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4.5 out of 5 stars
Toast
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88 of 92 people found the following review helpful
on 16 November 2010
It is one thing to write cookery books and a cookery column in The Observer and another to lay bare your childhood and upbringing for everyone to see. Most people would gloss over the parts of their life they don't want to confront, especially if the episodes do not show them in a very good light. It is also hard to relate that life without the effect of hindsight and the adult view of the events related.

Nigel Slater gives us his child's, and then his teenage view of his life, exactly as it must have been then, without the adult interpretation. This gives it an immediacy which is very poignant and moving. Children are self-centred and to some extent, selfish, and it is a very believable take on a child's-eye view of the world. He is unsentimental and his humour is sometimes cruel but throughout, his anger and loneliness palpable and penetrating. While we may look at his world, we are not asked to pity him.

Each nostalgic episode is given an item of food from the sixties and the story of his life is recounted as separate incidents, not in sequence.

We learn about his family, the odd uncle and aunt, his brother and adopted brother, his father's job, his mother's illness - all snippets related as they affect the infant Slater with vivid reality in a few lines of spare prose.

"It was a pity we had Aunt Fanny living with us. Her incontinence could take the edge off the smell of a chicken curry, let alone a baking cake. No matter how many orange-and-clove pomanders my mother had made, there was always the faintest whiff of Aunt Fanny."

We can see the lack of love in his life after his mother dies and can probably see that he is, indeed, a difficult child and he doesn't seek to present himself to us as anything else. His need for love is shown by his hidden desire for a goodnight hug in bed from his father, who is only to be able to manage chocolate marshmallows in substitution.

He certainly equates food with happiness - his description of Sundays making crab sandwiches after the jolly father/son experience of shelling the crab was a classic. And then, the simple phrase 'After Mum died, we never had crab again...'

Yet he was, in part, frightened of his father. "You wouldn't think a man who smoked sweet, scented tobacco, grew pink begonias and made softly-softly trifle could be scary....Once when I had been caught not brushing my teeth... his glare was so full of fire, his face so red and bloated, his hand raised so high that I pissed in my pyjamas, right there on the landing...For all his soft shirts and cuddles and trifles I was absolutely terrified of him."

As a child he was very difficult with eating, but yet he was discerning and appears to appreciate good food when it came his way, with a sophistication of taste and texture remarkable for a small boy. He was fascinated by Marguerite Patten's cookery book and used to read it by turns with Portnoy's Complaint behind the bookcase.

I found his complete recall of the `new' fast foods being presented in the 60's, fascinating. The fiasco with the grilled grapefruit, "I just thought how cool I was to have eaten grilled grapefruit. I boasted about it to everyone at school the next day in much the same way as someone might boast about getting their first shag."

Throughout the book runs the understated love for his mother and uneasy feelings about his father's new relationship with the cleaning lady, Mrs Potter.
"She was sitting there in one of the garden chairs, tight lips, tight perm, twenty Embassy and a cigarette lighter in her lap. 'Say hello to your Auntie Joan', my father said, enunciating her new name, quietly and firmly."

