Most of the e-mail I receive for this blog is not worth mentioning (“Please turn your post into an advertisement for our products!”), but in early March, I was contacted about a new show called Comfort Food. Comfort Food is a British web series about a long-distance romance in which the two lovebirds decide to keep their relationship feisty by making desserts, alone but together, via phone conversations. (These days I’d say Skype is the way to go if you’re cooking together, but I digress.) I received the sweetest e-mail from Cressida Ford, the press officer for Comfort Food, and she put me in touch with Sandy Nicholson, the writer/executive producer of the show. Sandy and I did an interview together in which he talks about the fun of food, romance, and the hijinks that happen along the way. I loved his answers to my questions and hope you enjoy the interview as much as I did.
* Tell us a little about the inspiration for Comfort Food.
The most obvious inspiration of all! An ex-girlfriend of mine called me up and asked me to help her make an apple crumble and I shot up in my chair like a meerkat. “Yes. I will do this,” I said with my best impression of a Cheshire grin. I can never remember whether it was because I wanted to impress her, or just because I thought it would be fun, probably a bit of both, but I knew I was excited about it. At the time I had an approaching fast, and in-between when she hung up the phone and when we’d arranged to do it, I wrote the first draft of what was, at the time, a short play but would eventually become the pilot to the show. In the end she called me up to say she’d found a recipe book, but I didn’t mind too much. I’d had an idea.
* Inspiration is priceless! Do you think desserts are inherently more romantic than savory foods? Why or why not?
[Of course] because they’re BAD FOR US! They’re bad for us in every way, but we want them anyway. I think there’s a thing about romance, which is that there are all these ideas about whirlwind passion that make a lot of people feel left out. We want to feel a passion so strong that it eclipses any guilt we have about things we know we shouldn’t do. We know having the extra bit of cake is bad, but we’re with someone we like, and it’s romantic to do things we know we shouldn’t. I quite like this. Certainly it can go wrong if we let it, but for the most part, I think a good heap of mischief is a wonderful thing to have in both a relationship and a meal.
* “A good heap of mischief.” I love that! What are some of your thoughts on other food-related shows that are available these days? Do you have a favorite? Are you interested in food for food’s sake, or are you more interested in the stories that we tell with food?
Oh dear, I’m about to reveal a bit of myself that may be looked down on, but you know what? I properly love Top Chef. Sometimes the things they make look delicious, and other times they’re forced to do ludicrous things. I saw an episode where they could only cook using ingredients found in Beastie Boys songs. That’s madness! But it’s so much fun. I know it’s fake and probably toxic in some way, but I’m not above that stuff. There’s nothing more fun than betting with my friends about who’s going to win and cheering our throats out. It’s stupid, and it’s fun, and sometimes that’s just what I need. I love food for its own sake, but food goes best with fun.
As for recipes, I love the shows Heston Blumenthal makes. From grand experiments in scientifically creating the perfect Black Forest Gateau, to just an in-depth look at something small, like how to cook eggs perfectly, he’s always got a spark of joy about the way he approaches food.
* Food is fun! On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the strongest, how would you rank your own sweet tooth? Are you a homemade dessert-maker? If so, what’s your favorite thing to make?
I’d say 9, but that’s mainly because I’m afraid to say 10. My favourite thing to make is a coconut chocolate tart, where you mix the shredded coconut with sugar and egg whites and press it into a base, cook it, and use cream with melted chocolate and egg yolks for the filling. When it sets it’s a thing of beauty. Incredibly sweet, but unbelievably delicious. Set your windscreen wipers to gospel and try it.
* Mmm, I love coconut and chocolate together—that’s heavenly. What was one of your most romantic food experiences?
An utter failure. I was in a class at University in London the time, and the girl sitting next to me (who looked like maps to mornings in bed, by the way) asked me what I was drawing. I’d been challenged to make a cake representation of the scene from Independence Day. It’s not anywhere like as impressive as it sounds, it was a tall Victoria sponge with chocolate fingers for pillars. She thought it was a funny idea, so I invited her to come and help me make it, and she did.
We got to know each other a little bit and we assembled this increasingly shit-looking beast of a cake, including a little UFO to fly over the top, when she had an idea. We got some food colouring and dyed a bunch of cream blue, cut a hole in the UFO, and we were going to pour it through the UFO onto the cake to smash it up.
By the time it was finished and we’d transported it down a busy road to its destination, it was very unstable. We plopped it down on the table and it collapsed like badly pushed luck. This crippled mess of a thing in front of us. Everyone was shocked and sympathetic, “Don’t worry, Sandy, I bet it still tastes great”.
Not her. She pointed right in my face and laughed. A proper, bulbous, vulgar laugh that sounded like it was straining her insides. She stood up on the table and she poured the cream down from as high as she could, splashing it over the cake, and me, and I loved it.
And it wasn’t romantic because we kissed, or said we loved each other, or anything actually romantic. It was just a day when I realised that there were genuinely exciting people out there, and shit howdy sunshine, it felt amazing on the days she was happy to see me.
* I agree. I think a lot of romance’s appeal is the sense of possibility and excitement. On a more serious romantic note, for special occasions, do you prefer to cook a great meal at home or go out for dinner?
I’m a cooking-at-home sort of guy. I could never cook as well as someone in a real restaurant, but I like that it means we can shout, and laugh loudly, and be stupid, and it seems like those are the things to celebrate on a special day.
* I enjoy the comfort of home too, but I always wonder if it’s possible to pay for someone else to clean up the dirty dishes! Now that would be super romantic to me! When can we start watching episodes of Comfort Food? I see that there aren’t any publicly accessible episodes on YouTube yet…but I trust that they are coming soon!
Yes, they are coming very soon indeed! [June 10th, in fact!] Our trailer is online right now, and we’ll be releasing in Spring. If you’re looking forward to it, visit our Facebook or Twitter pages to keep up-to-date on the release.
Ta much, everyone!
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Thanks, Sandy! If you’d like to hear Sandy say, “Hurray!” in lots of funny voices, check out the Release Date video. Hurray! (They also talk about an upcoming cookbook based on the desserts of Comfort Food. Bring on the whipped cream!) And I’ll try to remind everyone when the show starts airing. I’m looking forward to it!