English as She is Eaten
There’s a line in the introduction to Fay Maschler’s inaugural Evening Standard restaurant review from 1972 that reads, she “likes cooking at home every bit as much as she enjoys eating out”. That was nearly 42 years ago, when as a Radio Times journalist and advertising copywriter, Fay entered a public competition to replace Quentin Crewe in his coveted food critic post. The quote is telling of a passion not just for the dining room and service of a restaurant, but also for the enjoyments of her own kitchen. Among Fay’s many achievements in a career of impressive longevity, the publication of five cookery books speaks of a woman who is much more than the feared and revered critic of London’s daily newspaper.
Fay is a gifted cook with a warming instinct for provision and nourishment. She lives in a four-storey Georgian townhouse in Fitzrovia with her second husband, the artist and writer Reg Gadney. Her kitchen is home to tales of a life in food – from a pestle and mortar given to her by Jamie Oliver, to a knife set that still bears the giver’s note: “Sharp knives for a sharp food writer.” The middle level of the house revolves around the kitchen – a room where there’s often a pot of simmering stock or a batch of her homemade marmalade on the boil, and where, in the fridge, there stands a bottle of her favourite Californian Chardonnay, waiting to be shared.
Venetian Water Glasses [fig 3]
This i diversi set of eight Murano water glasses has accumulated over many years, after several visits to a favourite shop in Venice called L’Isola. Elliptically-shaped and ergonomically exact for the hand, they’re the work of artist Carlo Moretti – each hand-painted in the typically bright colours of the region, but showing a restraint and decorative subtlety often missing from much of the gaudy tourist-seducing Murano collections. Each visit tends to yield only a pair, such is their characteristically Venetian price tag.
Greek Taberna Poster [fig 5]
Fay and Reg have a second home in the southern Peloponnese in Greece. It is here, six weeks twice a year, that Fay most enjoys cooking, with the abundance of local ingredients at her disposal. She is often joined by her sister, Beth Coventry – herself a fine cook and restaurateur. This poster, with its charming, if creative use of English, was found lying on the ground near one of their favourite beaches a few years ago where, Fay says, curiously, “there was never a taverna!” This place is known by the locals, ominously, as Murderers’ Beach, but she and Reg prefer to call it the Corner Beach, because, less remarkably, “it’s on a corner.”
Cookery Books [fig 6]
Of Fay’s five published books, her favourite is Cooking is a Game You Can Eat. She is, and always has been, a firm believer in getting children to cook, explaining the “transference of balance of power” was key to ensuring her kids ate and got pleasure from food. “They are normally on the receiving end of a meal, but if they prepare something then you, the adult, have to eat it out of politeness. And kids will eat anything they’ve made themselves,” she says. In all her books there is an emphasis on pragmatism, manageable economies and practicality for the home cook.
Timo Sarpaneva Pot [fig 7]
This is the most recent addition to Fay’s bounty. Hers is a kitchen of stainless steel worktops, a large gas range, central wooden workbench and enough pots, pans and utensils to fill an exhibition. It’s a juxtaposition of homely chaos and professional-spec minimalism. This Finnish enamel-coated, cast iron pot was spotted by Fay on food writer Diana Henry’s blog. She loved it, despite conceding “the last thing I need is a pot”. The precision of the design means the lid fits so snugly as to minimise the opportunity for vapours and flavours to escape. A very neat, detachable wooden handle allows it to be removed from the oven or lifted off the stovetop. She describes it as “one of the things that you’d be pleased to pass on to your children” – of which she has three.
Pasta Machine [fig 8]
This Italian-made Atlas pasta machine played an unorthodox role towards the end of Fay’s first marriage, to the publisher Tom Maschler. Ruefully she says, “In the dying days of our relationship, making pasta was pretty much the only thing that Tom and I could do harmoniously.” It is a gadget she still uses infrequently.
French Cast-Iron Chip Pan [fig 9]
This is one of many items given to Fay by her mother, Mary Coventry. The chip pan is brilliant for the simplicity of its design and ease of use: a cast iron pot with two raised handles on which a slatted basket can either rest, or if turned 180 degrees, can be lowered into hot oil. Fay says she “has never seen anything like it.” She describes her mother as a “good cook, but of her time” and that “everything she made tasted very purely of itself”. Mary was the first person Fay knew who made her own vinaigrette and mayonnaise, and she wonders whether it was because of her friendship with a French friend that “she was ahead of her time”.
Sri Lankan Spice Selection [fig 10]
Fay was born in India, where her parents lived before moving back to London. One of her daughters now lives there and Fay regularly visits. She’s been known to return with big bags of Tellicherry peppercorns from Kerala, cinnamon bark and other spices, but this collection of 26 came from Sri Lanka, a country whose cuisine she loves. It hangs in waiting in the middle of the open shelving unit on which the household’s many kitchen accoutrements rest.
First Evening Standard Article, 22nd November 1972 [fig 11]
“It’s been such a good job – restaurants have just got better and better,” says Fay. Her reputation is such that she now seems immune to time; rather than losing touch, with each restaurant visit she becomes a more valuable voice. The nature of her experience also gives her a unique perspective. When she first started, she says, “there weren’t many good restaurants – there has been so much change. Now, it’s become such a way of life.”