gripping and... food plentiful
The fictional Chief Inspector Jules Maigret is woken up every morning at 7.00 by his loving wife Louise with a nice cup of coffee. Once through his morning grooming routine, other coffees will follow, accompanied by the croissants the bakery delivery boy leaves on the doorstep every day. He then lights his pipe for the first puff of the day, soon to leave for the mythical French police headquarters at 36, Quai des Orfevres in Paris. Before lunch time, the popular “Commissaire” leaves the police station to have an aperitif (usually a Pernod) at the equally mythical Brasserie Dauphine.
He will then either go home to have lunch (the author of Maigret’s stories, Georges Simenon, describes Madame Maigret as an excellent cook) or stay at the brasserie to eat – aperitifs, lunch and dining locations will vary based on what investigation the Chief Inspector is carrying out. Maigret enjoys full-course meals that would tantalise anyone’s taste buds, from appetizers to the final after-lunch liqueur that favours digestion. Amongst Maigret’s favourite dishes, to give you an idea, we find andouillette, choucroute, Liège-style veal kidneys, mussels with French fries, lobster with mayonnaise – look the dish names up on internet and you will see for yourself what mouth-watering specialties the Chief Inspector treated himself to. Clearly a food-loving character, Maigret’s dinners are as hearty and abundant as his lunches. We, the normal, mere mortals would pass out on our desks upon returning to the office after having a lunch like that.
Let’s move to Sicily now for a tribute to the popular novelist Giorgio Camilleri. His famous Inspector Montalbano has a decidedly minimalist breakfast. In fact, he just drinks a large coffee, after taking the usual morning plunge into the beautiful sea he has the fortune to reach directly from his villa. Lunch is always at a “trattoria” restaurant, where he enjoys a full meal, from appetizers to the final coffee, with the delicious food accompanied by a nice bottle of wine - digestion is then easily favoured with a walk on the waterfornt promenade. In the evening, Montalbano likes to have dinner at home, on the terrace overlooking the beach – just the perfect spot, isn’t it? Once home, he is greeted by his loyal housekeeper Adelina, who is an excellent cook that treats the Inspector to generous helpings of Sicilian delicacies, the lightest of which, ironically speaking, is “pasta n'casciata”, a traditional baked pasta dish seasoned with tomato ragout sauce, chunks of aubergine and caciocavallo cheese, washed down by some fine whiskey to favour digestion.
Our next Inspector in this story about popular fictional detectives and food is Hercule Poirot. Described by Agatha Christie as short, somewhat funny, with brilliantined hair and a well-groomed moustache, Poirot is actually humanly very sensitive, with high values and, it goes without saying, extremely clever. As you might expect from his plump build, he also enjoys eating, especially the most refined of food. Certainly not the sanguine type like the fellow detectives described above, he is a man of excellent taste when it comes to eating. He likes the most sophisticated cuisine, greatly enjoys a cup of tea (many of his stories are set in England), sweets and chocolate (Poiroit is Belgian) and he is sometimes described as tinkering with satisfaction in the kitchen himself to prepare dinner, or giving the final touch to a freshly cooked specialty by grating some truffle on it. Hercule Poirot eats exactly as Christie depicts him, with the manners of a refined gentleman, even though he will not hesitate to put a napkin around his neck before digging in.
Off we go to New York now, on West 35th Street, where fictional investigator Nero Wolfe lives. World-renowned, Wolfe is an oversized, eccentric armchair detective created in 1934 by the American writer Rex Stout. His equally famous assistant, Archie Goodwin, who does the legwork for the detective genius, makes us understand that being overweight is a choice for Wolfe. By indulging with the best of food, the detective wants to appear cool-headed, a person who likes to think things through, who does not get caught up in emotions which can make you act hurriedly or contaminate your wits, hence the decision to put a considerable layer of fat between himself and the external world.
Wolfe is a knowledgeable gourmet, who enjoys generous helpings of cook Fritz Brenner’s cuisine three times a day. Brenner’s specialties are legendary, extremely refined and unique. One of the most popular novels by Rex Stout, “Too many cooks”, describes how Wolfe attends a meeting of great chefs and, besides having to solve a murder case, also ends up learning a secret food recipe.
Worth mentioning is also Nero Wolfe's breakfast time. He treats himself to orange juice, eggs au beurre noir, two slices of boiled Georgia ham, hashed brown potatoes, hot blueberry muffins and a pot of steaming cocoa, which he eats in his large yellow silk pajamas next to his bedroom window, flooded with sunlight – an amazing spectacle, as Archie Goodwin narrates.
Last but certainly not least, we now move to Baker Street, London, where the most popular of all detectives lives, the unique and legendary Sherlock Holmes! As readers may recall, Conan Doyle totally ignored food in his novels. Some might say that it was because there was little food specialties to talk about, since the Brits are not exactly famous for their cuisine - Emilio Salgari (author of “Sandokan”) and Hector Malot (in “Nobody’s Boy”) describe English dining tables with just the usual roast beef. I honestly think this stereotype about poor British cuisine is wrong. I have always eaten very well in London, and I cannot wait to go back to eat (and drink) there very soon actually.
Going back to the Conan Doyle world-famous stories, Sherlock Holmes and Watson do not seem to have great gastronomic passions. Holmes does have another habit, however: he enjoys smoking the pipe and cigarettes very much, especially when he needs to focus on solving cases – that’s when he really clouds up everyone with smoke. Sometimes, when Holmes is feeling depressed, we even find him in some opium den enjoying a puff of something stronger - in those times, laws on drugs use were not as strict as today, probably because of not being aware of the harmful effects of these substances.
Well, what do all these characters and detective stories have in common? It is the total absence of doctors, dieticians, no reference to medical examinations of any sort. Never once does a stern doctor show up in one of these stories to tell off our popular characters for eating too much and give some advice for living healthier! Not one time have we read of someone warning them of dangerous levels of cholesterol and sugar in their body, or a blood pressure that peaks too high!
On the other hand, I must admit that reading about the adventures of an investigator who drinks healthy cucumber juice, eats salad, has only natural wild honey as a sweetener for his tea, drinks pure spring water and takes a variety of food supplements would not be the most page-turning story for me, or anyone really, I guess. Yet, can someone explain why all the most popular novel characters need to eat all those delicious gourmet food in the face of the poor, diet-ridden readers and yet not suffer the consequences that unhealthy eating has in real life? Well, I guess reading of the most delicious cuisine makes the book even more enjoyable, so let’s just bear with it. What we should not (yet have to) put up with is the grin on the face of our doctor when he shows us our latest blood test results and, being well aware of our food cravings, slams yet another good-for-your-health diet in our face.
In the end, dreaming of dining next to Maigret in that fancy French brasserie and enjoying, though in a very virtual form, the smells and flavours of wonderful Paris is actualy very nice – books have the ability to make us feel well, after all. Although only with our minds, reading is a wonderful way to escape the strains of daily life. Being mesmerised by a novel is a wonderful feeling, especially after a hard day of work. We are even more grateful when a great story is both delightful and…delicious!
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TKS Publisher staff