Given the choice of watching paint dry or onions browning, I’d opt to sit on a terrace overlooking clear blue sea with a chilled glass of something delicious . I take this choice whenever I’m engaged in important, but time consuming, moments in the kitchen ….or in life….they are so closely linked…..as I can transport myself to a suitable coastal terrace in a trice, or should that be on a trice. My writing comes from seeing, smelling and hearing. My imagination is fired by the current event which sends messages careering along my synapses to re-awaken thoughts that have not lifted their heads from the pillow for too long. Whilst the sweet aroma of onions melting filled the room, I was turning the pages of a book that I had illustrated with my photographs, some 25 years ago, and which drew me back to that time.
The studio in which we worked, for this particular project, was an old theatre, in the now very smart district of Southwark Bridge Road , that had been purpose converted from its previous life. We were shooting on what had been the stage, under the proscenium arch in which a temporary wall had been constructed separating the stage from the body of the theatre, which was in use as another, much larger, studio. The kitchens were in the entrance area at the far end of the building, which meant that the cooked dishes for photography had to be carried through the theatre and up onto the stage. It was within this short journey where lay the problem. “Lay” is the apposite word as a sex manual was being photographed in the aptly named, main body, of the theatre. Our home economist, eyes firmly to the front, would quietly proceed past the beast with two backs, trying to ensure the safe passage to the stage of the tarts in her care. Never was a studio more replete with tarts. When it was mentioned to Woody Allen that sex was dirty he concurred but, with a proviso: “Only when it’s done properly”. The hired sexual athletes were clearly not of Woody’s conviction. The two protagonists. performing variations on a theme before the all seeing lens, were so polite and prim that had the responsibility of continuing the human race been left in their hands, so to speak, the cockroaches would rule the world. Tempting this Adam with an apple would have been as effective as a toreador sending a written invitation to the bull. It was adjudged that the main source of profanity was to be found with the photographer and the tarts in the stage area.
Back from the terrace over the sea, I found the onions just starting to caramelise at the edges. A recipe for an onion, raisin and pine nut tart had caught my eye whilst flipping through the pages of “Tarts and Pies”. The recipe, however, specified a delicious mashed potato pastry that I didn’t have the time or the will power to make. I did have the will power to open the puff pastry that I found in the fridge and made a hybrid version of Mary Cadogan’s recipe. The lack of Maxine Clarke, the wonderful home economist who braved the Laocoon of writhing bodies to bring us fresh delights to photograph, is evident in my picture. Those of you who may buy the book will see the version that she made, that bears little resemblance to my effort.