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I would like to become a member of the Chelsea Arts Club. I've been there quite a few times as a guest and it's the sort of place I'd like to belong to. It's challenging: every time I go into the bar, there always seems to be someone who will come up and talk about art or cooking in a slightly confrontational but amusing sort of way. It's exciting having a couple of drinks and talking to people you don't know very well about things you want to talk about, either around the bar or across the large central table in the restaurant, surrounded by great paintings of famous artists, writers, musicians and actors having lots of fun in the same dining room. I'm fond of the food there, it's the sort of simple British stuff I like: sausages and mash, liver and bacon, big steaks of cod, bowls of mussels.

Maybe I could get on the food committee and contribute in some sort of way. But I don't know if I'm eligible. I doubt whether cooking is considered an art by most artists, let alone those gallery owners in Cork Street.

In the dictionary on my laptop it defines art as "the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination". To me, that's cooking. But I remember a friend being shocked in the early days of my life as a chef that someone from a good school should be doing something so third-rate. I disagreed. Since then I've been in the odd artist's studio while they were painting and talking at the same time, and it's very similar to cooking in a busy restaurant kitchen: the total absorption in what you're doing but at the same time a rush of inspired, almost stream of consciousness, chat to anyone who might be listening.

My tutor at university felt that an important purpose of poetry, and possibly art too, was comfort: a poem was like a strong room in a house battered by raging storms. Good cooking is like that, I think; it cheers people up. As Brillat-Savarin said: "The discovery of a new dish confers more happiness on humanity than the discovery of a new star."

I'm not confident of having invented a dish on the level of Carême or Soyer but I've always thought a good restaurant was like good art. That's why I think they should make me a member of the Arts club.

August 4th, 2008
8:08 PM
Cooking is certainly a *creative* act, but then so is knitting. I think you have to be careful not to confuse the creative process with the thing that results from it. For instance, you might spend years perfecting a dish, but its never going to be able to tell you anything about the human condition, nor reveal something previously undiscovered about the nature of existence. All food meets its final destiny via the U-bend, a place perfect for flotsum, but not where youd typically want to keep your art.

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