Never eat anything bigger than your head
We should all be eating less meat and better meat
Whenever you see crossed chives you are in trouble
Cookery Quote

Happy Birthday Madhur

Next time you step into a tube carriage glance around you, the majority of passengers will have their noses pressed to some kind of electronic gadget and it would be easy to infer that books were becoming an endangered species. But for folk of a certain age only the crisp, clean pages of a new book are the real deal. The Oxford Literary Festival (now under the aegis of the FT Weekend section) celebrates all that is good about bookishness. Furthermore, by striking an alliance with Oxford Gastronomica (part of the Oxford School of Hospitality Management at Oxford Brookes University) the Lit Fest gives due weight to food and drink and their role in society and culture.
Twenty years ago discussing the contribution of British food culture at a literary gathering would have raised an eyebrow but this year the talks and dinners organised by the Brookes gang sold out briskly. The highpoint of the Festival was a dinner to celebrate Madhur Jaffrey’s 80th birthday.
Madhur has written about a shelf’s worth of cookery books but the one that I turn to is “Indian Cookery” which was published by the BBC in 1982 to accompany the television series. This is the book that taught so many inquisitive cooks how to turn out a decent curry.
The birthday dinner was held in the great hall of University College, 160 eager diners sitting on uncomfortable benches at three long tables – very Hogwarts. Hardeep Singh Kohli made a good job of compering the evening and Atul Kochhar helped Rob Mercer (University College’s head chef) devise the dinner. A selection of starters included a very delicious paneer chat. While the stars among the mains were erachi olathu - the Keralan lamb curry - and a wickedly self-indulgent dal makhani. It was a happy occasion, Madhur spoke about her early years in Britain when pining for Indian food drove her to learn to cook. She may be 80 years old but she can still command the room and on the night she held the audience in the palm of her hand. This was a marvellous, gentle, inspiring dinner. I suspect that at the end of the night a good many people went home to blow the dust off one or another of Madhur’s books and cook some curry.
Here’s a link to that classic book from 1982, just consider how much more fun it is to spill stuff on a trusted book than to kill your electronic “reader” in the kitchen with an unruly splash of liquid. Happy birthday Madhur!

Charles Campion - Friday 28th March 2014

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