Drawing: Nigel Slater

Autographed drawing of Chef Nigel Slater

I finally got to meet another culinary hero of mine last week. Nigel Slater was at The Other Palace theatre for the West End premiere of the sage adaption of TOAST, the comedy-drama, based on his best-selling , award-winning autobiography ‘Toast: The Story of a Boy’s Hunger.’ The extraordinary story of a childhood revealed through food was also made into a successful film, featuring Helena Bonham Carter in 2010.

One of Britain’s foremost gastronomic writers, Nigel is famous for his stripped-back recipes, which show how easy it is to make delicious meals from just a few high-quality ingredients. The play was commissioned in 2018 by The Lowry in Manchester, where it had a sell-out run at the Week 53 Festival. Written by Henry Filoux-Bennett, the production moved to the Edinburgh Fringe, embarking on a UK National tour, before its London transfer.

I met Nigel at the theatre, where he very kindly signed my sketch, before the press night performance. I’ve always admired Nigel’s handwriting, which features in many of his TV shows, so was able to satisfy both culinary and calligraphic obsessions. I later discovered, not only was it his birthday, (one day before mine) but we are the same age, so a belated many happy returns.

Advertisements

Drawing: Dario Cecchini

Autographed drawing of Chef Dario Cecchini

One of life’s little pleasures is David Gelb’s Netflix series, CHEF’S TABLE. It’s part of my overall vice for watching cooking shows, replacing a gap in my vocational achievements. The latest series was released this February with four episodes. My favourite was about Dario Cecchini, the charismatic Tuscan butcher and celebrity showman. In the small village of Panzano in the Chianti region off Italy, where Dario grew up, his father ran the local butcher shop, which had been in the family for eight generations, spanning 250 years. Dario, however did not want to be a butcher. He wanted to be a vet. After his mother passed away from cancer, Dario moved to Pisa to study veterinarian science, but he had to cut his studies short and return home to look after his ailing father, who also died leaving Dario no option but to take over the family business.

He said, “I won’t be the one to save the animal, I will be the one who kills the animal.” Even though he grew up in a butcher’s family he knew nothing of the it. He contacted Orlando, his father’s meat adviser and confidente, who took him to many farms and introduced Dario in his philosophy, “When an animal is born, we must try to give it the best life and when the animal dies by our hand we must respect the gift of the animal.”

Dario customers just wanted steaks and fillets, he but wanted to use all the animal, including the ‘less noble’ parts, as he puts it, from ‘nose-to-tail.’ All parts of the animal are useful if butchered and cooked in the appropriate way. Dario says it’s a combination of knowledge and a consciousness respect for the animal. In order to persuade his customers of this, he starting cooking to show how this could be done, establishing ‘Ristorante Soloccia’ across the street from his shop “I am not a cook. I am a butcher who cooks.”

He relies on instinct and keeping things simple and a glass of red wine that helps the process. It became such a huge success that a second ‘meat-centric’ restaurant Officina Della Bistecca was opened next door. The boy who wanted to be a vet had become the most famous butcher in the world.

Combining another vice, the need to scribble, I did this quick sketch and sent it to Dario to sign, which he did, appropriately in a big red marker, cleverly adapting the philosophical phrase ‘carpe diem’ to ‘carne (meat) diem’.

Drawing: Dave Myers and Si King aka the Hairy Bikers

Autographed drawing of Si King and Dave Myers The Hairy Bikers

My ritual Sunday diet of TV cuisine shows always includes an ample helping of the UK’s most popular cooking duo, Dave Myers and Si King, aka the Hairy Bikers. The exuberant, down-to-earth chefs have had a string of hit television shows over the past twenty years, involving a mixture of cooking and travelogue, creating their own fresh take on culinary classics.

They have now taken to the road on a nationwide tour. AN EVENING WITH THE HAIRY BIKERS is described as an “epic night of cooking and conversation’. The pair rocked up to the iconic London Palladium on Saturday for their only gig in the capital. Luckily I noticed them from my vantage point across the road where I was watching a Six Nations rugby match and partaking of the local hospitality. I quickly raced across to catch them.

