Dominic is a journalist and author whose books include biographies of Roman Abramovich, the owner of Chelsea FC, and the late billionaire financier Jimmy Goldsmith. He doesn’t cook much at home because his wife Romina is a chef, who has worked at three two-star Michelin restaurants and it’s not really worth trying to compete. On the plus side, she does consider his roast potatoes the finest she has ever eaten.
I had the great privilege, at this year’s Blenheim Literary festival, of interviewing on stage a man called Jeremiah Tower.
‘Jezza’, as I now call him, having bonded beautifully as the conversation progressed, is a legend of the US food scene. Specifically he was the co-owner and first chef of Chez Panisse, the Berkeley restaurant in California that Alice Waters opened in 1972 and is widely regarded as having shaped progressive US cuisine.
Jez (which is what I call him on the text) later opened a number of famous restaurants across America and around the world. He then, according to fellow US chef Antony Bourdain, who rather hero-worships him (as I now also do of J), ‘disappeared’. Indeed that he vanished from the scene is the subject of a documentary produced by Bourdain called Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent.
The film revealed that Tower had moved to Mexico. And that, having spent a life cooking and entertaining everyone from politicos to celebrities and quite a lot of normal people, now had a new obsession: manners.
So there on stage, off the elegant stable blocks at Blenheim, the great chef himself and I sat, with me clutching his latest tome: not a book on classic American cuisine or some pot-boiler entitled the 100 Dishes of Jeremiah Tower, but a little volume called; Table Manners: How to Behave in The Modern World and Why Bother.
Having retreated to Mexico, Tower was resurfacing not to teach people how to cook, but how to behave. From conversation to clothes, to belching and how to hold a fork, it’s all there. Get the book and shove it into the Christmas stocking of your nearest stroppy teenager.
Or simply read the following, here is my unique guide to ‘Modern Manners’.
Flowers: Never remark on the fact that someone has fake flowers. Fake flowers are sustainable, do not make use of scarce water resources, forever brighten up your kitchen table and the ones I bought at the Dunelm furniture store look bloody marvellous, I reckon.
Bins: Do not under any circumstance let the subject of bins be conversed at the dining table. Here’s an example of what I mean: ‘Oh really? Yes well we put our paper and card and cans into a blue bin, which gets collected every fortnight, then non recyclable stuff goes in a black one, then there’s a grey one for non-compostable food waste like lamb bones and a separate bucket for the compost heap.’ See? Evil shit like that can ruin a good evening. A nagging wife might then ask not: ‘Did you put the bins out darling?’ but ‘Did you put the right bins out darling?’ Matrimonial hell will break out with rows in all cars as couples drive home. Don’t go there.
Picnics: Don’t go on a picnic. Not ever.
Nespresso capsules: Don’t ever try to pretend that you can taste the slightest bit of difference between Bukeela Lungo, Rosabaya, Indriya or any other capsule, be it gold, shimmering dark green or deep blue. They are all exactly the same and to suggest otherwise is tiresome and deeply offensive.
Balsamic vinegar and Simon Hopkinson: Simon Hopkinson is one of this country’s greatest cooks and the most lovely, talented and creative man you could hope to meet. But he doesn’t like balsamic vinegar for all sorts of reasons. So don’t ever bring it up in conversation with him, or you’ll ruin everything.
Cinema: Don’t go to the cinema and don’t hope to enjoy a transatlantic flight because of the on-board movies. Virtually all modern movies are shit, whereas all the creative brilliance is happening on Netflix and on box-sets. Do not attempt to argue the contrary; it’s very wrong and very rude.
Dijon Mustard: It’s ok to put Dijon on everything except breakfast cereals.
Heating: It’s very common not to put the heating on until you can see your breath inside the house.
Wine Glasses: In a good restaurant where the establishment prides itself on its wines it is perfectly reasonable, in fact I rather insist on this, that you can like a wine but send back the glass. Ask for Riedel or even better Zalto. And while you’re at it, send back plates you don’t like the shape of, or any naff-looking knives or forks.
Bed-making and teeth-brushing: Always brush your teeth, no matter how drunk you are before going to bed, always make your bed no matter how hungover you are in the morning and always go to bed no matter how tiresome it feels to have to heave yourself off the sofa and climb the stairs.
Famous people: Whenever you meet someone famous never let on that you know who they are. For the very famous this is a wonderful tonic and a relief from constantly being spotted. For the not-so-famous this serves them right for thinking they are famous.
Front doors: If you are expected – for dinner, for example – never ring someone’s bell or use their door knocker. Doing so identifies you as a tradesman and can confuse a busy host, who should not be expecting deliveries at that hour.
Talking about Lidl or Aldi at a dinner party: You might think it’s fascinating to explain how you found a rather good white Burgundy at Lidl but it makes others who only shop at Waitrose feel very uncomfortable. It is ok, however, to mention the frightfully good frozen clams you can get at Iceland which really do make for the most marvellous and instant spaghetti alle vongole.