Maverick Life

Podcast review

This week we’re listening to: The joy of food in ‘Comfort Eating with Grace Dent’

Image: Stefan Vladimirov / Unsplash

In this delicious podcast, restaurant critic Grace Dent lets her listeners take a peek at what her inspiring and witty guests have on their plates, and serves up a show that is insightful, joyful and all about good food.

What is your comfort food? And what does it say about you? In “Comfort Eating”, Grace Dent invites her guests to reflect on the foods that have sustained them through their lives, delving into how the contents of our pantries speaks volumes about who we are.

Comfort Eating with Grace Dent

  • Format: Podcast series
  • Year: 2021
  • Listen on: Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts and The Guardian website.

Dent’s experience as a restaurant critic is evident in the expression of her passion for food, but it is far from judgmental. Willing to try everything once, she has a mastery for talking about food in a way that conjures up the plate in the imagination of the listener without ever seeing, smelling or tasting the meal themselves.

Then there is the crinkle of a plastic shopping bag, the clang of plates and cling of knives and forks coming together. Chairs scrape the floor as they are pushed up to the table, cans crack open and drinks slosh into glasses. And every once in a while there is a crunch, a muffled chew and a brief moment of silence to savour.

These raw flashes bring this podcast to life, transforming the audience from listener to dinner guest.

At the beginning of each episode, the guest brings along their favourite comfort food to share with Dent. It’s a special tradition for each instalment, and provides a quirky insight into a person. As Dent says, “You can tell a lot about a person from what they eat behind closed doors.”

Guests include a range of voices including screenwriter Russel T Davies, comedian Mae Martin, drag superstar Lawrence Chaney, politician Tom Watson and actor Stephen Fry – whatever your interests, there is an episode for everyone.

In fact, there is something special about how food is regarded in this show. When people come together, sit down and eat with one another, it creates a space of community and commonality. Sitting at a table together is full of symbolism and meaning, as novelist and academic Ian Sansom writes for the BBC.

“The table is the place where we interact with others – with family, friends, colleagues, rivals… and enemies. The value of a table, like all pieces of furniture, lies in its history. We might make it, but furniture in turn makes us. It shapes us, defines us, and determines our everyday lives,” he writes.

The table brings people together, inviting them to sit around and look inward. It’s ritualistic and encourages eye contact and communion with one another as they share in a sensory and sustaining experience together.

In the intriguing piece, “Why we eat together” for The Atlantic, Louise O. Fresco writes that the table is a space that holds not only food, but the memory, emotion and experiences that food contains.

“At the table we relive our youth through the recipes of the past, our hatred of endive or liver, teenage love through that first failed canard à l’orange, the sadness of the unarticulated apology, the tears of loneliness that mixed with the burnt cauliflower, the sensuality of fingers dipped in an airy sauce mousseline,” Fresco writes.

The podcast perfectly grasps this, reflecting not only on taste and texture but on the feelings and emotions that come with every meal.

Image: Krista Stucchio / Unsplash

It is a unique and wonderful way to conduct an interview, starting at childhood and working through each guest’s life, with each landmark on the timeline made up of meals.

The show delves into the memories that are dished up on every plate. For Mae Martin, her significant memories of food all symbolised independence; for Russel T Davies, a mouthful of overnight oats is a tender reflection of his husband’s death.

With each forkful, Dent expertly uncovers the emotions and experiences her guests have lived through; how they timestamp important events and show the passage through time.

A bowl of spaghetti is no longer a simple pasta – rather, it shows presenter Laura Whitmore’s journey through marriage and relationships, and a can of Guinness is a memory of growing up in Ireland, for actor Siobhán McSweeney.

Comfort Eating” is an audio masterpiece, with a stellar roundup of guests and full of insightful conversations to be savoured.

Grab a plate, pull up a chair and take a seat at the table. DM/ML

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