Cultivating Cuisine: Learning to Cook

Sunday Telegraph Magazine  London, 1984-2006, 2,000 words; extracts  

2/cont. 

"Take Agatha Christie, for example. Poirot eats one thing with Inspector Japp and something quite different with his friend Hastings, and that is very revealing." 

Elizabeth David comments, ‘One of her great attributes is her positive quality. She is very sure of what she wants to teach.’

It is an approach that assumes an emotional importance and intelligence in cooking that many English still find hard to acknowledge. "A good cook can never be called stupid," says Russell. "Quite possibly uneducated in the formal sense, but always intelligent."

. . . .

Russell's cookery school breaks every rule in the book. She will not advertise. She refuses to expand. She keeps a strict distance from both the press and the celebrity foodie world. 

But word-of-mouth travels. She is a powerfully strong spirit in many strategically placed kitchens. Claudia Roden, cookery writer extraordinaire, came here to learn how to teach on the recommendation of Elizabeth David, and American maestro James Beard, who came to take a quick glimpse, wanted to take Russell back to the USA. Her influence runs quietly, largely invisibly, from there downwards in our growing food culture. 

What, then, makes her such an influence? Elizabeth David comments, "One of her great attributes is her positive quality. She is very sure what she wants to teach." Roden pinpoints "her eye for the essence of things and her indomitable spirit." 

FEELING LIFE THROUGH FOOD

The spirit perhaps came from a dominant family gene. One sister was a Dominican nun who founded a new community, five schools and an orphanage. Her eldest brother, Gilbert, became one of the great Resistance heroes, better known by his nom de guerre, Colonel Rémy. The plans and information he smuggled to London as head of undercover intelligence in occupied territory helped to sink the Bismarck, to plan the D-Day landings and to bomb the German fleet based at Saint Nazaire.

He was also a friend of Curnonsky, the gourmet, and understood the bon viveur's code of life: to lay his hands on the plans of Saint Nazaire harbour he paid half a dozen magnums of vintage Château Yquem. 

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