After eventually sorting a car park outside the stage door and posing for the obligatory selfies with a few passers-by I asked them to sign my sketch. “Is that a kiwi accent?” asked Si. “Guilty,” I said. That’s why I often put a little stick-note on the drawing ‘To Mark’ to avoid getting ‘Mack’ or ‘Mike’ or some other deviation. But he was conversant with the Antipodean tongue and inscribed correctly.

Drawing: Isabella Rossellini

Autographed drawing of actress Isabella Rossellini

Her mother was the three-time Oscar winning Swedish actress Ingrid Bergman and her father the neo-realist master film director Roberto Rossellini. With that parentage and pedigree Isabella Fiorella Elettra Giovanni Rossellini was destined for a cinematic career… and more. She made her movie debut alongside her mother in Vincent Minnelli’s A MATTER OF TIME in 1976.

Isabella’s most memorable role was as lounge singer Dorothy Vallens in David Lynch’s cult classic BLUE VELVET, a role that won her the Best Female Lead Independent Spirit Award. She was also nominated for a Golden Globe, playing Anna Hauptmann in HBO’s TV film about the Lindbergh kidnapping CRIME OF THE CENTURY and an Emmy nomination for her portrayal as Prof. Marina Giannini in the medical drama CHICAGO HOPE.

Fluent in Italian, French and English, Isabella has had several parallel careers including modelling, where she was the face of the French cosmetics giant Lancôme for a long time and now at the age of 66 she is the company’s global brand ambassador. She has also been a journalist for Italian TV and has written and published three books.

Isabella is an avid dog lover and trains puppies for the blind. Last year she bought her one-woman (and her trained dog, Pan) show, LINK LINK to Queen Elizabeth Hall in London’s Southbank Centre. Described as more of a surreal theatrical lecture, exploring what distinguishes humans from animals with a comic twist, covering everything from animal intelligence to the sex lives of whales. She kindly signed my montage sketch at the stage door afterwards.

Drawing: Danny Dyer in The Dumb Waiter

Autographed drawing of Danny Dyer in The Dumb Waiter at the Harold Pinter Theatre on London's West End

A “propa nawty geezer” is how one interviewer described the parts English actor Danny Dyer is famed for, the  generic ‘hard man-with-a-heart’. He returned last month to the West End stage as a killer in Harold Pinter’s THE DUMB WAITER, which was part of the Pinter Seven double bill with A SLIGHT ACHE.

It concluded the PINTER AT THE PINTER season, Jamie Lloyd’s ambitious box-set approach to all of the Nobel Laureate’s 21 one-act plays over the past 21 weeks at the theatre named after him.

THE DUMB WAITER, written in 1957 is set in a basement of a Birmingham restaurant, where two cockney hit men, Gus and Ben are preparing to execute an unknown victim as a dumb waiter (a shelf on pulleys) descends from above with food requests. Danny played Ben alongside Martin Freeman as Gus.

Jamie said that Danny, who had a close friendship with the playwright was one of Harold’s favourite actors and considered him a protégé “There were no airs and graces about Harold,” said Danny, “I learned so much from him that set me up for the rest of my career.”  THE DUMB WAITER is Danny’s fourth Pinter play. He met Harold in 1999, who cast him as the waiter in CELEBRATION at London’s Almeida Theatre, which transferred to New York’s Lincoln Centre in 2001 as part of the Harold Pinter Season. He followed that with the role of Foster in NO MAN’S LAND at the National Theatre and in 2008 as Joey in THE HOMECOMING back at the Almeida.

Danny’s breakthrough came in 1997 in the cult film HUMAN TRAFFIC as the mad raver Moff. He later said in a Guardian interview that it wasn’t much of a transition “That role was me. I was still living it then. It was the only audition where the first question was “Do you take drugs?” I said, “Yes, I love drugs.” They said, ‘Perfect.”  Since 2013 he has played The Queen Victoria pub’s landlord Mick Carter in the BBC TV soap EASTENDERS, winning three National Television Awards.

