Lesley Chesterman Leaves the Table, Part 3: Final food for thought

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Lesley Chesterman Leaves the Table, Part 3: Final food for thought

This is the first instalment of a three-part farewell by Montreal Gazette restaurant critic Lesley Chesterman, looking back at her 20 years on the beat.

I had written my first article about food in the Montreal Gazette in the spring of 1998. Soon after, I ran into a fellow Québécois journalist who had just returned from England and said the food had been awful. Having spent time in the English capital, I thought differently, and called up Gray out of the blue on my next visit, requesting an interview.

To my delight, she agreed, and I made my way to her chic restaurant on the edge of the Thames in Hammersmith. After getting quite lost, I arrived late, sweaty and dishevelled before sitting down to a brilliant lunch of spaghetti with oregano, roast lamb loin and two desserts (or, as the Brits say, puddings): their famous lemon tart and chocolate Nemesis cake.

At the time, Gray was working on the River Café Cookbook Two; their first cookbook sold over a million copies and started a new wave in Italian cooking. While she styled photos, I reeled off questions about the history of British cuisine, why they chose to serve an Italian menu and what kind of chefs she preferred in her kitchen. She patiently answered with her cool demeanour and wry smile. I recall her answers as follows: in postwar Britain there just wasn’t much food available; she simply loved Italian food best; and as for chefs, she favoured women, preferably Australian. When I asked whether there had ever been French cooks in her kitchen, without missing a beat she said: “Never.” Why I didn’t drop my notepad and beg her to hire me remains a mystery. She was quite a lady. 

I left that interview a changed person. Having worked as a pastry chef in professional kitchens since the early ’90s, I was used to cooking, but now I was asking chefs their thoughts about cooking. And from the great Ms. Gray onward, I’ve been at it for 20 years, asking, tasting and trying to make a connection between the personalities and what’s on their plates.

Source : The Gazette