My Last Supper. Book Review by Beverly Lister

My Last Supper.  Book Review by Beverly Lister

My Last Supper: One Meal, a Lifetime in the Making by Jay Rayner Jay Rayner is a renowned food critic and writer, so it’s not surprising that at most of his one man shows, inevitably an audience member will ask him, ‘What would be your last supper?”

This question has long troubled Rayner. As a man more obsessed with his lunch than is strictly necessary, by his own account, the idea of a showpiece last supper is a tantalising prospect. But, he asks, wouldn't knowledge of your imminent demise ruin your appetite? He offers plenty of socio-psychological observations, wondering for example why a death-row inmate would choose Diet Coke as his last drink, when calories are obviously irrelevant. He muses on whether someone’s last supper choices would be extravagant, nostalgic, comforting, or simply nothing at all.

So at age 52 he sets out to stage his own last supper, and after 20 years as the Observer’s restaurant critic, he has accrued enough food memories to construct the “death row dinner” to top them all. He also draws on childhood experiences, recalling his first passionate encounter with snails in garlic butter, and the happy recollection of eating oysters for the first time at the age of ten, having been taken to a London restaurant by his mother, the agony aunt Claire Rayner.

The plan was simple: he would embark on a journey through his life in food in pursuit of the meal to end all meals. The reader travels with him across the globe in search of his favoured butter, bread, oysters, snails, alcohol, pig, salad, chips, Mont Blanc dessert and sparkling water. He celebrates talented producers, cooks and chefs that he has long known or discovered on this particular culinary journey. The end result, Rayner’s meal of meals, is a celebration of his life and his memories, distilled into eight courses.

I devoured this wonderful book. It is at once humorous, personal and informative. Rayner’s acerbic wit shone throughout, as did his passion for food, and there were more than a few laugh out loud moments. Part memoir, part confessional, Rayner proves to be a hugely gifted raconteur, telling many stories unrelated to his current career: he revisits early journalistic commissions, childhood and his own near-death experiences.At the end of each chapter he includes both a good recipe relevant to the chapter and a review of a song that has left an impression on him and that will be part of the soundtrack to the meal. At first I found this curious until I discovered that he is in fact an accomplished jazz pianist with his own band the Jay Rayner Quartet.

Jay Rayner is an award-winning writer, journalist and broadcaster, best known as the restaurant critic for the Observer newspaper. He regularly appears as a judge on probably my favourite ever television competition show, Masterchef