Food critic Jay Rayner certainly knows how to make an entrance. Dressed as Moses, he enters the auditorium, complete with full robes and tightly clutching two pizza boxes, like tablets marked with his very own commandments.
So begins a very entertaining one-man show now touring the country from the journalist, Master Chef regular and all round Jewish food Svengali.
Rayner appeared last week at JW3 as part of the Ham & High Literary Festival for his show, based on his recently-published book by the same title, The Ten (Food) Commandments.
As he disrobes, the 50-year-old foodie and son of agony aunt Claire Rayner, is eager to point out that not only are there a whopping 613 commandments, but there aren’t any particularly food-related with the exception of “Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbour’s oxen”.
He goes on to announce that “the Jewish God is basically a picky eater”. The show is punctuated by images of everything from Rayner lying covered in pork scratchings to David Cameron eating with a fork – and for political balance, Ed Miliband eating without a fork.
The audience is also treated to musings on Nigella, ribs, his son, Eddie, and various hilarious photos of himself, in an attempt to bring together opinion, fact and humour on the food laws by which every human should live.
“We need a new culinary Moses, we need someone to lead you to the promise land and who else could there be?” Rayner asks rhetorically.
Beginning with his first commandment – “Thou Shalt Eat with Thy Hands” – Rayner gets his audience on side by stating that the best food experiences are normally free from knives and forks.
“When you eat with cutlery you are using sight, smell and taste, but when you eat with your hands you are bringing in another sense, the sense of touch which augments the experience to an extraordinary degree.”
Commandment two is Thou Shalt Worship Leftovers, where Rayner describes how leftovers had a bad rap thanks to Fanny Cradock recipes, but the arrival of fridges and freezers has revolutionised how we use excess food.
Blaming the cheapening of food for people simply throwing away their leftovers, Rayner observes: “When food is cheap you don’t take it seriously, but thankfully a moral imperative has kicked in and I believe leftovers are part of a brilliant game of gastronomic tag. This is where the adventures begin and new dishes are created, from all the things you haven’t eaten the day before. “
Speaking about the one thing that drives food culture in Britain and beyond is boredom.
“We need a constantly changing diet, we see new foods and we want to try them. We are meant to sneer at Instagrammers constantly photographing their dinner, but the reality is that it’s just the process of coveting accelerated – and I think it’s a bloody good thing.”
His other commandments include “Thou Shalt Cook Sometimes”, explaining because it’s fun and “Thou Shalt Not Cut off the Fat”, because fat is not the enemy, but rather sugar, with Rayner adding a scientific and logical explanation to back up his conclusions.
Lamenting how humans have lost many skills over the years, he nevertheless turns to food as our one saviour. “We used to make things as human beings, chairs and tables and build our own houses, now we don’t make anything – but, we can make dinner,” he quips. “The brilliant thing about cooking is that it’s a task with a finite end. You go into the kitchen to get raw ingredients and bend them to your will. Now, that is a very good hobby to have.”
Rayner’s next three commandments, “Thou Shalt Not Sneer at Meat-Free Cookery”, “Thou Shalt Celebrate the Stinky” and “Thou Shalt Not Mistake Food for Pharmaceuticals” are equally witty, perceptive and stern about our food habits.
Finally we arrive at the 10th and final commandment, which he admits wryly is not well placed within the confines of a Jewish community centre – “Honour Thy Pig”.
For the final word, however, Rayner leaves his witticisms to that of fellow bacon-eating Jew and celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal, who concludes via video with his one and only commandment – “Thou Shalt Not Be Dictatorial Around Food” – a fitting end to a show that has plenty of food for thought.