January 13, 2009 / 2:05 PM / 10 years ago

Britain's Delia Smith on food, critics and sugar

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Delia Smith is one of Britain’s best-loved cookery writers, a firm believer in bringing the nation back to basics through teaching classic cooking techniques. Her influence and popularity has led to ‘The Delia effect’, a phenomenon now enshrined in the English dictionary after her use of eggs led to a 10 percent rise of egg sales in Britain. After leaving school at 16, she worked as a dishwasher in a London restaurant and soon progressed to helping the chef. This sparked an interest in food that Smith nurtured by studying its history in the British Museum, before becoming a food writer for the Daily Mirror. Her idea for a televised cookery course began a successful career in television, accompanied by a series of popular recipe books. She has recently re-released her 1970s classic, ‘Frugal Food’ in light of the current economic climate.

Q: Did you dream of cooking as a career?

A: No, I didn’t. It happened when I started going out to restaurants in the 60s: the whole idea of eating out and learning about cooking was suddenly something I wanted to do. Initially learning to cook was to get me through life, not a career.

Q: What prompted you to begin your television career?

A: I’d have people come up to me and say, ‘Oh, I really enjoyed your column yesterday’, and I’d ask ‘Did you make the recipe?’ They’d say ‘Oh, no, I can’t cook’. I realized there was still a long way to go in teaching people to cook. At that time, people had to go to evening schools to learn to cook. I thought, wouldn’t it be wonderful if they could learn in their own homes?

Q: How do you feel about cooking on television?

A: I’m quite happy because it’s just a couple of cameramen who are there. What I can’t do is cook before a live audience. I did it once, and it was a disaster.

Q: Do you believe cooking is an art form?

A: Yes. I think what you’ve got to have, first and foremost, is a love of eating. I’ve never seen a good cook or chef who doesn’t enjoy eating. If you really enjoy good food, flavor and taste, you’re a natural.

Q: Your recent book, ‘How to Cheat at Cooking’, sparked a lot of criticism. How do you react to this?

A: I think people jumped on a bandwagon and didn’t really look at the book. They were talking about me using instant mash, but I never used instant mash - I used frozen mashed potato, which is quite different. The book got to the people it was meant for, so I think it was worthwhile. I think food lends itself to snobbery. I’ve always upset people.

Q: Why do you think this is?

A: Because from their standpoint I’m boring. People probably think I’m a bit old-fashioned. But I think that is me, really, I wouldn’t want to be anything else.

Q: What do you think of modern food?

A: Certain aspects are too cheffy. All the foam, and the drizzle, and the towers, and the sprinkles. Italian food is perhaps the only food that isn’t poncey nowadays. That’s not me - I’m saying don’t worry if it’s not perfect.

Q: What is your opinion on the idea of an ‘obesity crisis’?

A: No food is unhealthy. What is unhealthy is excess. As a nation, we are addicted to sugar. If you could wean the nation off sugar, I think that would begin to solve problems.

Q: What advice would you give to aspiring home cooks?

A: Don’t be afraid. If you’ve got the right cookery book and you’ve got the right recipe, it will lead you through and it will help you, and you won’t be left wondering what to do.

Editing by Paul Casciato

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