Book Review – My Last Supper by Jay Rayner

books, reviews

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What would you pick as your last meal on Earth? It’s a difficult question. You might think you’d want to treat yourself to the fanciest or most expensive meal you could. However, it’s more than likely that people would pick something nostalgic or comforting. The kind of stodgy meals that take you back to your childhood and make you feel good about the world. Or maybe you’d just go wild and pick the least healthy meal you can think of. After all, it doesn’t really matter anymore, does it? What would I pick? Something carby and cheesy no doubt. Possibly that thing where you melt a wheel of cheese; add bacon, garlic, and whatever else; and then dunk a load of pasta into it. All served with a fresh salad and super garlicky garlic bread. I’d feel like shit afterwards but, as I’ve already said, it doesn’t really matter that much.

The question of the last meal is something that food critic Jay Rayner has been asked more than any other. So, he decided to write a book about it. He would pick the components of his final meal, source the best ingredients, and sit down with his closest friends to enjoy it. The end result is a book that is part autobiography, part recipe book, and food history. Anybody familiar with Rayner’s writing will see his usual wit and expert use of the English language. There is something effortless and casual about his style but it has a poetry to it. He is funny and passionate about his subject. It makes the more technical elements much easier to digest. This is the kind of food book that isn’t exclusively written for people who love food but it will certainly help.

Each of Rayner’s elements can be linked back to his personal history. This means that each chapter has something of a rambling feel as we skip between different periods of his life and his present quest to find the ingredients. Food is so tied up with family life that we see constant references to his childhood and his parents. This is not just a book about his final meal but about how food has shaped him. We see the defining moments of his life and how they link to what he ate or drank at the time. Meaning that this becomes an even more intimate look into a writer. It’s a fantastic book that zips around one man’s life and explains where his love of food came from. It is full of his life and his passion.

Although, that isn’t to say that My Last Supper is just an autobiography in disguise. There is plenty of informative and interesting analysis of ingredients. Rayner searched for the best possible ingredients and spoke to plenty of people to design the best meal. He finds the best possible suppliers and explains exactly why those are the best. It is very much a book for anyone who loves cooking and is interested in food. However, it is all presented without an added air of pretension. Rayner is a writer enjoys eating but who can also see through a lot of the guff that goes with being a foodie these days. What you get is a simple look at the elements that make a meal. It’s back-to-basics in a way but the basics just happen to be the very best.

My Last Supper is a fun experiment that turned into something much bigger than its basic premise. The simple act of planning a final meal turned into an in-depth look into what makes a meal and what makes a man. It is personal and intimate. It is also inspiring. Each course is accompanied by a recipe relating to that ingredient. They are some of Rayner’s personal favourites and they will leave you wanting to recreate them as soon as possible. It is then followed by a song that will form the soundtrack for his final meal. As a jazz pianist, music is another important part of Rayner’s life and cultivating the right kind of atmosphere is necessary for making his final meal the best it can be.

The reason that this book goes so far into his history, is that Rayner knows that it is an intensely personal experience. It perfectly encapsulates that feeling that certain foods can raise in us and how difficult it can be trying to share that with other people. As it also deals with the idea of mortality, there is something of life and legacy here. This is not just a book for people who love food but can be enjoyed by anyone. It is an intensely human book. It is full of passion, love, and family.

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