Grace Dent tells Graham Norton about the joy of 'unlocking memories' through comfort food

Virgin Radio

7 Oct 2023, 13:58

Grace Dent and Graham Norton at Virgin Radio studios

Comfort Eating podcast host and food critic Grace Dent has revealed the reason why she loves discussing the meals we ‘only eat alone’.

Her new book, Comfort Eating: What We Eat When Nobody’s Looking, is a collection of personal essays inspired by her podcast of the same name

The aim of the book is to focus on the foods we turn to behind closed doors. Those dishes that are deeply personal, steeped in nostalgia and topped with a healthy dollop of guilty pleasure. 

Speaking on The Graham Norton Radio Show with Waitrose, Grace shared: "It's a book about the things that we eat when nobody's looking, the things that give us comfort and joy, the things we cobble together when nobody's looking. So there's a lot of bread, a lot of potatoes, a lot of pastry, tons of butter,  because butter makes everything better, sweet things. Nobody ever gets in at the end of a very long, depressing day and starts rustling up a haunch of venison.”

There are some seriously famous faces within the pages of Comfort Eating too, with the likes of Russell T. Davis, Jo Brand and Aisling Bea all taking part with some truly strange but joyous food concoctions. 

Reminiscing about one dish that’s stuck with her, Grace opened up about Derry Girls’ Siobhan McSweeney’s favourite food mash-up. 

Grace explained the rather unique combo, telling Graham: “You get the Tayto crisps, cheese and onion, you get the Guinness, you get the Dairy Milk, you put it all in your mouth together. You chew it all up. She said to me, ‘that's it. That's the taste of being taken to the pub by my dad when I was a little girl, and being given some chocolate and having the froth off the Guinness.’

“These things, although they are often quite disgusting, or out of tins, cold things out of tins. They're about childhood."

She continued: “This is the whole point of the book. You're accessing a memory, that if I'd said to you today, why don't we talk about that? You would say no, I don't want to reveal these things about me. But the moment I ask, whoever it’s James Norton, or Russell Tovey, or Stephen Fry, or whoever…the moment I ask them, ‘what is the chocolate bar that you would buy at the newsagent if you just went there now?’ They will immediately choose that thing that gave them solace at 10 o'clock in 1984 when the bell went at school, and they went to the tuck shop and they'll tell me some beautiful story about their parents or their teachers.

“I just think food unlocks memories that we can't get out normally.”

There was one star however that didn’t get quite the same warm response that other guests did for their nostalgic dish. 

When Laura Whitmore arrived on the Comfort Eating podcast, Grace admitted she wasn’t sure about her mushroom choice. She told Graham: “She bought filthy soily raw mushrooms. Snapped the cap out and then just put warm mayo out of a squirty bottle into it and then ate them. She's such a beautiful creature, she just is like a goddess - until you see her eat those mushrooms like a little baby velociraptor.”

Comfort Eating: What We Eat When Nobody’s Looking is the brand new book From Grace Dent is out in hardback now. 

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