Delia Smith: The Biography

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Return to Book Page. Preview — Delia Smith by Alison Bowyer. Delia Smith is more than just a cook—she has become a national icon with a loyal following of fans and a business empire worth millions. She single-handedly brought about The Great Cranberry Crisis of when her fans cleared supermarket shelves of the fruit, and a previously small-time saucepan manufacturer saw its turnover soar with a mention of their omelette pan. Thi Delia Smith is more than just a cook—she has become a national icon with a loyal following of fans and a business empire worth millions.

Delia Smith biography and information

Drawing upon interviews with friends and colleagues, this biography shows that life has not always been easy for Delia, but reveals how her iron will ensures that she remains one step ahead of her rivals. Get A Copy. Hardcover , pages. Published August 1st by Andre Deutsch first published October 1st More Details Original Title. Other Editions 5.

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She became interested in trying to revive an interest in British food, probably in reaction to Elizabeth David's championing of French and Mediterranean cuisine; she met literary agent Deborah Owen in , to whom she gave tips on how to cook a nice poached egg for her husband, a young doctor and politician-to-be called David; and through her she got a job at the Daily Mirror. Her rise since then has been inevitable, and prodigious. She sold her two-millionth book 15 years ago. She eventually settled down with Michael Wynn Jones, an Oxford-educated bon viveur and talented journalist.

From the biography: "As a committed Catholic, it must have been hard for Delia to contemplate falling in love with someone who not only wasn't a Catholic, but who didn't even believe in God. Michael Wynn Jones's lack of belief could have served to put Delia off him, and the fact that it didn't probably owes a lot to Louis Alexander's treatment of her. No doubt having been jilted by her first love, not for another woman but for God, a relationship with a non-believer must have seemed an attractive proposition to Delia. Here at last was a man who would put her first and love her above all else.

Indeed; and it also seems that, with her marriage, here was a woman who had exhausted herself from her many attempts at self-invention. Her frugality, her nervousness in front of the cameras all attest to this. One recent anecdote from her biography will haunt me for the rest of my days. Filming the How to Cook series at her Suffolk home this year, Delia decided that she did not want the crew using her toilet. I mean, the idea.

So she ordered that a Portaloo be erected. But as it was lowered off the truck, it squashed one of her cats quite flat. Now, while it is awful to laugh in the face of tragedy - and I am more than usually devoted to cats myself, and so, in Clinton- speak, Feel Her Pain -- it is impossible to contemplate this story without at least one appalled fit of the giggles. Was this not some kind of perfect retribution, an awful warning against being too fastidious, the kind of person who would prefer to be thought prissy rather than charitable?

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She used to infuriate me: with her mimsiness, her chilly relationship to the very stuff she was cooking with, the suffocatingly utilitarian nature of her prose. There are those for whom cookery is not simply a matter of getting people fed, but a kind of camp act in itself, the selfish person's way of being both the cynosure and - for once - the performer of useful acts; such people and I suppose I'm one , if they take themselves too literally, have a problem with Delia, who on the surface not so much represents as embodies the conventionality they abhor.

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I would, for example, turn the spines of her recipe books towards the wall when visitors I wished to impress came round. Still, you can tell she doesn't like to get her hands dirty: even if this is not in fact the case, the impression you get from her movements in the kitchen is very much one of a woman who would prefer to avoid sensuous contact with the ingredients.

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And, if we can be allowed to venture some idle and indeed terribly inappropriate speculation, based on not what people are but what they appear to be, you can wonder whether or not this lack of tactility would be transferred intact into other, more private arenas. Elizabeth David, you suspect, looks like she would have been absolute dynamite in the sack. Am I prompted to such tastelessness by a memory of a remark of Egon Ronay's, to the effect that Delia's approach was "the missionary position" of cookery?

I think, though, that even those who are reluctant to succumb to the stranglehold she has on the rest of the nation's gorges have come to regard her as unstoppable, a force of nature, as pointless to rail against as English bad weather.

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Her masterstroke was to embark on a back-to-basics cookery course: how to boil an egg, how to make toast. People scoffed. Gary Rhodes scorned. Yet how many people did he convert to her cause, or at least stop from laying into her, when he did this? Me, for one. Thousands noticed that, whatever her faults, Smith is not a spiky-haired yo-yo with a Mr Creosote-like appetite for his own personality.

And her advice was useful: toast is better if you let it stand for a short while before you butter it, eggs are better when they're fresh, etc. Why not know these things, or make money from telling them? The awful fact is that cooking, as a demotic art, a cross-country culture, is dead. Dead in these islands in a way that it is not dead in Italy, or France, or indeed pretty much anywhere else in the world with food in it apart from America. A friend of mine told me that his son recently asked his mother what "home-cooked" food was. Those who scratch their heads over such arcane terms as "home-cooked" constitute the overwhelming majority of Britons.

A cookery revival is as bogus as a revival of, say, the Cornish language. How could it not be, when Delia Smith's first book, How to Cheat at Cooking , contained recipes for baked fish fingers with tinned mushrooms and tomatoes, or sponge cake bought with tinned cherry-pie filling? For beneath the brash millennial confidence, the Blairite get-up-and-go exhortations we have to suffer, this remains a country where millions still live in fear: fear of being thought foolish, or too clever, or too dowdy, or too flashy; the suburban terror of giving offence, that dislike of "airs" - the polar opposite of Elizabeth David's patrician je m'en foutisme - the kind of quality that makes you wonder whether we live in a gigantic, continuously improvised Mike Leigh film set, fretting anxiously as to whether we fit in or not, passing judgements on the neighbours while, at the same time, subliminally aware that they are passing judgements on us.

Delia Smith

Which is why Delia is so successful, why so many look up to her; and why she is validated by her success. Those stories which are invariably repeated - the frying pans that sprint from the shops at her word, the nationwide shortage of cranberries that occur five minutes after she says the word "cranberries" on TV - are what we expect, and need. Her quest was never for an independent authenticity, the kind of "real" cookery which Elizabeth David, or her greatest epigone, Jane Grigson, stood for.

No, Delia's aim was, is, to do precisely what the Joneses are doing, or what they think they ought to be doing. But she's right, on the most basic level: she is not a cook - she's a kind of boffin, fiddling with her dishes, helped by assistants, until they come out foolproof. Now even though no recipe is going to work out just so every time, given the right formula, it's that kind of proposed security that ensures she speaks to and for so many people in this country; they're not cooks either.

One does not want to belabour the role religion plays in Delia's life, even if one writer has suggested that she was on "a mission from God" to educate the British about cooking; but you can't help feeling that she's a kind of priestess, her religion having denied her the opportunity to be the real article, the officiator of a rite whose responses we are trying to learn.

Her role, or that of the cookery that she represents, is communal, almost religiously ritual, a way of getting everyone singing from the same hymn sheet; a way of being seasonal. And, while we're at it, can we think of anyone else, off the top of our heads, who rejoices in the quality of infallibility?

Delia Smith

Mother, Etty Jones Lewis. Education: Upland Nursery School, Bexleyheath; then Bexleyheath School, a secondary modern school she attended after failing her plus, and left with no qualifications. No children. Publications: Cookery writer, began at The Mirror Magazine in Evening Standard cookery writer, First book: 'How to Cheat at Cooking' She says: 'What's a real treat for me is when I go to evening games at Norwich City with my husband. We have Big Mac picnics in the football car-park.

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I absolutely love them with fries and loads of ketchup. They say: 'Delia got me on track when I was newly married - taught me how to poach an egg and make good soups' - Debbie Owen, literary agent.