I’ve always loved food. As a completely self-taught cook, I learned the hard way, by trial and error. The benefit for my readers is that anything I write about has been well and truly tested, by me, in my own kitchen. Sometimes I make mistakes and on those occasions I go back to the drawing board and try to figure out what went wrong. I try to write my recipes with the complete novice in mind, as I once was, with simple step-by-step instructions. All I ask is that you trust me and follow the recipe exactly as I’ve written it, at least the first time you try something. After that you’re on your own.
Readers tell me they like the stories which precede each recipe. That’s how I like to write. To put everything in context and remember where I was when the idea for something came to me or when I cooked something special. So there’s no particular order to the recipes I publish, they just come out as I fancy. When I was young I loved to cook. It was basic boy’s boarding school food. My favourite was baked beans on fried bread. Then I discovered cookie cutters. Fried bread came in all different shapes and sizes, as if it changed the meal, until my sister cried: “No more baked beans and fried bread.” Then I learned to cook something else.
In my teens, I lived (when not at boarding school) with my older cousin, the actor Oliver Reed. He taught me how to drink, but I had to learn how to cook for myself, mostly along the lines of spag-bol, as spaghetti Bolognese was called in those days. I learned by more by eating out, and then wondering how the food was made. I had Larousse, but that is more of a dictionary of French cooking, than a recipe book, and my family all cook, very well in fact, so I suppose I came by my skills honestly.
Years later, in Canada, a friend who published a singles magazine asked me, over a convivial dinner naturally, to write a food column, and so my professional career as a cook started. A few columns later, a publisher came calling and asked me to write a cook book on the singles theme, and How to Eat Well and Stay Single was born. The bachelor cookbook paperback did quite well, selling a few thousand copies, before the publisher went bankrupt.
Over the years, I have kept favourite recipes on index cards, with just a few shorthand notes to keep me straight: how many the recipe serves, how hot and how long in the oven and basic ingredients. I’m bad with numbers, so I have to keep the temperatures in °F and °C. Our current Miele oven is in Celsius, but my brain works in Fahrenheit. Now this grubby stack of recipe cards forms the basis of the food I write about. I don’t write on meat very much, since we have virtually cut red meat out of our diet in the past four years.
By complete coincidence, Diane was involved in the food business for a while, as editor of the Canadian magazine Epicure. It was a breakthrough publication for its time, but eventually found it hard to compete against such American entries as Gourmet, on a Canadian budget. The benefit for me is that I have an utterly honest critic and skilled editor standing behind me and pointing out the error of my ways, before they hit the web. Sadly, as a footnote, Gourmet itself folded in 2009 after 71 years of publication.
Please enjoy reading my food columns as much as I have enjoyed writing them. There have been 60 or so to date and lots more to come.
During the making of my TV1 series Escapes with Nigel we had several food experiences. I got to bake bread with at the Spirit Tree Estate Cidery, prepare tender stuffed rabbit legs with the chef at Deerfields and set out an amazing antipasto spread at The Farmhouse in Barrie.
This led to my very own food show — called Market to Table — and we ventured out into some of Toronto’s most interesting markets, picked up unusual and interesting food, cooked up a feast in the kitchen with some of Toronto’s brightest and best new chefs, and finally presented it at the table. Six episodes aired in 2016 on Bell Fibe TV1 and You Tube and more followed in 2017, with new host chef Dan Frenette. The series also led to a new book: Market to Table: The Cookbook.