I left this sketch of Danny as Ben at the stage door on the final day of the PINTER AT THE PINTER season and it came back signed and dedicated with a nice inscription.

Drawing: Daniel Kaluuya

Autographed drawing of actor Daniel Kaluuya

Daniel Kaluuya’s status as a ‘rising star’ was bolstered last year when he received the British Academy’s Rising Star Award. Born in London to Ugandan parents, Daniel was raised on a council estate. He wrote his first play at the age of nine and started his acting career in improvisational theatre. He featured as part of the original cast of the British teen comedy drama TV series SKINS, co-writing some episodes.

His entry into mainstream theatre drew plenty of attention, playing the lead role in the Royal Court’s 2010 production of SUCKER PUNCH by Roy Williams. The play and cast received rave reviews with Daniel winning both the Evening Standard and Critics’ Circle Awards for his performance as Leon, a young boxer.

Daniel’s International screen breakthrough was his role as photographer Chris Washington in the horror GET OUT in 2017, for which he received Academy Award, BAFTA, SAG, Critics’ Choice and Golden Globe Award nominations. He followed that with Marvel Studio’s blockbuster BLACK PANTHER, playing chief of the Border Tribe, W’Kabi.
Daniel signed for me at the Gala Screening of Steve McQueen’s heist film WIDOWS, which opened last years BFI Londo Film Festival at Cineworld’s Empire Cinema in Leicester Square.

Drawing: Greg Davies

Autographed drawing of comedian Greg Davies

The 100 Hearts Night of Comedy at the London Palladium last week gave me an opportunity to catch some more of my favourite comics, including Greg Davies. The sold-out evening raised money for the Brompton and Harefield Hospital charity.

The English comedian is technically from Wales. Davies is a clue. While living in the West Midlands of England, his Welsh father drove his mother, across the border to ensure Greg was born in Wales… in St Asaph, Flintshire to be precise, fifty years ago.

TV viewers will know Greg from a number of small screen appearances, including Mr Gilbert, the archetypal misanthropic and permanently bitter comprehensive school teacher in THE INBETWEENERS, who treats his pupils with utter contempt with biting wit and sarcasm. In another classroom role Greg played Dan, a teacher who hates his job. Thirteen years teaching Drama and English, prior to his comedic career change would have given Greg plenty of material.

He is currently in his BAFTA-nominated role as Ken Thompson in the fifth episode of the popular BBC/Netflix sitcom CUCKOO. Other high profile appearances on the telly include LIVE AT THE APOLLO, MOCK THE WEEK, WOULD I LIE TO YOU? and the host of the panel game show TASKMASTER. I was waiting at the Palladium’s impressive new stage door for the talent to arrive.

You can’t miss Greg. He is literally one of the biggest comedy stars, standing 2.03 metres, (that’s 6’8″ in the old money). I presented my sketch of Greg as a suitably harassed teacher and his friend asked, “Who’s that?” “That’s me!” he replied, which is always a good sign when they recognise themselves in a drawing, which he was pleased to sign.

Drawing: Ethan Hawke

Autographed drawing of actor Ethan Hawke

After his breakthrough role as the painfully shy student Todd Anderson in 1989’s DEAD POET’S SOCIETY, Ethan Hawke has gone on to appear in nearly 70 films, helmed three features and a documentary, directed three off-Broadway plays, written three novels, earning numerous accolades including four Academy Award nominations, two for Best Adapted Screenplays for BEFORE SUNSET and BEFORE MIDNIGHT and two for Best Supporting Actor as Officer Jake Hoyt in TRAINING DAY (2001) and as the father, Mason Evans Snr. in BOYHOOD (2014). He has also collected a clutch of BAFTA, Golden Globe, SAG, WAG nominations.

