Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Breakfast with Malcolm Eggs

Early Saturday morning, day two of Cheltenham Literature Festival, and luckily I had tickets for 'The Full English'; a talk with Seb Emina about his new book 'The Breakfast Bible', with added brekkie no less.

I didn't initially have this of my list of things to go to during the ten day event, but after talking to a friend about it, it went straight to the top. Being a massive lover of breakfasts in all shapes and sizes - those crafty little nibbles on the go, long luxurious weekend treats, and even a simple bowl of cereal - why would I not want to go to hear more about this eating ritual we do day in, day out.

To give a little potted history about Seb Emina; it was mid noughties, and whilst there was a great deal of emphasis on food culture and eating out, this only ever seemed to apply to lunch and dinner. Having a love of going out for breakfast, but being riddled with disappointment in all those places that were making just half arsed attempts at it, he took it upon himself to start a blog where he could write about his experiences. So with a pseudonym of Malcolm Eggs, and a band of brothers (and sisters) - called the likes of Blake Pudding, Shreddie Kruger, Dr Sigmund Fried, etc - he coined The London Review of Breakfasts, who are still hungrily munching their way through the caf├ęs of the capital.

You may have heard about Seb recently, on Radio 4's Today Programme he posed the idea that people should never feel obliged to talk at breakfast, and that we shouldn't be offended if the room is completely silent, which then escalated - like a game of Chinese Whispers - to people quoting him to have said that 'couples should not talk at breakfast'. The newspapers got hold of the story, it was printed front page, and even Loose Women got in touch, but of course it was just a statement misconstrued. What he was really getting at was that we should use this time in the morning as a bit of leisure time before we shoot off and go to work; many of us lead such busy lives today, to the point where we might often skip breakfast or just eat on the go, but really we should take the time to sit and enjoy it. This may be solitary time, or time shared, you can just stick the radio on, read the newspaper, and not feel as though you should have a deep conversation, when really you're probably still just waking up. Look at James Bond for example, he's the master of solo breakfasting, but no one questions him; but then again, why would you, he's 007 after all.

'The Breakfast Bible', as the title suggests, tells us everything we need to know about breakfast. From extensive research, *cough* eating a lot, there are apparently nine ingredients which create the perfect 'Full English', that truly British dish; bacon, sausage, egg, mushrooms, tomato, black pudding, baked beans, bread (either toasted or fried) and finally, some sort of potato goods, in most cases a hash brown. Potato seemed to be a somewhat controversial ingredient on the list, particularly when bubble and squeak is suggested, though Seb kindly reassured us (not that I needed convincing) that it's a great way to smuggle greens onto your predominantly beige plate, 'a Trojan Horse for cabbage' if you will.

Thinking about other morning foods; we eat a lot of cereal, it's kind of the ideal breakfast in terms of quickness and ease, or maybe we go traditional with porridge (it was coincidentally the Golden Spurtle World Porridge Championship that day). But if we were to look globally, there doesn't seem to be the same kind of breakfast culture that we have here. On the continent you'll find pastries with meats and cheese, America goes big with lots of sweet/savoury combinations (think pancakes, bacon, maple syrup.. mmm), the far east have rice based dishes, and there are lots of spicy egg options amongst other flavour-loving countries, but essentially most of them tend to eat similar things to what they may have had the night before; there doesn't seem to be that, distinctly different to dinner, repetative eating that us Brit's do. 

So, what else can we find in the book? There's a list of songs that are perfect for boiling an egg to, all of which are just the right time depending on your runniness needs; we're told Kate Bush's Wuthering Heights, or Pulp's Common People are great for soft boiled yolks. A substantial section talks about 'Hair of The Dog', which is quite commonplace amongst weekend breakfasters, and has a long tradition dating back to Homer's Odyssey. Drinks range from the famous Bloody Mary, which just takes the edge off of the morning, to a deadly sounding Corpse Reviver, probably the thing to drink if you want to get back on it. It's packed with recipes, advice, and random facts, such as famous last breakfasts, and strange cereals of the 80s. Like it's subject, this really is the most important book of the day.

A Q&A followed the talk, which gave us an extra insight into the breakfast aficiondo. It turns out he's not a fan of brunch; "it's breakfast grabbing the territory formerly occupied by lunch." And don't even talk to him about breakfast in bed, admitting he has a crumb phobia, he'd much rather be sat eating at a table, he hates that feeling of being "prisoned by kindness with a tray." 

Obviously we all want to know where the best place to go is, and after plenty of umm-ing and ahh-ing, where you could pretty much see his brain sizzling away, he simply said that those typical greasy spoons, with a constant stream of taxi drivers coming through the door, are your best bets. However, if you want something a bit more exravagant, try the new restaurant in The Shard, where he can recommend the eggs benedict, or perhaps The Hawksmoor, which seems to be bringing back the old school stuff like kidneys and liver. Just don't go to Macdonalds though, yeah?

With a nod to the bible, out came a nine piece Full English. Alas, there was no solo breakfasting here - Bond would not be impressed. Instead we shared a table with stangers, all chatting away about their own personal ideas of best breakfasts; it's clearly a subject which divides opinions. Seb knows this though, and when asked what's next on his agenda, he said there's still room for more explanation.. How eggs-citing.  

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