I am sure you already know Jay Rayner from his restaurant column in The Observer, or as presenter of The Kitchen Cabinet on Radio 4. You have probably also seen him on The One Show talking about food, and as a judge on MasterChef. But did you know that he is also a jazz musician?
Jay is well-known for his outspoken views on British restaurants. If a restaurant dares to use the words “clean eating”, “honest and proper” or “superfood” on the menu, or serves you bread in a flat cap, he is going to shake his pen at you, and share his opinion with thousands of readers. It can be pretty terrifying stuff. Now Jay is bravely putting himself in the firing line with a show at the Alban Arena (Thursday 3 March 7.30pm). I spoke to Jay this week and he told me all about why he is taking to the stage.
In the first half of the show, Jay plans to take us through his experiences of “Dining Hell”, recounting some of the very worst places he has eaten in. If you have ever eaten a dodgy meal, had terrible service or wondered at the latest food fad madness, then I am sure you will find Jay’s show very entertaining. As Jay explained to me; “the readers love the bad reviews the most”, and he plans to take his chance to rant at the worst restaurant practices. If you run a local restaurant, you might want to come along to make a few notes (food on slates anyone?). Just to even things out, Jay will also be telling us about his own worst reviews (he has written novels too). Taking the agony theme further, Jay be telling tales on what it was like to grow up with Claire Rayner, the famous agony aunt and sex columnist, for a parent. Jay told me: “I haven’t really shared what it was like. I guess I didn’t want people thinking I had made my career from her fame, but I think I’ve been doing it all long enough now”. I am sure it was all very character-building, and it should be fun to listen to.
In the second half, Jay will get out his piano, and perform food-related tunes from the Great American songbook such as “Peel me a Grape”, along with more anecdotes. Jay will be joined on stage by bassist Robert Rickenberg, saxophonist Dave Lewis and singer Pat Gordon-Smith. Pat is also Jay’s wife, and Jay explained that the two of them do practise together at home, but as Pat is the life-long musician, she gets to have the final say on song choices. The quartet formed in 2012 and have played at The Ivy Club, Crazy Coqs and Ronnie Scott’s jazz club, so should be good. I asked Jay how long he had been a musician, and he told me he had music lessons as a teenager but only really started taking it seriously about five years ago when he was encouraged by a friend to play with other musicians; “I find playing music to an audience thrilling and exciting, but it makes me far more nervous than appearing on television”.
Jay hasn’t reviewed any local restaurants yet, and he said last time he was here he only spotted chain restaurants. After our interview I sent him a list of a few of my favourites, so we shall see if he manages to squeeze one in. Jay does have a local connection, however, as he went to Haberdasher Aske’s Boys school. He told me that it is fairly well-known that he was expelled, though it doesn’t seem to have harmed his career so far. I wonder if any fellow ex-students or former teachers will be coming along to the show? I think the evening sounds great fun, and it will give us a chance to judge the critic for ourselves.