Bittersweet toast

bittersweet toast

For a Dutch audience, the film Toast and its main character Nigel probably need a bit of an introduction. Not many people in the low countries will be familiar with the British chef/tv-cook and writer Nigel Slater (the photo in the headline is Nigel himself playing a cameo in Toast).
So, let’s fix that, shall we?

nigel slater

Nigel Slater Toast
Nigel Slater at his fathers wedding (left) and in the film (right)
Toast is the name of Slaters autobiography, so by watching and tasting the filmed version of his book Toast, you will get a pretty good idea of Slaters background. He grew up in Wolverhampton to parents who both didn’t have any culinary skills, to say the least. Nigel develops his love for food, vegetables and cooking all by himself, also out of a need for comfort. When his mother dies of asthma, he takes up a fierce cooking competition with his (brilliantly cooking) stepmother to win over the love of his father. Love finds its way through the stomach, but hate as well. The film ends where Slaters career begins, at the kitchen of the hotel Savoy in London.

straight out of the tin

Toast Spotted Dick
In the film, Slater endures the food of English lower and middle class in the sixties. While preparing for writing the book, Slater tried to remember the taste of that food. He shopped for Smash mashed potato and salad cream and ham in a tin (with jelly), steamed Heinz sponge puddings (see photo) and Fray Bentos Steak & Kidney pie. Contrary to his childhood, he now loves the food, simply because it brings back memories of times long gone. In the film even warming up the tins in boiling water is bound to go wrong. And for that reason, the family Slater always ends up eating toast with butter.

but The English cuisine does exist

Toast Pie
Shepherds pie (left) and porkpie (right)
Don’t worry, Cinema Culinair uses fresh products and cooks really tasteful English recipes. The English kitchen had a questionable reputation, but some character dishes are really delicious. The Dutch think a pie is a pie, but Shepherds Pie (lamb with mashed potatoes) is hardly comparable to a pork pie (minced pork in a dough crust). We follow the recipe of Nigel Slater for his Shepherds Pie, including his own little twists.

And who else then a British cook can come up with a recipe for making tea? Eating with the film Toast, is nothing short of a lesson in British food culture.


Nigel Slater recipe
Slaters sandwich rare beef with blueberries
Slater thinks England is now overcompensating for the fact that British food was always a bit of a joke. Now, everybody has to cook everything themselves and even the pubs are turning into ‘gastro pubs’. Food is not in the British genes as the French or Italians have it, he says; ‘The British are not passionate cooks. We are a nation of recipe followers’.

Slater started writing about cooking doing exactly that: writing good recipes for a magazine. He wrote hundreds of them and he writes as if the food speaks:
“Blueberries with an underlying piquancy from red wine vinegar, juniper and rosemary works splendidly with cold roast pork. I spooned the inky-blue dressing over crisp, pinkly pickled onions and thin slices of rare beef and sandwiched it all in a suitably giving brioche bun.”
– Nigel Slater in The Guardian
Slater also often adds a personal touch on writing about food. Food is all about memories and culture, and is not a scientific skill, in his mind. Slater actually was never much of a professional cook, he admits, he much rather cooks for a small amount of guests, then drilling a professional kitchen staff. At the moment he writes his mouthwatering recipes for the Guardian.
Check it out, and when the show Toast is at Cinema Culinair; be sure not to miss this delicious British experience.
Wies Sanders, 1. November 2018
The Guardian, interview 14/9/2003 
ARD Tagesthemen interview 11/8/2011
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