I grew up in a one-bedroom apartment in Athens with my mother and sister. Life centred on food for Mother. If we didn’t like what she offered, she’d make something else, there and then. She thought if we didn’t eat every 20 minutes something terrible would happen to us.
When I was 17 I went for three months to do a course in comparative religion at Chandernagore College, outside Calcutta, and one of the great things I learnt was that drinking hot tea acts as air conditioning when you’re hot. Then I fell in love with Indian food. One of the reasons I love visiting London is its great Indian restaurants.
When I moved to London at 18 with my mother to prepare for my Cambridge entrance exam, the best thing to me about English food seemed to be breakfast. I would often get together with a couple of friends to have breakfast-dinners – porridge, scrambled eggs and the whole breakfast caboodle, but for dinner.
When I think of my father, I think of eating out, because my parents were separated when I was young, though never actually got divorced. When I saw him it would be in restaurants and I remember going to Paris with him and us eating at cafes.
I was in a relationship with [writer & broadcaster] Bernard Levin for seven years, and several summers we toured around Michelin-starred restaurants in France – me driving and him navigating. I liked the countryside and Bernard didn’t, but we had our biggest fights over me ordering simple Greek food and forgoing all the fabulous and rich dishes which he waxed lyrical over. He’d get very upset. He couldn’t stand it when I refused a sauce at Paul Bocuse’s restaurant [in Lyon].
I am the worst cook I have known. The only things I do is boil eggs and brown rice and make endless cups of gardener’s tea with milk and honey. My daughters say, “Mummy can barely make a thing”, and laugh about it and make awful fun of me for it. But in a very loving, charming way.
If she were alive, the thing mother would have a problem with, if feeding me now, is how much I’ve cut sugar out of my life. I remember when she lived with us, how she’d hide candy from me – hiding it to give to my daughters when I was attempting to keep them off sugar. I discovered they’d go to her bedroom and under the bed she’d have their favourite candies. Even if I wouldn’t eat her desserts, she’d still make them and feed them, on my kitchen’s high stools, to the gas man or parents dropping off their children for a play-date.
My youngest daughter’s anorexia didn’t start until after my mother had died but I’ve always thought it would have been an incredibly hard blow for my mother. Of course it was hard on me too. Anorexia is a very complicated illness and it’s difficult to pinpoint the psychological causes, but I kind of blamed myself and thought, “Is it because I became such a careful eater, nibbling my salad?”
I once had dinner with a man who said, with pride, “I only have four hours sleep” and I thought, “This dinner would be much more interesting if you’d had five.”
I believe in being fully present. It’s imperative to turn off phones before a meal and to not even have phones on the table. Professor Sherry Turkle from MIT has done great research on what the presence of technology does to conversation – and it’s not good. So Getting rid of technology seems to be the next frontier in table manners.
I make sounds when I’m enjoying eating – sexual sounds. My mother would say I’d always do that. I do it more consciously now, to express my love of food.
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