Grace Dent on her book, Hungry, and her new podcast

Virgin Radio

21 Jun 2021, 12:57

The columnist, broadcaster and author joined the Graham Norton Radio Show with Waitrose to talk about her book, Hungry, and about the memories that certain foods can stir. 

Hungry is in stores now. Grace told Graham, “I am very proud of it. It’s funny, but yeah, you go on a journey from how I was a little girl in Currock in Carlisle living on Findus Crispy Pancakes and Butterscotch Angel Delight, and going through to the first big supermarkets turning up in Carlisle and how they changed my life, and how I ended up on MasterChef. So it’s kind of a memoir, but a memoir through the beauty of food, snacky food.” 

Graham and Grace discussed how food can stir certain memories, which is one of the ways she tells her own story in Hungry. She said, “When you are often looking into your past and trying to remember things, it can be very difficult to pin down specific memories, but then somebody passes you a sweet or a chocolate bar, or shows you a picture of a chocolate wrapper or something like that from the seventies, and suddenly those memories come flooding back.” 

She added, “I always say, even just things like the purple of Dairy Milk, if you just look at that sometimes, it just unlocks memories of Easter in my house. Or selection boxes at Christmas. It’s the tiny, very specific tastes that just get into the parts of the brain that even a good, serious think can’t unlodge.”

When talking about her influences, Grace told Graham, “I wasn’t brought up in an academic household. It wasn’t a house full of books or ambition to go far and do things. However I always say I was brought up by media. I was brought up by pop culture. They were the things that gave me the impetus, that little spark. You see Joanne from The Human League looking glamorous on Top of the Pops, or the women on Coronation Street, or Janet Street-Porter, who I loved when I was a little girl… You see these people in media and you think, ‘I could do that, that’s the way.’” 

Grace continued, “I always thought from an early age that I was just very good at telling a story and recounting what had happened the night before. And I thought there was definitely a job there for me, for someone who could make people laugh and make people happy, and tell the truth. That’s the thing, to be able to say the things that other people are thinking.”

Graham asked Grace whether, rather than her first job being at Marie Claire, she actually started at Chat Magazine. She said, “Oh gosh, yes I was at Chat Magazine. When I was writing Hungry I did suddenly reveal that, because it was something I didn’t talk about for years. I always said I started at Marie Claire, but I absolutely didn’t. I was that person opening that big bag of readers’ letters every day… It was just a big bag of gossip!”

She added, “I loved it! There’s a little bit of me that is always going to be Chat!” 

When discussing whether food is class-based, Grace told Graham, “It always will be. Mainly because of the amount of money it costs to eat somewhere wonderful, or even mediocre. I always say to gasps when I’m talking about this, it’s very, very easy to spend £250 on dinner, and they get angry straight away. I know when I look through all of my receipts when I take them to the accountant, it’s £250 to eat in places that are maybe not even that good. 

“So, to the millions and millions of people listening to this, it’s no wonder they love, as my family did, the Toby Inn, or Wetherspoons or places like that. So, yeah it’s very class-based. I hope that in what I do, I honour the happiness that cheaper food brings you.”

This brought Grace onto the subject of her podcast, Comfort Eating, which links to her book. “The happiest times you ever have is sometimes that sandwich you’ve cobbled together from the crust of the loaf at the end of the day. Or the naughtry things that you don’t like to tell people, which is eating beans straight out of the tin, or eating macaroni cheese out of the tin.

Grace went on to talk about her podcast, where she talks to celebrities about what they actually eat. “When they are interviewed for magazines, of course they say, ‘Oh, well I have a wonderful time at The Ritz, or if I have a day off I always go to The Wolseley,’ or whatever posh place it is.” 

In reality though, the writer has found that celebrities are just as happy eating their own comfort food. “Rafe Spall made me the dirtiest cheese and pickle sandwich. “We had Russell T Davies on the other day, and he just made me a load of boiled rice with butter in it… These are the things that actually make people happy and unlock memories to the past, so I’m here for it.”

Grace told Graham that when she has tried to “drag my family up to my lofty media heights” she hasn’t had much success. “You do sometimes think, ‘Oh, maybe my family would love to come to this swanky media hangout.’ And they get there and they just look at the price of the drinks and they go, ‘We would rather have this money to just do the things that we like, Grace, thank you very much.’ And I think that’s good, because I’ve always said that I’m still waiting for them to all treat me like the star that I think I am in my own head, and they just resolutely refuse to!

“I think that’s healthy. Your family have to always know how you are and remind you who you are. I think if you don’t have that sometimes, you’re lost.”

Graham asked Grace whether, as a very respected food critic, she has gone a little easier on restaurants during the torrid time that the industry is currently facing. “I have been until recently,” she told him. “Things are in a dire mess at the moment, in lots of different ways, whether it’s staffing, supplies, everything.

“I can only be nice for so long, and it was starting to give me a migraine. It’s that feeling, time and time again, of going out and it not being very nice, so I did give a stinging review at the weekend, and I do feel that a boil has been lanced somewhat!

“It’s been a year of being nice. I’m not the first person to notice I look like Fenella the Kettlewitch, and all of that meanness has to go somewhere. But look, I do know that people are having a hard time and I try to be as nice as I can.

“I don’t want people to be ripped off, and that’s who I write for, people who are going out for dinner. I don’t write to be friends with chefs, or friends with the PR for big restaurants, because that’s not a very satisfying way to live. I write so people don’t get ripped off.”

Hungry is out now.

For more great interviews listen to The Graham Norton Radio Show with Waitrose, Saturdays AND Sundays from 09:30am on Virgin Radio, or catch up on-demand here.