Chat with Jay Rayner about his one-man show My Last Supper.
The book My Last Supper by Jay Rayner is a delicious read. The first chapter discusses research on what serial killers on death row choose for their last meal. The desire is mainly for comfort, fried and fast food with chicken requested for 37.5 % of all dinners. Murderer and rapist, Victor Feguer however is an outlier who asked for a solitary olive, stone in. The chapter launches Jay on a journey to create his perfect last meal sourcing some favourite foods like oysters, butter and pork. The idea is to host the meal whilst he is still in a position to enjoy it i.e., alive. After all, he observes, one’s best meal is wasted on those about to expire and meals often go uneaten as appetite is snuffed out alongside hope. The book has been turned into a one-man show which visits Perth in May. You never really know what a face-to-face interview with a famous person will be like. We all wear a mask for the public and celebrities even more so. That chirpy chef on the telly can be a very grumpy diva face-to-face. So, when I ‘zoom-meet’ Jay, I prepare for the worst. He could be a monster. ‘Techy issues’ means the face-to-face lasts about thirty seconds and quickly becomes an ear-to-ear as Jay barks his mobile number to me down my blurry screen. I blame the Scottish weather. Once we start though he is straightforward, generous, interesting and personable, a carbon copy of his screen persona after all. Phew. I want to ask about his mum. As a young teen, I remember sitting in our suburban living room flicking through Woman’s Own. The horoscopes and agony aunt columns were always read first with the latter written by Claire Rayner, a former nurse and midwife turned no-nonsense journalist. When the Beeb broadcast her showing the nation how to put on a condom, it was the talk of the playground. Your mum was a household name and now you are too. What advice did she give you about being in the public eye? My mum was famous in the seventies and eighties when there were only three or four channels. She was watched by millions. The media is very different now so I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a ‘household name’. She told me three things: 1) Always be nice to taxi drivers 2) If you are at an event and they offer you the opportunity to go for a pee, take it and 3) never be photographed with a drink in your hand I have failed many times on the last one. Your mum was Jewish and a working-class nurse what influence did religion and/or class have on the eating culture in your family. I always say “I am a godless Jew but still a Jew” which many people don’t understand because they have failed to educate themselves. I suppose my Jewishness comes out in my noisy, full-on approach to food. And what about class? I am aware I’ve had a very privileged life but suppose Jewish working-class culture comes through with things like making the best of cuts e.g., with foods like salt beef or making chicken soup to use up the whole bird. Such recipes come from times when we had less rather than plenty. You have done a range of things but appear to be happy with where you have landed writing about food and restaurants, what drives you? First and foremost, I am a writer and storyteller. Whatever medium I am working in, print, telly or theatre, it comes down to stories. With writing, you have to make people want to read you and that is a craft. Performing seems natural to you too though? I am a big show-off. What can people expect from the show? The first half of the show essentially tells five stories around five courses that relate to my experiences and memories. The first half is a monologue with images, graphics and moving video walls. The second half is interactive and more of a unified journey. For example, I ask people to tweet their answers to questions and we put them on a big screen. I think if you aren’t interactive these days you are missing a trick. The idea for the book and show actually came from a Q & A where someone asked me what my last supper would be and that got me thinking … Your book starts with looking at meal research on death row. How do you interpret the one olive that Victor Feguer requested? Narcissist – he was making a grandiose statement. I do make the point in the book that the idea of a perfect last supper is misdirected as it is wasted on those about to die. The question should be, if no one is looking, what do you really like to eat. As we are speaking about crime, what do you think should be considered a food crime in a restaurant? A badly written menu is distressing to me. I feel Jamie Oliver in particular has committed crimes against the English language with ‘pukka’ and the like. Also, if you have to serve your food on a trowel to make it interesting there is something wrong with your food. The show is about your last meal if you were to visit a restaurant for your last meal, where would you go? Richard Corrigan’s Bentley’s. And if in Scotland? I have always had a fondness for Ondine and like The Gardener’s Cottage and The Lookout. Also, the East Pier Smokehouse in St Monans with the caveat that I have only been once. A bit off-topic but it is common knowledge that you love pork. Many people choose to be vegan due to animal welfare issues. What one thing could we do to help animal welfare? I agree with my colleague from the Kitchen Cabinet’s honest answer. As a group of us were all about to eat a suckling pig she said: ”eating meat is immoral, but it’s an immorality I can handle. I’m hypocritical, but I’ve fully embraced my hypocrisy.” We all make ethical compromises daily. With regards to animal welfare, I feel there has to be a balance between welfare and accessibility. I am appalled by the fact that 35,000 pigs were recently killed because we don’t have abattoir staff due to Brexit. It is Westminster's incompetence. Before Brexit, we did have some of the best animal welfare standards in the world. I honestly don’t know where we are now, it remains to be seen. Do you have any new projects in mind? The book launched in 2019 and I am still cleaning up on missed shows due to COVID. Perth is in May. I’ve got the jazz stuff and we are on series seven and eight of the podcast, then there is the Kitchen Cabinet. And in your spare time? To address my sluggish metabolism, I go to the gym four times a week. I actually really like it; I find it meditative. Piano playing despite morphing into a bit of a business is still a place of safety for me. I cook and still like simply watching the telly. My Last Supper is at Perth Theatre as part of Perth Festival of the Arts. To find out what comprises the five courses that makeup Jay Rayner’s last meal you can buy the book or get tickets for the show from Perth Arts Festival, Scotland (perthfestival.co.uk) Jay Rayner is a writer, journalist and broadcaster. He is also a jazz pianist and in 2012 formed the Jay Rayner Quartet with whom he regularly performs.