In this series, famous food lovers talk to YOU restaurant critic Tom Parker Bowles about all matters culinary, from earliest memories and favourite dishes to things they can’t bear. This week actress Minnie Driver shares her stories.
My mother always cooked, and it was something she loved to do. A war baby, she could conjure delicious food out of almost nothing. Fussy children were often sent to our house to be cured of their food issues. I’ll never forget the child who, upon hearing it would be spaghetti for dinner, sobbed. Then watching him when he took a bite and seeing his scrunched-up face smooth out into wonder. My sister Kate is an amazing cook, as is my brother. I love cooking too. My mum gave us all this gene.
We were never served huge portions of food, so there was never anything left. But if I was in trouble and had been forbidden from having pudding it was the worst punishment of all.
Mum could always use food to make a hard journey better. She had no money, while Dad was wealthy. [Minnie’s parents separated when she was six.] So we had these two different lives. With Mum, it was stuff your things in a bag, get on a train or the cheapest plane. Which would invariably arrive in the middle of the night. We used to stay in a bed and breakfast in Ravello, near Positano in the south of Italy. The bakery would be open at three in the morning when we arrived, and the Nonna would be cooking for the next morning. We’d go in and she would make us calzones. I remember standing there, shattered but so happy to be eating this homemade pizza.
Mum wrote a cookbook for charity called Not Just A Pretty Face. It had the favourite recipes of the famous models of the time, including Joanna Lumley, whose lap I peed on when I was a baby. I remember her testing them all out, and even the most revolting-sounding suet pudding – I guess models ate suet in the 70s – was incredibly delicious.
I’ll never forget the sweet-seller’s van that turned up on a tiny Hampshire country lane every Thursday. He didn’t have a bell, but it was such an old motor that you could hear it chugging up the lane. He would just park it and sit listening to the cricket. I guess Proust was really on to something because I can still remember, so clearly, the smell of the sweets flooding out as he opened up the van. He had every sweet and chocolate you could dream of, all on this custom-made display. He also always had a couple of fancy boxes – Milk Tray or Black Magic – and you’d see the occasional bloke running out to get one for his wife.
I have terrifying memories of the food at my school, Bedales. I remember saying my first prayer over hard, grey, knobbly liver.
I’m a gannet and will eat anything except meat and red peppers. I haven’t eaten meat since my late teens. I had a pig at school who I loved, which put me off bacon. But I never do the thing of saying ‘I don’t eat that.’ At a dinner party, I’ll just happily eat all the other stuff.
My mum’s best friend lives in Paris and when we went to visit her, when we were younger, we would go to La Coupole. It’s still the grandest, most wonderful place I can imagine. The steak au poivre there, although I no longer eat meat, was the most delicious thing ever.
My kitchen is beautiful and light. I have 12ft of open shelving along one wall with all the crockery I’ve collected over the years, stacked in columns. The equipment is stored away in cabinets, so the countertops are uncluttered so it’s easy to prepare a lot of things at once. I love marble as it stays cold which is good for making pastry. I make a lot of pastry.
My favourite comfort food is a giant bowl of cereal with raspberries and honey. But when I have a hangover my perfect dish is fried eggs on toast.
My mother died of cancer last year. When she came out of hospital for the last time, all she wanted was a proper Sunday lunch, roast beef. We realised we hadn’t made this for many years and there was something about the necessity of not just cooking the meal she wanted, but making it the most delicious version possible. It felt incredibly steadying, cooking when you’re in this terrifying moment of your life. So galvanising, and it really was the most perfect lunch. None of us realised it was to be her last, which was just as well as it was the purest celebration.
Food is the most comforting thing you can offer someone, and be offered, in times of extreme sadness. It’s why when someone dies, everybody brings food. It’s how we show love.
My last supper would be a picnic on the beach with everyone I love. Fresh sardines and mackerel off the barbecue, tomatoes from the garden, homemade bread, salty butter, hard-boiled eggs, fruit salad and a giant Victoria sponge.
Managing Expectations by Minnie Driver is published by Manilla Press, price £20 (also available as an eBook and on audio). To order a copy for £17.10 until 29 May, go to mailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3176 2937. Free p&p on orders over £20.