The month of March — the wind howling today, crocuses and daffodils up here in New York — is called the ‘hungry gap” says Tamasin Day-Lewis, the shaggy-haired, un-Botoxed British cookbook author featured in this month’s U.S. edition of Elle magazine:
England has a trinity of famous food personalities: Nigella Lawson, Jamie Oliver, and Tamasin Day-Lewis. While the first two have become successful U.S. imports, the latter, despite being the sister of actor Daniel Day-Lewis and a close friend of celebs such as Julia Roberts (who you might recall was linked to the There Will Be Blood actor back in the ’90s), is known here mainly to insiders.
This might have something to do with the fact that, although Day-Lewis’ ethos is similar to Lawson and Oliver’s—we ought to mostly eat delicious food using fresh, humanely sourced ingredients—her delivery is not as user-friendly as Nigella’s (you too can be a domestic goddess) or the Naked Chef’s (throw some arugula in, mate—that’s the secret, innit?). The demystification of cooking is not her primary concern; the poetry of the palate is.
But her latest book, Supper for a Song, may be what expands her U.S. reputation. The title alludes both to getting something for nothing and to the always-out-of-pocket bohemian who pays her way by providing good conversation.
I have one of her cookbooks, Tamasin’s Weekend Food, and love it. It’s one of her eight cookbooks, and her tone — breezy, elegant, relaxed, veddy British — is a lovely breath of fresh country air. It assumes — sigh — one has a big old country house and you need to cook for hungry kids and/or multiple weekend guests. (She lives, lucky thing, in a 15th. century house in Somerset, three hours from London, writes for the Daily Telegraph and has a television show.)
I have none of these but still love the book, its photos and its recipes. It even has the classic red ribbon with which to mark your place.
In it, she writes:
“The weekend defines one’s style of cooking and eating more than any other time of the week…You have no time — you are tired. You have invited more people than you meant or or you have nowhere to go and nobody to come — YET. You have more time to cook than at any other time of the week, but you don’t want to feel you’ve got to do it — that stops the pleasure of the planning, the mulling, the weekend being the weekend.”
Who else, in a recipe for leeks vinaigrette (p. 88) commands: “Irrigate the leeks, which you have laid regimental style”? Or, (p. 106) “There has been much written about syllabub”?
From a review of her memoir, from The Independent:
Despite her zeal about healthy, sustainable food, Day-Lewis is pessimistic that attitudes will change. “You have to start with people who care a bit,” she adds with a shrug. The English, she says, are more eager to watch cooking on the telly than to care about what they cook and eat. ” I can’t make people buy the ingredients. I can’t make them sit down together. We want to eat food that takes no time at all and is made of mechanically recovered slurry.”
As for Jamie Oliver’s attempts to force children to eat decent school dinners, the plan is fundamentally flawed. “It will never work. You have to get them into the kitchen as part of the curriculum and make them cook,” she says. It was a lesson she learned in the kitchen of Elizabeth Jane Howard as she chopped vegetables and tried to forget her father’s illness. “No child ever didn’t eat what they cooked for themselves. That is what life is all about.” *