The 10 commandments of food according to Jay Rayner

Jay Rayner, a Jew who tells everyone he meets that he likes pig meat
Joanne Sweeney

RESTAURANT critic Jay Rayner is known as something of a law unto himself – now the floppy-haired, beardy food savant has decided to lay down the law to the rest of us.

Londoner Rayner has come up with his own food laws that he will be exhorting us to observe when he comes to Belfast's MAC theatre next week with his show The Ten (Food) Commandments.

Will there be manna from Heaven when this self-proclaimed food Moses tells us that one should always 'eat with thy hands' and that we should worship the false god of leftovers?

Doubtful, but there will be a large helping of tongue, firmly stuck in Rayner's cheek.

The show is a tasty accompaniment to Rayner's new book of the same name, for which he is brazenly photographed in biblical get-up. Quite the hoot for a Jew who happily tells everyone he meets that he likes pig.

In fact, his tenth commandment goes 'Honor Thy Pig', which is actually quite acceptable since he was raised by atheist parents, the journalist Claire Rayner and artist husband Desmond, both now deceased.

His fifth commandment, Thou Shalt Not Cut Off The Fat, is bound to go down well with a local audience; if he could have included an 11th he says, it would have been Thou Shalt Serve Food On Plates, which will chime with regular diners-out bemused by having to eat off anything from a roofing slate to a chopping board.

There's much to like about the man who wrote in his review of highly regarded Belfast eaterie Ox: "The exterior of Ox in Belfast is much like my soul: black and featureless."

This will be the second show that he has staged in the city since his sold-out My Dining Hell in the Black Box last year; he likes Belfast and, it seems, Belfast likes him.

"Belfast audiences are an awful lot of fun. I love doing it, I really do," he says. "A Belfast audience turns up and they are ready for a good night and then it's up to me to provide it.

"The first half of the show is kind of stand-up comedy using audio-visual stuff as a second performer on stage. I take you through my 10 commandments and there's lots of whiz-bangery and video and gags.

"There's a break and I send them all off to the bar with the instruction to tweet me their own food commandments and we can come back for a Q&A where we dwell in other people's commandments.

"I never know what's going in the second part, so it's a laugh and good fun."

Rayner will turn 50 on the night before his Belfast show as he hosts his Radio 4 panel show The Kitchen Cabinet in Derry's Guildhall.

He says he has noticed a "real positive energy" about the north now.

"Belfast is absolutely fascinating right now, it's a great place to be," he adds. "I get a sense of a very positive energy at the moment.

"I may be speaking out of turn, but I'm going to say it anyway... I tend to play to a younger audience – 35 and younger – who have a real interest in food because it's not political.

"This may be a naive analysis – and anybody who wonders into the politics and society of Northern Ireland without thinking carefully about it is an idiot – but I'm going to give it a go anyway.

"There is a hunger for normality, to just be normal, particularly among that generation, and arguing about whose hamburger is better is so much better than arguing all over again about the other shit that was argued about for decades.

"Food lacks that controversial politicised element in that raw way that has affected the community for so long. So actually a night out with me pretending to be Moses is where I can be quite controversial while also being quite safe."

Rayner got into the live show circuit a few years back after finding out accidentally while touring with his book A Greedy Man in a Hungry World that it was both a popular and financial success, as well as being enjoyable for him personally.

The broadcaster and Observer food writer says of the live solo show experience: "I enjoy it so much because it's mine. When you write for a newspaper, you are part of that team, and when I'm on the radio, I'm part of the BBC.

"But when I write, direct and perform a life show, it's mine and it lives and dies on me. I rather like it. It's a high wire act."

:: The Ten (Food) Commandments, the MAC Theatre, Belfast, September 15. Jay Rayner's book of the same name is published by Penguin in paperback and costs £6.


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