Where are you from?
Officially I grew up in the cherry blossom suburbs of North West London but nobody is ‘from’ there. It’s just somewhere unavoidable that the tides of history wash you up against. My great grandfather was from a town in Poland with not enough vowels in its name so I’m happy to claim that lineage.
Who are your favourite writers?
Early Philip Roth for the dirty jokes, John le Carre for the unique style and Tom Wolfe for proving just what a stubborn reporter could achieve. Of more recent writers I am a big fan of David Sedaris, who somehow manages to achieve great things with huge economy. Every sentence counts. He’s a master technician and proves it by refusing to let you see the technique. The bastard.
Which book/books have had the biggest influence on your writing?
When I finally discovered Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint, I was thrilled. Apparently it was possible to have both literary ambition and write filthy jokes.
Which teacher had the biggest impact on your life?
The late Bruce McGowan, head teacher of my high school, Haberdasher’s School for Boys, Elstree, who threw me out for four months for a ludicrously minor crime. In one genius move he a) convinced me that I genuinely was a bad boy, who would hunt alone for the rest of his life b) filled me with a burning sense of injustice and c) made me believe I was more interesting than everybody else. All rubbish, of course, but not bad convictions for a wannabee writer to have at the beginning of his career.
What are your hobbies and outside interests?
As I now write about food, my outside interest has become my job. Helpfully, I am very very greedy. I am also a very mediocre jazz pianist. For a food critic, I play a pretty good version of Night and Day.
What is the single best piece of advice anyone ever gave you?
Never turn down the opportunity to go for a wee, and never be photographed with a glass in your hand. Both pieces of advice were handed down to me by my mother who was, optimistically I always thought, preparing me for a life in the public eye. I was six years old
What is your favourite quote?
‘These are my principles. If you don’t like them, I have others.’ Groucho Marx.
What is the question most commonly asked by your readers? What is the answer?
What is your favourite restaurant? Why? Are you offering to buy me dinner?
What inspired you to write your first book?
The absolute certainty that its publication would lead to a life of fast cars and loose women. The miracle is that I still went on to write a second book.
Where do you write?
Initially I read this as Why do you write, to which the answer had to be one long apologetic shrug that begins at the knees. Where, is far easier: a room looking out over the street, which is populated by many home workers. We sit watching to see who gets the most despatch rider deliveries. It’s never me. Nobody ever has to send something quickly to a food writer, though I have been known to send out for an emergency bag of Turkish pistachios when deadlines were close and inspiration far away.