Tom Parker-Bowles is a bouncy, very British type of fellow, every bit as jolly and hearty as you would expect the son of the famously forthright Duchess of Cornwall to be. And his new book, “Let’s Eat” is imbued with that same, chappish British spirit, although in fact, only a quarter of the recipes in his new book are traditional British fare, the majority of them being recipes he has collected in a battered notebooks following travels around the world writing on the subject for Britains’ Esquire magazine, of which he is food editor.
“I know that usually this is some spurious marketing bullshit,” he says of the ‘notebook’ paradigm, “But genuinely, these are from my notebook. I have spent the last 12 years traveling around the world, stuffing my fat gob, and you come across all these lovely recipes from Thailand or Laos or Mexico or France or Italy and I tend to write them down on dirty pieces of crap napkin, with beer stains and all the rest of it.
“When I come back home I try and translate them. I test them three times and then they go into this battered leather notebook that I have got rather attached to.”
Parker Bowles is a self-confessed gourmand, and it’s notable that the book is not called, “Let’s Cook.”
“I write about food but I am not a chef. So there is nothing that starts with ‘Take 17 litres of stock…’ Everything in there is about flavour. There is no low-fat or any of that shite.”
‘Shite’ is a favoured Parker-Bowles expletive.
A good chunk of the book is devoted to American food, which Parker Bowles sees as unfairly maligned.
“I love American food, especially barbeque, cooked ‘Slow and Low’. A proper barbeque, you should be able to eat it with a spoon, it should just fall apart. It was mastered by slaves orignally, to make the best of all the cheap bits.
“Just as much as it pisses me off when people in America say ‘Oh, British food is shite,’ it also pisses me off when people in Britain say, ‘Oh, American food is all junk food.’ American food is fascinating and multi-faceted and I always find that you can see more about the history of a country through its food than some boring old history book.”
This is not to say he is not a fan of the British style of dining: “What we are really good at is roasting, pies and puddings. And there is something rather majestic about a roast lunch, a really good rib of beef with really good gravy or proper potatoes cooked in goose fat. British food is simple and it is about good ingredients.”
One of the recipes in the book is called Camilla’s Roast Chicken. Was the future queen of England a big cook when he was a kid?
“We grew up with my mum cooking. Very English stuff. We never had curries or Chinese or stuff like that, like my cool friends in London did. There were no supermarkets in the ‘70s and we lived on a farm. My Dad was a mad keen gardener, so we would always have all those local, seasonal, organic things; asparagus and artichokes. Fresh peas in June and strawberries in July/August and raspberries in August/September and the chicken came from the farm down the road. We always knew where food came from.
“My mum cooked all the time, apart from if people came to stay for the weekend for the Cheltenham races or something. Then we would get a cook in. She was a mum so she cooked out of necessity rather than pure pleasure. She wasn’t baking cakes all the time. It was more stews and stuff like that.”
Does she still cook now?
“She doesn’t cook as much as she used to. When she is with my step-father [aka Prince Charles] they have brilliant chefs. But when she is at home by herself, let’s say my step-father is away or doing something by himself, going off on a mini-tour or something – then, when she is back home, yeah, she still does a roast chicken. She still does good scrambled eggs actually, really good scrambled eggs.
“She won’t go out of her way to say to us children, ‘Oh, come back I am doing roast chicken,’ but if we ask for it, she will do it.
“She is quite bossy in the kitchen, so I don’t really cook with her. I certainly wouldn’t cook for them because they have got proper chefs, really good chefs.”
Parker Bowles is totally upfront about the fact that his name has given a leg-up to his career, and he accepts the ‘quid-pro-quo’ that in press interviews he will be asked about his mother and step-father, but he also insists that with 11 years of writing under his belt, and columns in both Esquire and the Mail on Sunday, if he was unprofessional, or didn’t file his copy on time, he wouldn’t have those gigs anymore.
So what was his reaction to the photos taken recently of Kate and Harry in various states of undress?
“I think everyone is entitled to their privacy. Whoever you are and whatever position you are in, you are entitled to privacy. The idea that you are public property at all times seems horrific to be honest, and I do think it was an invasion of privacy with Kate and all the rest of it.
“I have grown up with a tiny, tiny, fraction of what Harry and Kate will have had. But, yes, when we grew up, we knew that there were paps lying in wait on the footpath, and maybe you would see their lenses glinting in the sun and you would know they were there.
“But if you are on holiday in the middle of France? All these people say, ‘It is about the freedom of the press.’ Bollocks to that – freedom of the press is one of the most important tenets of the Western world but this is nothing to do with freedom of press. It is to do with a gross invasion of privacy.”
It’s a slightly uneasy balance however - he frankly admits that he is willing to engage in a little horse-trading to publicise his work: “I know they are not getting me on the Today Programme purely because I am a food writer from England. You know exactly the quid-pro-quo of the whole thing and you answer the questions and you don’t get arsey about it. You want to sell your book.
“But I would never do any of those Celebrity Pig Sticking programmes because the idea of being a celebrity is absolutely abhorrent to me. I mean, can you imagine being recognised everywhere? That every time you pick your nose or fall over, there is someone there to take a photograph and another 400 trolls to be abusive for no reason apart from they have got nothing better to do?”
In 1999, Parker Bowles had his own tabloid trouble when he told a reporter from the News of the World that he used cocaine.
“When I was younger and partying more - a lot more - I got caught in Cannes. I was showing off to a girl, so, you know, mea culpa, I’m an idiot,” he says.
“I was given everything in life, upbringing, education, and I got caught, big fucking deal. I am not going to sit and moan about it. You get caught, you get in the shit and there you go; you learn your lesson.”
“But things change. I have been doing this for 12 years now. I have built up a body of work. This is my career. This is my job.”
And, for the record, a damn fine fist he is making of it too.
LET’S EAT, Recipes from My Kitchen NotebookBy Tom Parker BowlesSt. Martin’s Press$35.99 hardcover / $19.99 ebookISBN: 978-1-250-01433-7