When Jonesy drops one an email, one tends to sit up and take notice. More often than not – apart from those demanding a promised article, or passing on an aggrieved PR’s notes as to why, precisely, you felt it necessary to order the ’82 Krug at dinner the other night – they offer tidings of comfort and joy, and the offer of a fine evening’s entertainment. However, even by his standards, this one was laconic. It merely said: “Larman, old chap. Cookery class at Le Pont de la Tour. New chef, sound egg by all accounts. Next Wednesday, 5.30 for 6. Hope you’ll be going. J.”
I’ve always been an exceptionally easy writer for an editor to manage. Tell me to do something, give me a time and a place, and I am putty in their hands. Introduce any element of doubt or ambiguity or – even worse – some factor of individual decision and I turn into a worried old maid, constantly fretting that I’ll do something horrendously wrong and find myself cast out of the journalistic Eden into the somewhat baser environs of The Real World.
One man who has seen The Real World, and has lived to tell the tale, is The Captain. I’ve known The Captain for a pretty long time in one capacity or another. He combines infinite charm and an encyclopaedic knowledge of wine and restaurants with a bushy beard that would do credit to Captain Haddock – hence his nickname – and a Garbo-esque dislike for publicity. He’s even been known to demand that his writing is published under a pseudonym, such is his modesty, though rumours that this nom de plume ends with the surname of Coren or Gill are surely wide of the mark.
Gathering ourselves on an unseasonably warm September evening, we headed down to Le Pont, which was enjoying a balmy evening. Enviably situated beside Tower Bridge, it’s one of the nicest places to have a romantic meal, a business meeting or, in our case, a cookery class with the aptly named Tom Cook, the former head chef of Tom Aikens. Chef Cook firstly gave a hands-on demonstration to our group in which he taught a motley crew of foodies and marketing types how to prepare the perfect moules marinières, make sure that a steak au poivre was cooked exactly right, and gave some useful pointers as to how to brûler crème in the perfect fashion. Reader, I wielded a blowtorch. And it felt good.
The Captain sat beside me all the while, frowning through his enormous spade-like beard, and taking copious notes. At the end, he made over to Cook and asked him numerous searching questions, all of which were answered authoritatively and with good humour. “He knows his onions, that chap does,” was the verdict later. From The Captain, this is rare praise indeed. Most chefs he’s met are dismissed as Johnny-come-latelys who wouldn’t know their way around the business end of a Santoku knife if it was pointed at them. However, the charismatic and knowledgeable Cook passed muster.
There then followed a convivial dinner, where the dishes that had been shown in the class earlier were now eaten, with great gusto and much enjoyment. The Captain was on fine form, sharing anecdotes of recherché culinary experiences and fine wines he had enjoyed. Indeed, the only point of the evening where his bonhomie might seem to have faltered was when one of the other guests said, “So tell me, Alex. What is the definition of an Arbuturian?”
I was going to answer that with some specious blather about a man of style and taste who was au fait with all things contemporary, but The Captain gave me a stern look, and, turning to our inquisitor, answered, “Knowing Alex as I do, I think I can say that an Arbuturian is a man who knows the value of everything and the price of nothing.”
And that, frankly, was me told.