One of the first tasks I undertook when I joined Food & Wine Magazine back in the nineties was to interview Keith Floyd. It was far more pleasure than duty because I’d long been a fan of the seminal Hole in The Wall in Bath where Keith assisted or more probably hindered George Perry in his attempts to bring an Elizabeth David-inspired French cuisine to an initially sceptical British public and I was also a lover of Keith’s TV cookery programmes. Before Keith you had Fanny & Johnny Craddock, ‘One Foot in the Grave with pans’ and jokey ‘English public schoolboy meets Dame Edna’ Graham Kerr, the self-styled ‘Galloping Gourmet’. Hardly enough for a young man with a sharp knife and rampant tastebuds to latch on to. No, it was Keith who made cooking sexy, convincing us bloods that cooking, for men, was cool and, for the world, easy. “Bit of this, dash of that, turn up the heat, take a swig and… presto!” His cookbooks, God knows how many, were great reading too.
I’d been told that he was ‘difficult’ which couldn’t have been farther from the truth, sober at least. At the time he’d just married Tess and couldn’t resist showing her off to me. Alas, like the other three, this union ended in divorce. Keith and I that day bonded over the same things – black sole, wild mushrooms and “those bits of the cow other people throw away”. One thing he told me has stuck in my head ever since. “What the punters want,” he said “is a lovely gravy, not a bloody jus, acne on a plate”. We talked about music. I’d heard he was a fan of The Stranglers and Keith confided that Hugh Cornwell played guitar in Chandos Road, one of his early Bristolian ventures, a restaurant called simply “Restaurant” because he had sold his name and couldn’t use it. “I’d nothing else to flog”, he grimaced. He had some hilarious tales of the three-year party that was Kinsale but a few other people will have to pop their clogs before I reveal all..
I’ll leave others to delineate in detail the multiple restaurant failures, the bankruptcy and the drinking bouts. Although Keith did say to me that the compression of 100 hours of filming into 8 episodes meant was the reason he was seen with a glass in his hand more often than not. Yeah, right, Keith. One other luminous memory of Keith Floyd was dining with my daughter, then at university, at his gastropub (probably the first by a long chalk) The Maltsters at Tuckenhay in Devon. It was in this place that Keith personally under wrote a round of drinks costing £36,000 and went wallop in the aftermath. I still savour the pig’s trotter I ate there that day – stuffed with ‘the liver that dare not speak its name’ and swathed in an Armagnac-flavoured bechamel. It was cooked not by Keith but by his then employee Jean Christophe-Novelli, the chef of whom there were occasional sightings in Dawson Street earlier this decade. The dish was an ultra-harmonious match for a Seghesio Cortina Ranch Zinfandel of a very good vintage. Of such repasts are stellar memories made.
So hail and farewell, Keith, sadly missed. And thanks for all the food.
Keith Floyd, 28 December 1943 – 14 September 2009