Written by William Dobson
Perhaps a slightly irrelevant post but, as you may have seen from my previous musings, I’m somewhat of a Sir Rick Stein fan. I can’t help but smile when I turn on the television and there he is. He’s wearing customary pink Ralph Lauren polo shirt, quoting from some obscure book, such as Honey from a Weed, of which only he has heard, waxing lyrical about jamón ibérico de bellota and pretending he is keeping up as someone speaks to him in Spanish, French or whatever other language he clearly doesn’t understand. Then there is his flair for accents. I’m constantly amused by his ability to sound exactly like your typical English public school boy in whatever tongue he tries to replicate, followed by his self-deprecating chuckle as his mispronounces ‘paella’ yet again. However, more importantly it’s his incredible passion and zeal for, not just the food he loves, but the cultural and historical importance of the things he eats and the places he visits. Here is someone who has dedicated his life to the things he truly adores and done so incredibly successfully; surely what we all should aspire to.
However, lately I’ve been wondering if my adoration for Rick is turning into a dangerous obsession. I’m clearly someone with an addictive personality. It’s only recently, with the help of a stint in rehab, that I managed to kick my Dr. Pepper habit. At one point it was so severe that I used to instruct the people who filled up my regular vending machines to hide a secret stash where the Lilt was meant to be stored, confident that no one actually drunk the stuff. And I won’t even mention what happened when my mother bought me diet Dr. Pepper – thankfully nothing that a bit of rhinoplasty couldn’t solve. Then there were the KFC years. A drive back from Amsterdam almost turned into a disaster; not just because driving 14 hours after spending the previous evening in everyone’s favourite red light district isn’t the most sensible thing to do, but mainly because I refused to stop at any petrol station which wasn’t inhabited by good old Colonel Sandars. The car started stuttering just as I pulled into the forecourt of Bishop Stortford services, not a moment too soon. And of course there is my crack habit, although that’s not quite so serious.
A wise man once told me that the best way to give up an addiction is to get addicted to something else. His sobriquet, incidentally, was Colonel Fags and Booze – he was an army officer – although last time I saw him he’d managed to kick the smoking habit, most likely by doubling his intake of alcohol. So when someone said to me, on the back of my first blog post, that they ‘love my obsession with Rick Stein and his pink shirts,’ it made me think. I assume it was meant as a complement, but surely ‘obsession’ has derogatory connotations. Was I using Rick to fill the void left after I kicked KFC and Dr. Pepper? Has this ‘obsession’ become crippling? I thought back to the summer, how I counted down the days on my calender until the latest episode of Rick Stein’s Spain was aired (of particular personal interest due to the huge Arab influence in the culture and food of the country). I remembered the excitement I had felt when he said ‘anyone who loves food will be my friend but anyone who loves jamón ibérico and anchovies will be my best friend,’ and I thought to myself ‘I love jamon iberico and achovies!’ This was quickly followed by heart palpitations when he lunched with Chris Stewart, founding member of Genesis, sheep shearer, author of Driving Over Lemons – a wonderful account of his life in rural Andalusia – and another personal hero of mine.
I realised I was steering every conversation I had towards the great man. ‘Did you see the football last night?’ ‘No, but I bet Rick Stein likes football; I’ll tell you what else he likes. Fish!’ I noticed that friends were starting to avoid me (although that could of course be for a plethora of reasons) and, increasingly, I was spending all my time slumped in front of the television watching reruns of Mediterranean Escapes (probably his finest show). However, for better or worse, this is one addiction I won’t be trying to give up any time soon. Life without Rick just wouldn’t be the same…