The culinary theme would not be enough to hold the interest and as an autobiography it must stand in its own right. There are no important people in Nigel Slater's story, no references of great significance and his portrait of middle class life is not affectionate. But he evokes time, people and place with such clarity and spare prose, with every episode linked to a precise memory, written in a vivid and energetic style. The people are just 'nobodies', and indeed, nobody would probably every want to write about them. Yet he makes them live their very ordinary lives under our microscope. That is why I think this autobiography is a fascinating read.
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77 of 83 people found the following review helpful
on 17 November 2003
Nigel Slater recounts his childhood with short stories. This book will make you laugh, cry and wince.
Unexpectedly this book contains more descriptions of a teenagers sexual encounters than you might imagine, but in line with all his other books Toast is a really good read with something for everyone.
If you have read his other books and are expecting another mouthwatering description of everything culinary then you are in for a shock as Slater re-lives his childhood.
Only covering his life up untill late teens/early twenties i wizzed through the pages and was left wanting more. Perhaps that is the best sign of a good book.
If you are buying this for a food lover, perhpas someone who has enjoyed Nigel Slater before, go for it, but be aware it doesn't follow completely in his previous books footsteps!
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48 of 52 people found the following review helpful
on 10 March 2004
I laughed at every single page in the opening chapters. The descriptions of growing up in Middle England, with its associated food snobberies are ruthlessly accurate. Perhaps that's why so many of us 30-somethings are obsessed with the latest food innovations - we are desperate to obliterate memories of childhood salads of ham, boiled egg and lettuce leaf.
However, Slater is also tender in his descriptions of his mother and her struggles with her health, and remarkably honest about his relationship with his step mother. Having always admired his food writing, his honesty and directness shine through here, too. But be warned - you may never want to eat in a provincial hotel dining room again, EU regulations or no!
A remarkable tale of growing up from a remarkable personality.
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76 of 83 people found the following review helpful
on 24 September 2003
Page one I was laughing out loud - by spaghetti I had tears of laughter rolling down my cheeks as I read extracts to my wife in between drying my eyes because I was laughing so hard.
The last book that made me laugh out loud was catch 22 - Toast is far easier to read and far more funny.
This book is a splendid multi course feast of events catalogued by food - Nigel you are a master story teller. If you remember your childhood with taste and smell this is the book for you - I'm only glad that we did not have our own Aunt Fanny.
10 out of 10 - you must read this pungent book.
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36 of 40 people found the following review helpful
on 12 June 2004
I am a fan of Nigel Slaters cookery writing and was eager to see how he fared writing a memoir about his childhood. 'Toast' is an absolute delight. One one level it is a simple, pacy read divided up into short chapters, each covering a different memory, cleverly using the conceit of food- the texture, smells, flavours to tell the story of his childhood in 60's suburban England. Yet Toast is so much more than this. Slater had, and this was unknown to me before I started the book, a tragic childhood. His mother died when he was young and he grew up enduring a difficult relationship with his father and stepmother who grated with him from the start. The use of food overlays these memories as Slater describes his mother's rock hard Christmas cake and warm stacks of buttery toast- the ultimate sign of a mother's love for her son, and the difficult times after her death as his father struggles to use ready made products to nourish his son. All the difficulties of growing up are discussed- sex, relationships, friendship, bereavement, frustration, anxiety, lonliness, love- and 'Toast' weaves these into a heartwarming story about a young boy developing what would become a lifelong gourmet passion, trying to make his way in a difficult world.
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43 of 48 people found the following review helpful
on 19 September 2003
Nigel tells us his life story frankly with most of his best and worst remembrances directly associated to loved or hated foods and recipes. His nostalgic descriptions of childhood sweets that have long disappeared or his family's first introduction to 'foreign' food, canned Bolognese sauce slopped onto overcooked spaghetti, will rekindle memories for anyone who is a child of the '50's and '60's. His honesty makes you both chuckle and shed a tear as he takes you back with him to another age of rules, order, class and etiquette. Nigel's book tells that all food, good, bad, adored or despised plays a bigger part in our life than we would credit.
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on 21 May 2004
Like so many other readers, I couldn't put Toast down once I had started. Like NS, I have always had a very intimate (not to say obscessive) relationship with food and his detailed and emotional descriptions of food, good or bad, ring so true. In Toast, food is the perfect analogy for NS's feelings and it is against his experience of different tastes, delicious or revolting, that he sets his emotional life. The mother who cooked under duress but at least provided love and affection is set in contrast to the stepmother who is mean and calculating but couldn't care less and is in fact quite cruel, but who lays on magnificent spreads - mainly for show. NS shows us how very intelligent and perceptive a child can be, not to mention painfully sensitive and vulnerable. What is also admirable is the way you feel he always comes to terms with the pain he experienced. There is still anger in some passages, but never bitterness, just an honest, human expression of understanding about the limitations of those around him, even if you still sense some frustration at what was lacking.
I always thought that Nigel Slater talked about food on his TV series like a child with his midnight tuck box, and I was always amused by the sexual undertones in his lucious descriptions of delicious food, mainly because I totally identify! This book is full of it and I really hope there will be further writings - totally delightful.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 30 November 2012
This is like the author, the same good ingredients but comes out rather special. The story of a lonely self suffiicient little boy who looses his mother when only nine years old.How he explains emotions and happening in his life through his delight of food. He is able to tell the reader of a time in history that is recognisable if you have lived through it. As well as a social history read it is also an insight into the gradual learning of a style of cooking that is unique and innovative today, one that needs imagination rather than a recipe. A delightful easy to read in small chapters book. An insight into Nigel's world as it was. One that i instantly recognised and which gave me a reason to smile. The book leads you to want to know more, so Nigel you need a follow on book.
This book is ideal as a present as it has ingredients to please everyone.
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36 of 41 people found the following review helpful
I heard this book on Radio 4's A Good Read where all three reviewers had enjoyed it immensely. When I bought and read it, for once I totally agreed with them, for this is a very funny and interesting book from a top food writer. The book is autobiographical but Nigel Slater tells the story of his childhood and youth through the food he ate and prepared. Each of the short chapters is named after a particular dish (Rice Pudding, Butterscotch Angel Delight, Candy Floss etc) and contains a story about a time when he ate those particular foods. For someone who lived through the same period Nigel was brought up in, this mean that many memories of 1950s, 60s and 70s dishes are revived in all their awfulness (and in some case, delight).
Nigel's mother suffered from chronic asthma and never mastered the skills of cooking and so eating at home was a mixed experience to say the least, particularly for a finnicky child like Nigel who hated so many foods (including milk). His accounts of school dinners is also memorable, and especially his experience of giving his school mik away to other children only to have his teacher call him to the front of the class one day to drink his milk in public (with predictable results).
The book follows Nigel's progress through school and into his first jobs in the catering trade. By the end, the reader will have developed a great deal of sympathy for Nigel and his problems with British cooking in the period he writes of. Fortunately he has dedicated his life to raising the standards which caused him so much trouble in his youth!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 2 February 2011
All I knew of Nigel Slater before I picked up `Toast' was that he was a rather well known chef whose recipe books seem to be in every single member of my families houses. I've never watched his TV shows and really never been that interested in cookery books, other than maybe Nigella, though I like cooking. `Toast' is Nigel Slater's memories of childhood into adulthood all told through food. I imagined this might be recipes but I was wrong as in fact it's snippets of memories with titles like `Christmas Cake, `The Hostess Trolley' and `Peach Melba' (which I had forgotten once existed and instantly wanted) each with its own memories attached.

