Paul Levy

In defence of foie gras

Apoll shows that nine out of ten Brits want to ban the import of foie gras. Crumbs! Haven’t they got anything more important to worry about? The Times says about 200 tons are imported from Europe every year. I only wish some would come my way. Though the same article says Waitrose stocks this greatest

A single meal in Rome is a lesson in Italian history

Farmer, restaurateur, critic, foodie activist, traveller (he’s worked in Zimbabwe as well as South Africa), cookery book writer, longtime TV presenter of New Scandinavian Cooking, food columnist for a couple of Norwegian papers as well as formerly for the Washington Post, Andreas Viestad’s belt has many notches. He lives between Oslo and Cape Town and

Bisexuality was the Bloomsbury norm

It’s been a century since the heyday of the Bloomsbury group, and now Nino Strachey, a descendant of one of the key families, has written a superb, sparky and reflective book charting the doings of the younger members of the artistic and intellectual coterie. While it is easy to identify Old Bloomsbury – familiar names

Don’t be seduced by fake truffle oil this Christmas

Truffles smell of sex. Even if we can’t quite say what we mean by ‘smell’ or ‘sex’ in this sentence, the much sought-after underground fungi emit something analogous to the pheromones that subconsciously attract us to other human beings. On the conscious level, these members of the family Tuberaceae release aromas ranging from floral to

We shouldn’t be so squeamish about eating foie gras

In his excellent, brief chronicle of foie gras, Norman Kolpas lists Kate Winslet, Ralph Fiennes, Thandie Newton, Ricky Gervais and the late Sir Roger Moore as among those who don’t want you to eat it, as well as Fortnum & Mason and the state legislature of California, which declared its production and sale illegal in

Unpleasant smells can actually enhance pleasure

Harold McGee’s Nose Dive: A Field Guide to the World’s Smells is an ambitious and enormous work. Indeed it’s so large, at 654 pages and weighing nearly a kilo, that I could only manage to read it at the kitchen table — which made me appreciate its wipe-clean binding. Its distinctive new-book smell (there is

Kashrut dietary laws are ill-suited to lactose-intolerant Jews

Until fairly recently, all over the western world there were specialised eating places catering largely for Jews who respected the kashrut dietary laws. From family caffs to white tablecloth establishment, these called themselves ‘dairy restaurants’. They were nearly, but not quite, vegetarian, since they allowed (the kosher-defined) fish with fins and scales. This wondrously weird,

Gluttons for punishment

Do you regard fat as a noun, a food substance all humans eat and need? Or as an adjective, denoting something you want to avoid being? Though the subtitle seems to indicate that this disturbing, closely argued book has the olive oil vs lard culinary axis as its subject, Christopher Forth dispenses with the food

Bagels, borscht and brisket

In matters of culture and ethnicity, I take my lead from my old friend and guide Sir Jonathan Miller. Like him, I count myself as Jew-ish, and, as every Jew-ish person knows, you are what you eat; these traits are expressed most poignantly in our food. Not in the ancient (and incoherent) Hebrew dietary laws,

Lies born from fantasy

What is the most repulsive sentence in English/American literature? Even as a 12-year-old American boy, I cringed when reading, in Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls: ‘But did thee feel the earth move?’ At school I bought the myth of Hemingway as the master craftsman of American letters, teaching us to keep our sentences

The human chimera – part lion, part goat

Richard Wrangham embraces controversy, and appears to enjoy munching apples from carts he upsets himself. While his new book seems to be the history of an amalgam of moral and political virtues and vices, its thesis is actually the large claim that these have evolved; and he has no compunction about writing that the foundation

Trump Notebook | 12 July 2018

For more than 40 years we’ve lived in a beautiful, listed, Cotswold stone, Stonesfield slate-roofed farmhouse in Oxfordshire. The trouble is it’s an ex-Blenheim house, within earshot of the palace, and the current duke is having Potus — that unlovely acronym for ‘President of the United States’ — to dinner. Locals are muttering about this

Loving in triangles

Dora Carrington (1893–1932) was at the heart of the Bloomsbury story. As an art student, she encountered the love of her life, the homosexual biographer Lytton Strachey; and this pair of Edwardian virgins actually managed to consumate their relationship in 1916. She loathed her given name, and insisted on her new friends, such as Virginia

Alice’s restaurant

Though Alice Waters is not a household name here, that is precisely what she is in America — the best-known celebrity cook, the person who inspired the planting of Michelle Obama’s White House vegetable garden, the recipient of the National Humanities Medal, the Légion d’Honneur, vice-president of Slow Food International, the founding figure of California

Pleasure palaces and hidden gems

Theatre buildings are seriously interesting – as I ought to have appreciated sooner in the course of 25 years writing about theatre and opera. This coffee-table whopper, weighing in at just under a kilo, dazzles: Michael Coveney’s text is even better than Peter Dazeley’s remarkable photographs. And in a luminous foreword, Mark Rylance sets out

Patience on a monument

As a food writer Patience Gray (1917–2005) merits shelf-space with M.F.K. Fisher, Elizabeth David and Jane Grigson. Fleeing from the dreary predictability of her Home Counties upbringing, Gray became, among other things, the first women’s page editor of the Observer; co-author of a bestselling cookery book (the 1957 Plats du Jour with Primrose Boyd); and,

Rhinoceros pie, anyone?

Forgotten? Though I can rarely attend their dinners (in Birmingham), I am a proud member of the Buckland Club (motto: Semper in ventrem aliquid novi). Dedicated to the memory and gastronomic exploits of Francis Trevelyan (Frank) Buckland (1826–1880), the Oxford-born surgeon, natural historian and popular writer who aspired to eat a member of every living

Hoarder disorder

The enormous desk on which I am writing this is swamped by four precarious piles of books, one topped by an ancient Filofax, another by a small framed photograph of a long-dead friend. I still bear the bruises from last week when I fell out of bed and triggered an avalanche of the book mountain

Loved and lost | 2 June 2016

Kathleen Kennedy and her elder brother JFK were the grandchildren of upwardly mobile Irish Catholic immigrants. John F. Fitzgerald, ‘Honey Fitz’, became mayor of Boston, and Patrick J. Kennedy was a saloon-keeper and failed senatorial candidate who sent his sons to Harvard. ‘Kick’ was the fourth child, nicknamed for her ebullient personality, but born just