Restaurant critic and Masterchef favourite Jay Rayner is bringing not one, but two very different shows to this year’s Lichfield Festival – and you could win tickets to see him
When it comes to journalism there are things Jay Rayner has not written about. A business page summary of a motor component company report, or a football match, perhaps. But that is probably the extent of the empty folders in the Rayner archive. Even before 1992, when he was named Young Journalist of the Year in the British Press Awards, he was investigating and writing about nearly everything, so there are bulging arts, fashion, crime, politics and general features sections in that same Rayner back catalogue.
And that is before we get on to the novels, four to date, including The Marble Kiss which was nominated for the Author’s Club of Great Britain First Novel Award, and Day Of Atonement which was nominated for the Jewish Quarterly’s international prize for Jewish fiction.
But it is as a food writer and broadcaster that he remains best known. Jay has just been named Restaurant Writer of the Year 2018 in the Fortnum & Mason Food and Drink Awards, a prize that will sit alongside his awards as Food and Drink writer (for three years in a row), nominations for three Glenfiddich Food and Drink Awards, Restaurant Critic of the Year in 2001 and the Derek Cooper Award for Investigative and Campaigning Journalism from the Guild of Food Writers in 2013. He has appeared as a judge in multiple series of Masterchef, and as part of the panel on BBC2’s Eating With The Enemy. In the US he was a part of the expert panel on Top Chef Masters, was resident food expert on The One Show from 2009 to 2016, and has been the host of the award-nominated food panel show The Kitchen Cabinet for BBC Radio 4 for the last six years.
As if all that writing and broadcasting wasn’t enough, in 2012, he officially turned what had been a private hobby into another very public string to his bow. To be more accurate: a full 88 set of piano strings. He formed the Jay Rayner Quartet – his wife, Pat Gordon-Smith, is the band’s singer – and began playing gigs around the land.
It is beneath two of his many hats, that Jay Rayner appears at the 2018 Lichfield Festival, both of them on Friday 13 July. One is as restaurant critic, the other is as jazz pianist, and common to both is his compelling skill as a raconteur.
My Dining Hell comes first, an early afternoon one-man show in which the critic of in excess of 700 eating establishments homes in on what he knows his readers take the most delicious delight in: damning reviews of lousy restaurants.
He writes about his Penguin-published book of this title – its subtitle is Twenty Ways To Have A Lousy Night Out:
“I have been a restaurant critic for over a decade, written reviews of well over 700 establishments, and if there is one thing I have learnt it is that people like reviews of bad restaurants. No, scratch that. They adore them, feast upon them like starving vultures who have spotted fly-blown carrion out in the bush.
“They claim otherwise, of course. Readers like to present themselves as private arbiters of taste; as people interested in the good stuff. I’m sure they are. I’m sure they really do care whether the steak was served au point as requested or whether the soufflé had achieved a certain ineffable lightness. And yet, when I compare dinner to bodily fluids, the room to an S & M chamber in Neasden (only without the glamour or class), and the bill to an act of grand larceny, why, then the baying crowd is truly happy.”
On the evening of Friday, July 13, Jay untucks the napkin, re-caps the poison pen and unpacks the sheet music and set list instead. Although there is not a complete break with food: songs like The Ladies Who Lunch, Black Coffee, Peel Me A Grape and Food, Glorious Food are likely to feature in that set list.
With Jay on piano are double bass player Robert Rickenberg, saxophonist Dave Lewis and Pat Gordon-Smith on vocals. Their first CD is called A Night Of Food And Agony.
Jay writes: “It’s not enough to choose songs; you have to know why you are playing them. Happily, I always have. My job as a restaurant critic gave me half the repertoire. Jazz and restaurants have been long intertwined. After all I met the Quartet’s brilliant musicians, bassist Robert Rickenberg and saxophonist Dave Lewis in the Ivy Club. And then there was my late mother, agony aunt Claire Rayner. The anecdotes she left me provided the other half of our setlists. Because so many blues songs sound like letters to a problem page.”
What unites both shows is the larger-than-life character and generosity of spirit that is Jay Rayner. As celebrated jazz critic Clive Davis points out: “Rayner… boulevardier, is the perfect communicator”.
Jay Rayner: My Dining Hell and Jay Rayner Jazz Quartet are at Lichfield Garrick Theatre on Friday, July 13, at 2pm and 8pm respectively, as part of Lichfield Festival. For more information on the Festival see www.lichfieldfestival.org or phone 01543 412121.
J’AIME has teamed up with the Lichfield Festival to offer two tickets for Jay Rayner’s hugely entertaining show, My Dining Hell, at the Lichfield Garrick on Friday 13 July at 2pm. To be in with a chance of winning, simply answer the following question:
Which BBC TV show does Jay Rayner regularly appear on as a judge?
Send your answer, along with your name, address and telephone number, by email to firstname.lastname@example.org with Lichfield Festival competition as the email subject. Entries must be received by 5pm on Friday, June 29, and our winner will be notified by Wednesday, July 4. No cash alternative is available. Terms and conditions apply. Visit http://www.jaimemagazine.com for further details.