`Toast' really is quite a collection of memories as Nigel didn't have the easiest or happiest of childhoods. His mother had health issues, his father wasn't the most comforting or friendly of role models and of course there is the cleaner Mrs Poole who soon became the bane of Nigel's life. It's never a misery memoir though some of the book is very emotional it also often leaves you in hysterics. In some ways because of the humour I was reminded of Augusten Burroughs, only in this book the addictions are cook books and ingredients rather than drugs, the other thing that reminded me of Augusten Burroughs was the way slowly but surely Slater writes about his being gay, how he noticed it and coped with it in the 60's and 70's which again makes for a very heart felt and honest book.

I knew I was going to be rather smitten with this book when I read the line in `Toast 1' where Nigel writes `It is impossible not to love someone who makes toast for you.' He is talking about his mother and how when they make it in just the right way you are `putty in their hands'. People who arrive as the book progresses are each almost given a flavour in addiction to their character and this works wonderfully. It also really evokes atmosphere and underlying tensions such as when he helps his Mum make the, at the time, novel delicacy of spaghetti for his father which none of them have tried and as soon as they add the parmesan `this cheese smells like sick' is deemed as `off' and its never talked of or mentioned again.

I loved Nigel Slater's writing, it never felt pretentious or woe is me or anything other than a down to earth account of his childhood filled with both happiness and sadness. It's a `real' memoir if you know what I mean, there are dramas and trials but they are never melodramatic. I decided Nigel Slater and I would be firm friends when he discussed `Butterscotch Angel Delight' my all time favourite too. This is someone who hasn't had the easiest start in life who rather than complain about it looks back at it fondly and asks the reader to join in and do so too.
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