The pleasure of eating

There’s something about food critics that makes me unreasonably irate. I’m not sure why; maybe it’s because of the apparent glee with which they condemn another knife-wielders dream, but let’s face it, it’s probably because they’ve got the job that many of us would kill for. A A Gill stands out as the worst offender, of course, not least for the fact that his opinion on the restaurant in question rarely makes an appearance before 75% of the column has been wasted down varied and waffly blind-alleys. He’s like that infuriating teacher at School, who not only conisdered himself one of the few true intellectuals around the place, but also spent much of the time pontificating about nothing terribly interesting, before getting to the point around 5 minutes before the bell went. Giles Coren sounds ever more like the ‘outraged of Tunbridge Wells’, as if every restaurant that doesn’t conform to his own ideal should be expunged from Christendom (see his savage assault on the mostly harmless Bombay bicycle club), and even dear old Matthew Fort has hurried into caricature with ever more limp series of Great British Menu. I’m faintly disappointed that we haven’t had a GBM competition to make my weekend breakfast; everyone else seems to have had celeb chefs fight it out to cook for them. I seem to remember a bizarre version of a farmers’ garden party was the last flogging of the tired idea.

Jay Rayner, however, is one that (until now) I’ve rather liked. Granted he looks like a cross between Captain Pugwash and one of Monty Python’s Spanish Inquisition, but I can get beyond the farcical appearance, because he writes well, really cares about the food and is mostly spot on with those places he cherishes. This made his OFM article all the more bizarre last Sunday. I shall summarise briefly: food tends to be more exciting when the flavours are bold (ok, no problem there); great and memorable food should be an assault on the senses (hmmm, more odd, but I’ll stick with you); the most exciting food should have a ‘whiff of death’ about it (Whiff of death? Now you’ve lost me).

His chosen ‘whiff of death’ vehicle was the andouiette sausage, which he was keen to point out that he loved, in stark contrast to his wife, who called it the ‘poo sausage’. Now I’m a fairly adventurous eater, and never one to shirk a challenge, I’ve also eaten the andou. I ate it in the andou’s spiritual home of Troyes, at the restaurant which specialised in the meaty morsel. I can safely say that it’s likely to be the only time. For those who might be thinking of having one: dont. I believe that it’s made from the lower intestine and colon of the pig, and though it is thoroughly washed before cooking, it retains a distinctly faecal smell. Close your eyes, and you may as well be chomping on a rubber textured dog shit. I had mine slavered in hot mustard sauce, but even as it came at me across the restaurant, the sausage the size of red rum’s manhood hit me with it’s special aroma from several metres away.

There’s a story that an army once invading Troyes stopped to get some andou sausage just before a battle, and loved it so much that they downed arms and made peace. A likely story. One meal of that nature and they’d have slaughtered the whole place, and presumably the Town butcher would have been first up against the wall.

Jay may well like to eat poo flavoured chitterlings for dinner, and he may think this makes him more daring than the rest of us, but for a middle-aged man to try for lad points by extolling its virtues in a national paper just makes me think that if he were in the army, he’d be the first at the soggy biscuit.

I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t be adventurous in our tastes. We should all retain an open mind when it comes to food, and should be prepared to try anything once. Some of the greatest culinary pleasure comes from the joy of discovering somthing wonderful to eat, and the memories are ingrained from that moment. This doesn’t mean however that we need to take the macho approach of the hot-curry brigade, and look upon eating as nothing but a dare.

Anthony Bourdain’s brilliant ‘Kitchen Confidential’ tells us this, in the immortal passage: ‘But if I have once chance at a full-blown dinner of blowfish gizzard – even if I have not been properly introduced to the chef – and I’m in a strange, Far Eastern city and my plane leaves tomorrow? I’m going for it. You only go around once.’

Put that in your sausage skin, Jay.