In fact Ethan has won 53 awards from 134 nominations to date, including an Emmy as a voice cast member of INVASION! and this year received Best Actor awards from both the New York and the London Critics Circles, and the National Society of Film Critics, amongst others, for his performance as the Reverend Ernst Toller in FIRST REFORMED. Many believed it was a major surprise that he wasn’t also Oscar nominated.

However, Ethan has stated that theatre is his ‘first love’. He received a Best Featured Actor Tony nomination in 2007 for his performance as Mikhail Balcunin in Tom Stoppard’s trilogy THE COAST OF UTOPIA at New York’s Lincoln Centre Theatre.

I was fortunate to catch Ethan on stage in 2009 as part of the transatlantic Bridge Project at London’s Old Vic theatre in Sam Mendes’ double bill, Chekhov’s THE CHERRY ORCHARD and Shakespeare’s A WINTER’S TALE, in which he played Trofimov and Autolycus respectively, receiving excellent reviews.

Ethan returned to London last October for the BFI London Film Festival to support his film BLAZE, which he also wrote and featured in as a radio DJ. The non-conventional biopic of outlaw country musician Blaze Foley had it’s premiere at the Curzon Cinema in Soho, where he signed for me.

Drawing: Hans Zimmer

Autographed drawing of composer Hans Zimmer

Hans Zimmer was listed as one of the Top 100 Living Geniuses by the Telegraph in 2007. Since 1980 the 61-year-old German composer has created the scores for over 150 films, including RAIN MAN, GLADIATOR, INCEPTION, the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN series and THE DARK KNIGHT trilogy, earning 11 Academy Award nominations and winning for Original Score for THE LION KING in 1995. He has also collected four Grammys, three Classical Brit Awards and two Golden Globes. He has been nominated for another Grammy at this Sunday’s ceremony for his BLADE RUNNER 2049 score.

“My father died when I was just a child and I escaped somehow into my music and music has been my best friend,” he said in an interview with the German radio station ZDF in 2006. His work is notable for integrating electronic music sounds with traditional orchestral arrangements. Hans is head of film music at the Dreamworks Studios and collaborates extensively with other composers through his own company and studio based in Santa Monica, California. In November 2017 a mainbelt asteroid discovered by Polish astronomers Michal Kusiak and Michal Zolnowski was named ‘Hanszimmer’.

Hans signed for me at the BFI London Film Festival’s Gala Screening of WIDOWS at the Cineworld’s Empire Cinema in Leicester Square last October.

Drawing: Richard E. Grant

Autographed drawing of actor Richard E Grant

Richard E. Grant was sitting with his daughter Olivia in a restaurant in Notting Hill Gate watching the live feed of this year’s Oscar nominations with earpieces in. They both burst into tears when his name was included in the Best Supporting Actor shortlist. After nearly four decades in the business, the 61-year-old British actor had finally won awards recognition with Academy, BAFTA, Screen Actors Guild and Golden Globe nominations for his acclaimed performance as the ‘decaying dandy’ Jack Hock in CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?

Richard, a teetotaller, returns to the same sozzled theatrical brilliance of his debut, when he played the perpetually inebriated title character in the cult film WITHNAIL AND I. Jack Hock is a drunken, gay grifter who was the real life partner-in-crime of down and out celebrity biographer Lee Israel, (Melissa McCarthy) who turned to literary forgery to make ends meet. Variety magazine’s Peter Debruge wrote about Richard’s character, “Jack can hardly pass a fire hydrant without asking for its phone number.” The real Jack Hock died of AIDS at the age of 47 in 1994.

It would be quicker to list the critic and festival Supporting Actor awards that Richard hasn’t won this year. And he has been part of ensemble casts that have won awards in the past, most notably his role as George in GOSFORD PARK, which won the SAG award in 2001, among others. Richard will be seen in STAR WARS EPISODE IX but we don’t know his character as yet land he’s been sworn to secrecy.

Richard attended the Gala Screening of CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? at the Empire Cinema in Leicester Square during last October’s BFI Film Festival. He managed to quickly sign for most of the large crowd that gathered with his iconic ‘reg’ initials graph, including one on my sketch.