There's a catch-all excuse that's often trotted out when politicians step away from power (whether voluntarily or not) and it’s the one that says they’re stepping down to "spend more time with their family". You know the one. The pandemic and the lockdowns that have come with it have forced all of us to experience what it’s like to be a deposed politician as we spent almost all our waking hours with our families. One of the most-remarked-upon trial of endurance for parents trapped at home 24/7 with their children has been the daily conundrum of what to cook. That was lightened somewhat, of course, when restaurants were allowed serve food to take away, but, since restaurants have been allowed to have customers on their premises, we’ve been finding out just how much we missed them – and just how much most of us are not suited to the political life. Chef Rick Stein told Ryan Tubridy that he heard a lot of people warning during lockdown that the restaurant business would be decimated by the pandemic because so many people would rediscover home cooking and not bother going out anymore. This is, needless to say, a sentiment he disagrees with:
"It makes you think actually, what a restaurant means to – well, certainly to me and I suspect you too – it’s not really about – well, it is about the food, but it’s much more about being there with other people, you know? And all the joy of just seeing people you like the look of, people you don’t like the look of. People on the next-door tables and just, you know, we’re human beings, we’re gregarious and where better to enjoy being gregarious than in a restaurant?"
Being, as Rick put it, locked away from that for so long, makes it even better to be able to enjoy it now. And that was very clear from when eating outside began and people ventured out to tables under awnings with blankets and heaters because they really missed the whole eating out experience:
"Sitting around in, sort of, great coats with hot water bottles and gloves, just enjoying being there with other people. It’s a great reminder, I think, to us all about how important we are to each other."
Rick’s new book, Rick Stein at Home, is a collection of recipes, memories and stories, which aims to give readers the basis for the perfect dinner party and his description of his and his wife Sass’s own gatherings around the table had Ryan looking for an invitation. No wonder, as Rick described how he cooked for Sass’s family once a week, serving up comfort food like shepherd’s pie and fish pie and pastitsio (a Greek dish, apparently a bit like moussaka). The food is, of course, very important, but the people around the table are what makes the evening:
"It reinforced the importance of food, really, and sharing food, because I think the problem with everyday life these days is we tend to just neglect the fact that there is something incredibly important about sitting down together and, you know, arguing."
So true. And hopefully we’ll be able to continue enjoying our rediscovery of the joys of cooking for people outside of our immediate family in the days and months ahead.
You can hear Ryan and Rick’s full conversation – including our host’s sacrilegious views on Leonard Cohen, among other things – by going here.
Rick Stein at Home: Recipes, Memories and Stories from a Food Lover's Kitchen is published by BBC Books.