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.

Drawing: Matthew Kelly in Toast

matthew kelly

Written in 1999, Toast was English playwright Richard Bean’s first professionally staged play and premiered at London’s Royal Court Theatre that year. It tells the story of seven men who work in a bread factory in Hull. One Sunday night Walter Nelson (Nellie) is so worn down from a lifetime of making dough, he loses his vest in the mix.

The first London revival starring Matthew Kelly as Nellie opened at The Park Theatre in August 2014 for a two month run.

In his final review for The Telegraph, Charles Spencer gave Toast four stars and commented, “That superb actor Matthew Kelly is mesmerising as old Nellie, a broken down employee of the factory battered into submission by years of hard graft and a wife who only allows him one packet of cigarettes a week. He movingly captures the sheer weariness and almost childlike simplicity of the man… with his baker’s hat and battered face, he puts one in mind of Rembrandt’s ruthlessly honest late self-portrait. You can’t take your eyes off him”.

This brilliantly observed, moving production and funny play also received four stars from all the major London based critics, including The Times, The Guardian, Sunday Times, Time Out, The Stage, Evening Standard, and What’s On Stage.

I did this sketch of Matthew as Nellie and dropped it off at the theatre in the final week. Nothing came back, so I assumed the worst and forgot about it. Until this week, when it arrived in the mail, signed and dedicated.

Matthew wrote a very nice letter apologising for the delay due to his heavy workload and returning the “wonderful picture”. He also included a signed and dedicated black and white photo.

It’s one of the wonderful surprises in this game, so I guess the adage is never give up. Incidentally, the longest an item has take to be returned to me is three years, but that’s another story.