James Leavey's Sharing An Ashtray With... Antony Worral Thompson


Antony Worral Thompson


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James Leavey's Corner
  By James Leavey
Britain's top TV chef lights up in his own restaurant in WestLondon, while giving James Leavey his recipe for asmoker-friendlier world.


JL: When did you first start smoking"

 

AWT: I started smoking the end of my girlfriends' cigarettes,about sevenyears ago. I was originally anti-smoking - I probably lost myfirst wifebecause I was against her smoking. And then in between wives, asit were,all the women I fancied smoked.  And I thought 'being a chef, Ineed toequalize the taste buds, so I've got to have another drag on theend of thiscigarette'.  And, as they always say, you do get hooked oncigarettes.

JL: You've given up smoking in recent years, haven't you"

AWT: Off and on. I don't believe it's a good thing to smoke but Ido believein the freedom of choice to smoke.  I didn't believe that when Igave mysecond wife a hard time.  I tried to give up smoking last year soI couldenter the London Marathon - which almost killed me so I went backon thecigarettes.

JL: Are there smoking and non-smoking areas here in yourrestaurant"

AWT: The whole restaurant is smoking.  I would be perfectly happyto go witha law that said any new restaurant's planning permissionapplications had tohave a non-smoking area.  I don't think there's anything wrongwith that. Ibelieve that the government shouldn't initiate a blanket ban onsmoking.Existing restaurants should have a five-year period in which tocome in toline in having non-smoking areas.  Maybe they would do like theFrench andhave 'under 45-seaters would be exempt', or something like that. There's aplace in the world for both the smoker and the non-smoker.  Itshouldn'thave to be the government that tells us what to do.

JL: Do you think smoking enhances or ruins good food"

AWT: It's a tricky question.  I've never been accused ofover-seasoning myfood, which a lot of smokers are - they say smokers put a lot ofsalt andpepper in it.  I love my food and I think I've still got very goodtastebuds and I don't think smoking's affected me.  But you have toremember I'veonly been smoking for seven years.  Which is a ridiculous thing todo, butthere you go. I don't think smoking enhances food, but from mypoint of viewif anything makes you relax while you're eating a meal, that hasto be goodfor you. Like when my wife, who was having a baby, went to thedoctor theother day.  The doctor said, 'Look. Try and reduce down.  Ifyou're gonnaget stressed out because you're not smoking, it's far better tocarry onsmoking, albeit less, if you can, than to give up and get stressedout.  Thebaby will feel it far more if you're stressed.'  And I believethat appliesto restaurants. If the government had their way and bannedsmoking, you'regonna get people getting up in between courses and go out on thepavement tosmoke.  And it's going to completely disrupt - and that's whatit's allabout - enjoying the fact that there's conviviality in havingcompany andtalking and communication skills etc. I don't believe that's thewayforward.

JL:  If they banned smoking in restaurants, do you think somepuritan wouldtry to ban smoked salmon"

AWT: Yes. I'm sure there will be some campaign against barbecues,carcinogenic as they're meant to be, what with the charcoal -anything to dowith smoke.  It'll come.  And that's what I'm frightened about.One thingwill lead to another.  Next it will be alcohol, then fatty foods. There'smore and more of the government trying to control us all, and Ithink that'svery wrong in a country that has always prided itself on thefreedom ofspeech, freedom of choice.  I don't want Britain to become likeAmerica.

JL:  Have you ever had problems in your restaurant with dinersarguing aboutsmoking"

AWT:  Very rare, just the occasional adamant Californian, who willget upand go somewhere else - as all areas of Wiz (his restaurant inNotting Hill)are smoking (smoker-friendly).  You see Japanese smoking, Germanspuffingaway, and the French breaking the rules over in France - becausethey've hadsmoking restrictions in their restaurants for years.  Which isvery strangeas France was the country I always thought least likely to try toimpose asmoking ban in restaurants. The thing about the French is thatthey ignoreevery rule going and the trouble with the British that we payattention toevery rule going. We always take the American stance, with law,and we stickto it.  Which is a bit worrying, really.

JL:  Is there a dish that complements smoking"  For example, ifyou're aheavy smoker who lights up between courses, is there some kind offood youshould be eating"

AWT: Any food that makes you relax, which is what a cigarette doesgenerallyto the smoker.  Alcohol is much more likely to make you smoke. I'mnotnecessarily keen on the Frenchman who will smoke betweenmouthfuls, letalone between courses.  Adrian Gill of The Times every othermoment has acigarette in his hands. But that's him, he doesn't drink, so. Possiblythere's a dessert called affogato, which is a dollop of ice cream,topped upwith espresso coffee - that's a very good smoker-friendly pudding.

JL:  Which chef's doorway would you like most to smoke in"

AWT:   I think it would be Gordon Ramsay. He's a purist anddoesn't agreewith all that.  Or maybe I should say any Michelin stylerestaurant, becausethey don't agree with the enjoyment factor.  They're the 'templesofgastronomy' where you talk in hushed whispers and if you shouldlaugh,everyone turns round and says, 'Don't you realize where you are"' I wouldlove to smoke in their doorway.

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