailed in Fleming’s short story “007 in New York”,goes as follows. Beat together three eggs per person in a bowl and season well. Melt two tablespoons of butter per person in a small saucepan, and cook the eggs over a very low heat, whisking continuously. When they’re almost but not quite done, take them off the heat and beat for 30 seconds, adding another tablespoon of butter per person, plus finely chopped chives or fine herbs. Serve on hot buttered toast, with pink champagne, soft music and a defibrillator on standby.
This article appears in the 03 Nov 2021 issue of the New Statesman, Britannia Chained