Last Sunday a Michelin starred London chef posted a photo of his breakfast on twitter: a plain one-egg omelette, half a slice of dry toast, and a dollop of tomato ketchup on the side. Of course, responses to the tweet included photos of larger breakfasts had by others, but there was not one word of outrage or even surprise.
On a chef’s only day spent at home with their family, a day that in England near always includes a fry up, the man himself – apprentice of Alain Ducasse – was starting the day with a meagre 150kcal. It was the antithesis of food-porn.
Tales of abstinence from other such venerated foodies sprang to mind. Michel Roux remains svelte by drinking nothing from Monday to Friday and running marathons. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingsall is a changed man after stopping eating meat 18 months ago (for telly, rather than fun, but it has stayed with him). Gordon Ramsay eats no dairy. When reviewing a restaurant in the evening, one food critic [AA Gill?] eats nothing all day, subsisting instead on espressos and cigarettes. In his book The Man Who Ate the World, Jay Rayner shares tales of a life lived on hotel treadmills. One food stylist sprays all the food for a shoot with hairspray to render it inedible and not be tempted later.
I know not how I collect these facts. Do I remember what they ate? Rarely. Do I remember what they didn’t eat? Always. Yes, a reflection on me, but also – I suspect – the emphasis they put on the topic. No food-lover can find this easy.
Men are usually more smug and pragmatic about such things: those who achieve slender success are eager to point out that if you eat too much you get fat, and it’s just about eating less. It has been said that Charles Saatchi held out with a diet of only eggs in spite of living with Nigella Lawson. Other men’s diets just suggest you pick a day or two a week, and don’t eat.
It is mainly ladies who understand that the adage “eat less than you expend” is not quite so simple, and hence offer thoughtful suggestions for others to follow. Joanna Lumley admits to the Daily Mail that she eats neither breakfast nor lunch: ‘I quite often don’t have breakfast and I never have lunch. I find it helps not to wake my stomach up because if I had a good big breakfast, I would be ready for a snack at 11 and then a three-course lunch, then I’d be ready for tea, then a cocktail and then an enormous dinner.’ Yes, daily! One of the more sensible diet books for the foodie tubster – India Knight & Neris Thomas’s Pig to Twig – permits all the French classics, is wonderfully written and extremely effective… until you discover a talent for artisanal baking and an obsession with shaping the perfect tortellini.
A full-time sous-chef on their feet from 8am to 1am can never be fat, but for other food obsessives: the home cook, the recipe developer, the food entrepreneur, the chef who works a little less and has a slightly longer lunch; it is a constant nag.
There is probably no one-fits-all answer, but currently I eat only a grapefruit for breakfast and aspire to drink less booze and do a lot more running. Today I’ve thoroughly enjoyed a bottle of wine, crunch and chewed my way through sliced wholemeal sourdough, slathered over salted butter, and chowed down on a garlic tart, roast duck, and a toffee-apple pudding. Perhaps I should start with not repeating that tomorrow.