Food Heroes - Prue Leith... from South Africa with love
In April 2008 I set our VHS to tape 'The Great British Menu'. When I settled down to watch the recording, these words came through at the start of the programme:
Now, I’d already been a confused admirer of Prue Leith for some years. My respect was tempered by a suspicion that she was slightly aloof, liable to bristle under very mild provocation and perhaps used her influence to excess to get her own way. Hearing her say the words above, I was immediately disarmed and charmed. I decided to continue enjoying 'The Great British Menu', to make efforts to find out more about Prue and to figure out what was so flawed in my character assessment.
My first thoughts were that her words deserved a prominent place at the front of my recipe folder. Soon after, I decided to try to contact Prue. I telephoned the Leith School of Cookery and her publisher and one or the other gave me her email address. This was what I submitted:
I was stupidly surprised but highly delighted when Prue replied the very next day:
That was enough for me - I consider getting even nine words from such an incredibly busy person to be going beyond the call of any duty.
I duly caught up with information available on the internet to expand my hazy memories of a young woman who was one of the culinary heroes of the ‘Swinging Sixties’.
If I’d been a Beatle or a Rolling Stone (or another ten years older in 1969) I might have enjoyed a bite to eat at the Michelin starred outlet, ‘Leith’s’, her first restaurant in London!
The internet will provide you with plenty of lowdown on Prue’s life in her own businesses and involvement with directorships and chairmanships of other companies. She was making big efforts to improve the quality of food in schools while Jamie Oliver gained a high profile for the same cause.
I’ve read one of her early novels, ‘The Gardener’. I didn’t struggle to finish it but I won’t be rushing to buy any more of her fiction. That has everything to do with me and nothing to do with a woman who is damn well doing what she wants to do and enjoying it - she has concentrated on being a novel-writer for the last fifteen years.
However, after reading Prue’s autobiography, Relish: My Life on a Plate, I realised that I had unconsciously put up a feeble barrier against someone with a ‘plummy’ vocal delivery and an air of utter self-assurance. Her business achievements are truly impressive but it is in the sometimes painful details of her personal life that she confirms the love which is in her cooking and in all aspects of her being. Please read the book; it reveals much more than most of its sort. The swirl of intense sexual love, the aching desire for meaningful relationships, the deep emotions of maternal love and the wrench of loss are all there but, above all, is the charity which over-arches every description of her experiences. She keeps a balance between practical matters and deep-running feelings but the warmth of her generosity simmers gently and insistently through all her actions.
Prue has said, “I’ve always liked business. It suits my organising, bossy mind I guess.”
Listening again to those words from the ‘Great British Menu’ above, I suspected that her mind had a great many more complicated and admirable elements. Having delved a little deeper, I know that it does.
Gender should not be an issue but I have a horribly uneasy feeling that I might have, in some way, let that influence my initial impressions of Prue.
However, after steady, if infrequent, examination of my attitudes, I'd be a blithering idiot if I didn't acknowledge and admire Prue’s triumph in the face of all the obstacles which women face in their chosen professions and in all walks of life.
We're all 'heroes' really... sort of... aren't we? It's just that Prue brings a whole lot of shiny love to the accolade.
I’ll move on to a lighter note with Prue’s recount of one incident:
That’s a cue for me to finish here and give you fair warning that Delia will soon be appearing as another of my ‘Food Heroes’ on this blog.!