Food is evocative. Long lost memories tangled up in a single dish or ingredient - the sight or smell whisking us straight back to a moment from our past in a flurry of nostalgia.
I could write my entire biography so far through #foodmemories alone, but one in particular stands out - hurtling me straight back to the moment I first fell in love with food.
I didn’t come from a foodie family - raised on Heinz tinned ravioli and boil-in-the-bag fish, my first foray into the culinary world came, aged 15, when I picked up a job as a waitress in my small home town in Northern Ireland. Suddenly a whole new world was opened up - all these ingredients, all this flavour! I was hooked. Much to the amusement (frustration) of the chefs, I was always in the kitchen, tasting this, prodding that, asking questions, and generally getting in the way. Pots and pans bubbled with delicious smelling concoctions like potions from a cauldron and I stood amongst it all, wide eyed and open-mouthed, tasting spoon at the ready.
One of my favourite discoveries were the scallops, and we’d serve these as canapés from platters to the guests of posh parties. Once down to just one or two on the tray and it was time to whisk back to the kitchen for a refill - it didn’t look good to wander around with a half empty plate. But the real fun came if you made it back through the kitchen doors with a scallop still remaining, because then it was yours to devour.
I can still feel the prickle of anticipation, winding my way through the crowd, counting the canapés as they disappeared from my tray. Carving my way through the room, back towards the kitchen, the number dwindling rapidly as guests plucked greedily from the platter - 5...4... the asylum of the kitchen door still so far away… 3 canapés left…. mouth watering in preparation… 2...
And the wave of sheer joy at making it - just - through that kitchen door. Slipping through the cracks, last mouthful remaining intact on the tray - a gleaming beacon of glory ready to be wolfed down in one triumphant, victorious gulp.
Now, more than a decade down the line and I’m lucky enough to eat and drink for a living, but no matter how many new ingredients I've chomped my way through, any time I’m presented with a course of scallops, I’m brought right back to those stolen moments of joy, and even a feeling of disbelief that these are mine, to taste at leisure with no need to scoff in secret.
Over the years and conversation at the table, people have shared their memories with me, all just as personal, some poignant. It turns out the best memories don’t come from pristine table cloths and fine dining meals (nothing wrong with those), but real memories are made through sauce on chin, sticky fingers, wild abandon and pure satisfaction. Food as pure unabashed sensory enjoyment… not picked at but devoured.
On the way is a collection of memories from the foodies, friends, chefs and critics, gathered from conversations around the dinner table. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed hearing them.