Photo by Pete Woodhead, Courtesy of Southbank Centre
When talking about his new book A Slice of Fried Gold, Nick Frost giggles like a teenage boy. You see, this is not your average cookbook. In fact, as Simon Pegg describes it, this is “the weirdest fucking cookbook.” For fans of Frost’s work, this is hardly surprising. During the duo’s time on stage at Royal Festival Hall, the conversation swerved from Nigel Slater fingering his father’s hypothetical sugar bag to gravy shooting out of consumer’s orifices. This was not the old friends riffing, although they were both sure to wring these strange scenarios dry. These were some choice moments from his book which Frost decided he wanted to share with the crowd. It is safe to say he knows his audience well.
For anyone who follows Nick Frost on Instagram, the launch of his cookbook/memoir/mad ravings was no surprise. Most Sundays, Nick Frost lathers his iPhone camera in gravy, forcing his mobile into crackling dishes of crystallised roast-potatoes, and finally displaying the roasted pièce-de-résistance, dripping in unctuous dressing, for all his followers to see. The only other thing Frost will post may be the occasional selfie of him looking drained. The caption may explain his difficulty in a social situation he has just managed to break away from. His recent diagnosis of ADHD may explain why he has become more open to sharing his experiences of social discomfort online. Similarly, his obsession with food and cooking is elucidated following his diagnosis.
This comes up a lot in the talk. Initially, his way of controlling his thoughts was to go raving. He recalls how Simon, Michael Smiley, and himself would stay up into the wee hours of the night before stumbling home to concoct a stoner-inspired mess in the kitchen. Frost describes how the beats of the rave music could keep pace with his brain, the Dutch Gabba beats thumping alongside his thoughts.
Now cooking has taken that spot. The chaos of the kitchen, much like the rave tunes before, can keep up with Frost’s 190 BPM brain. Yet, the conversation, nor the book for that matter, never delves into swooning foodie romanticism. The relationship Frost, and Pegg to some extent, have with food was deeply engrained in their twenties. Both fondly recall their Frankenstein foodstuff Pie in a Bowl. The recipe for this one is quite simple: take two frozen chicken and vegetable pies, mash them up, cook, and then pour gravy on top. This was a staple for the two actors back in their student days, coming complete with a song - “Pies in a bowl, pies in a bowl, Christ almighty, pies in a bowl.” They aren’t the most sophisticated of lyrics but complement the dish well.
In fact, in seeing the two interact, one can understand the joy they have shared as friends. The night is full of talks about girls they used to fancy, food from Lord of the Rings, and memories of working in Chiquitos. It is very much teenage boy jabbering but, coming from such old friends, it works as charming and sweet. The two almost start to resemble their characters from Spaced, effectively travelling back in time to their ‘90s student days.
This is what Frost’s book is really about. In many ways, the whole conversation circulates around time travel. The stories that Frost and Pegg tell are told with the upmost charisma and fondest passion. Simon creases over, laughing in agony, when Frost remembers that once Edgar (presumably Edgar Wright) got off with a girl from the farmer’s union. Moreover, when Frost reminds Pegg of his constant desire to rip all his clothes off in an Incredible Hulk fashion, Pegg recalls the first time Frost did this before cackling loudly. Underlying all these stories is food. This is how Frost holds onto these memories, not just of his student days with Pegg, but of his family, particularly his mother.
At the beginning of the talk, Frost read out an excerpt from his book. In it, he recounts his horror that, upon the death of his mother, he realised that she had left nothing tangible behind. The sudden loss of a person that was real to him, one that he occasionally had a stormy relationship with, left a hole in his life. The only way to fill it, the only thing that was tangible, was his mother’s recipe for beef stroganoff. This dish became part of Frost’s family, as a way for him, and for his children, to hold onto a memory of his mother. He hopes that in the future his kids will use the recipe to remember him, calling it “our family’s time machine.” There is no sense of sentimentalism, no frilly, choux-pastry extravagances. Food, for Frost, encapsulates his life in his own unique way.
Photos by Pete Woodhead, Courtesy of Southbank Centre
This article is part of STRAND's coverage of London Literature Festival 2023.
Edited by Lara Mae Simpson, Literature Editor