“I was ashamed by my reaction to that slimy asparagus spear”

Chef Dan Doherty had his food lightbulb as a child, when travelling through France on a family holiday. Find out why a telling off led him to realise the importance of food.

“I was ashamed by my reaction to that slimy asparagus spear”

One of my earliest food memories isn’t one of pleasure or romance, there weren’t any fireworks or epiphanies. In fact, it was the disapproval of something that taught me correct manners for eating at a dinner table.

My mum, dad and I were travelling through France for a summer holiday. To break up the drive we stopped off at my mum’s friend’s house in Orléans. They kindly put us up for the evening and cooked us dinner… which was a wonderful gesture and makes me regret what happened next even more.

Dinner was served and, with it, a side of tinned asparagus. I recall trying a slimy, overcooked, stringy spear and immediately spitting it out onto the plate. My mum kicked me and gave that angry under-her-breath whisper: “Don’t be so bloody ungrateful you little sod,” or something to that effect.

''I recall trying a slimy, overcooked, stringy spear and immediately spitting it out onto the plate''

She was right. These generous folk had put us up and cooked us dinner, and just because I didn’t like something didn’t mean I needed to display it – it was rude and offensive. I like to think I’m better behaved now but, by the way, I still think tinned asparagus is gross.

''A memory that reminds me how important good hospitality is''

Fast forward 30 odd years and every time I’m prepping asparagus when the season comes, loving its vibrant freshness, I’m taken back to the memory of a little kid at a dinner table – a memory that reminds me how important good hospitality is. It’s a constant driver for me at The Royal Oak, the pub I now run in London’s Marylebone. You can never make someone too welcome…

Dan Doherty is a highly regarded chef who appears regularly on Saturday Kitchen and was a judge on the BBC series Britain’s Best Home Cook. He’s written two cookbooks and has another one coming out in spring 2019

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