Thursday, October 20, 2011
This same excitement and enthusiasm for all things culinary would follow Nigel Slater into adulthood and into British celebrity. The film Toast is the early biography of Slater's life growing up in Wolverhampton, England with a very sweet, but sickly mother, who relied heavily on serving toast for meals when her meager attempts at preparing dinner would turn out unappetizing and often inedible. It would seem his mother's shortcoming became an endearing part of Slater's childhood as even today he writes this about toast and cheese:
There's nothing quite like cheese on toast – and the endless variations make for truly sumptuous snacks.Unfortunately, his dear mum (Victoria Hamilton) passed away from asthma while Nigel was still a boy, leaving him to be raised by a distant and gruff father. (Ken Stott). Soon Nigel's father hires a cleaning woman to help out around the house, played by Helena Bonham Carter, who must have put on 20lb to play the part, and boy does she have fun with it! I read this description of the role and feel I must reprint it as it captures the character to a tee:
I can trace my need for some sort of toasty cheese fix to the day my mother cut up soldiers of toast for me and spread them with Dairylea. Talk about love at first bite. The recipe itself may have moved on more than a bit, but to this day there are few things I like to hear more than the sound of crunchy toast and oozing cheese. I still order Welsh rabbit in restaurants if it's on the menu. (Still around if you know where to look.) Cheeses may change, and the bread moves on, but I suspect cheese on toast in some form or another will always be with us. No matter how simply or fancifully we interpret it. - The Guardian The Observer - Nigel Slater (Sept. 2011)
...the arrival of ‘Miss Potter’ – a coarse but beguiling cleaner on the make, who bewitched Slater Sr with her saucy outfits and seductive home cooking. Dressed in crimplene housecoats and seamed stockings, a cigarette permanently dangling from her rouged lips, Miss Potter, becomes the second Mrs Slater, leaving a desolate Nigel out in the cold -By Elizabeth Sanderson and Christine Challand. (This article featured Nigel's real-life stepsister, not mentioned in the film, who is livid over the making of Toast both the book and the movie, as she feels it's a libelous depiction of her mother and her mother's marriage to Nigel's father).
But on a lighter note, who would think housework could be so suggestive? There is a very clever montage underscored by the song "The Look of Love", where Nigel's father can't take his eyes off of Mrs. Potter's ample behind, as she scrubs and polishes, then gets turned on when she runs the vacuum cleaner in and out between his legs.
As far as Nigel is concerned the only good thing about Mrs. Potter is the fact that she can cook. And cook she does, the film treats us to another montage, this time of fattening, artery clogging, caloric dishes popular in the late 60's early 70's. But as Nigel discovers his own talent for the culinary arts, Mrs Potter feels her place in the family is being threatened and a rivalry develops between Nigel and his step-mum, causing anguish for Nigel's father.
While watching the film, I felt the tone was reminiscent of Billy Elliot, and soon discovered the reason being, it was penned by the same screenwriter, Lee Hall. I liked the movie, not just because it represents food in film; but rather because of its subtle humor mixed with melancholy; the nice handling of Slater's sexual orientation; there's some gems of wisdom by Nigel's precocious boyhood friend, and yes, plenty of feasting for the eyes.
I contacted Katherine Tidy, the film's food stylist for an online interview earlier this week. She has yet to respond, but check back, as this post may be expanded to include her insights.