What Jay Rayner Has Taught Us About Food

Ella Dao distills some of the most poignant food advice by Jay Rayner, a sucessful British food critic. She concludes with a pithy takeaway about the process of food writing: it is so much more than writing about food.


There is a lot about food that we can learn from Jay Rayner, a famous British food critic. Over the spring break, I finished his book called “The Ten (Food) Commandments.” Turning one page after another as I devoured the entire book in one sitting, I often caught myself smiling, chuckling, or laughing out loud at his well-informed yet witty writing. With his long, wavy hair and grey-flecked beard, he almost looks like the modern-day Moses, except he’s here to teach us a thing or two about food. 

In the book, he discusses in detail different aspects of our relationship with food and criticises outdated perceptions of food. Having had 20 years under his belt as a restaurant critic, he can surely offer us a lot of insights into food that we often gloss over. At the end of each commandment (or chapter), he offers us two recipes that are tasty, easy to make, and follow the theme of that chapter.  

One of my favorite commandments in the book has to be "Thou shalt always worship leftovers.” Rayner reveals how refrigeration led to the coinage of the brand-new term “leftover” and attempts to retrain us to view leftovers as the beginning of endless culinary possibilities instead of our usual folly of looking down on it.

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In his article “Stop stressing about the perfect diet, it’s human to fail,” Rayner unabashedly points out the futility of dieting fads as we, as humans who are imperfect and flawed, will always pick and choose from the sea of advice and fail to adhere to whatever strict diets that are popular at any given time.  Solution: don’t beat yourself up and use your common sense when it comes to eating healthily. You can reach for that bag of 16 chocolate tea cakes with the oh-so-creamy marshmallow filling once in a while.

Above all, Rayner has also taught us one very fundamental thing about food writing. A lot of times, writing about food, a common thread between all human experiences, is not about rating the food itself, but about “politics and history, about love and sex, the environment, architecture and so much more,” according to Rayner. Food writing, therefore, is the perfect gateway into exploring human desires, needs, and wants. 


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