Nigel Slater is the author of several classic cookbooks, including Real Fast Food and the award-winning Appetite. He has written a much-loved column for the The Observer (London) for more than a decade and has been described as a national treasure. He lives in London.
Biography courtesy of the author's official web site.
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Some interesting outtakes from our interview with Slater:
"I put as much effort into keeping a low profile as most cookery writers do in publicizing themselves. Believe me when I say it is very hard work keeping ‘yourself to yourself,' probably harder than taking the celebrity ‘Look at me!' route."
"I suppose I am one of those people who finds even the most mundane of questions ‘too intrusive.' Though my book Toast is extraordinarily intimate, it is written about someone who seems far away, like he was a different person. It is sometimes hard to recognize that little boy -- to remember that it was actually me."
"I believe in the maxim ‘Any useless thing chucked out is gain.' I wish I knew who said it so I could say thank you to them. They changed my life."
"I hate being photographed. I hate it even more when those photographs are published.
But what I hate most is being called a ‘celebrity chef.' I am not the sort of cook who dances around in front of the camera with a skillet in my hand. I just make myself something to eat at home, and if I think its good then write about it because I think others might enjoy it too. End of story."
"Traveling is not my thing because it upsets me being away from my cat. He is very old now and I worry I won't be there for him when he decides to ‘call it a day.' Sometimes I think he has a better life than me. No one ever cooks me tuna for my supper or puts a hot water bottle in my bed. And no one has ever fed me by hand when I couldn't be bothered to get out of bed. He lives like a king."
"Here are some of the little things I like: the first bite of buttered toast, old-fashioned French roses, the smell on my hands from picking tomatoes from my garden, dark chocolate flavored with cardamom, wearing high-top sneakers, Vietnamese food, black clothes, paintings by Mark Rothko, sculptures by Giacometti, green tea, watching Six Feet Under, reading Vanity Fair when I should really be doing something very urgent, dipping hot french fries into homemade garlic mayonnaise."
"Here are some of the silly little things I dislike: duvets, ties, fillet (there are so many more interesting cuts), eggs, the smell of tea with milk in it, small ‘boutique' hotels, queuing, clutter, big portions."
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In the fall of 2004, Nigel Slater took some time out to talk with us about some of his favorite books, authors, and interests.
What was the book that most influenced your life or your career as a writer?
Honey from a Weed by Patience Gray. It's the story of a cook and her sculptor husband, and their somewhat nomadic life. I have never read a book that so deeply entwines the author's life with their recipes. Gray gives the recipes a deep sense of place. The reader is made to understand exactly why they had a certain recipe for dinner. Invariably it was because of their surroundings -- sometimes quite wild and barren -- and made from what happened to be available at that time. Sometimes it may be a simple supper of beans, other times a feast.
What are your ten favorite books, and what makes them special to you?Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll -- For the sheer fantasy.
Books I have read or reread recently and enjoyed (though not necessarily my favorites) are:
The Narnia books by C. S. Lewis -- For their darkness; you feel cold just reading them, as if it is snowing outside.
The Secret History by Donna Tartt -- A good tale, well written.
The Beach by Alex Garland -- Unchallenging holiday reading -- sometimes it's just what you need.
Lila Says (anonymously written) -- A shocking love story of growing up on one of the "no-go" estates just outside Paris.
Writing Home by Alan Bennett -- For its quiet humor and the author's acute observations of "the little things."
Fanny at Chez Panisse by Alice Waters -- For a rare glimpse at a child's view of good food.
The Little Friend by Donna Tartt -- For its beautiful, intricate prose.
Tulip Fever by Deborah Moggach -- For the way the author so beautifully conjures up 17th-century Amsterdam.
What are some of your favorite films, and what makes them unforgettable to you?Dangerous Liaisons -- For the remarkable chemistry between the two principal actors.
Stealing Beauty -- For Bertolucci's tender direction.
The Pillow Book by Peter Greenaway -- One of the most visually haunting films I have ever seen.
What types of music do you like? Is there any particular kind you like to listen to when you're writing?
I will listen to anything except country and western and soul. I never listen to music when I write.
If you had a book club, what would it be reading?
Donna Tartt's The Little Friend, because it is book I could read over and over.
What are your favorite kinds of books to give -- and get -- as gifts?
My heart sinks when someone gives me a cookery book. It's like giving a bunch of flowers to a florist. I give most of them to charity. I would prefer a novel or something on contemporary art.
Many writers are hardly "overnight success" stories. How long did it take for you to get where you are today? Any rejection-slip horror stories or inspirational anecdotes?
I spent ten years of my life waiting tables. I would happily go back to that anytime. I loved putting food in front of people.
What tips or advice do you have for writers still looking to be discovered?
Be patient. If something is meant to happen, the chances are it will. Eventually.
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