Mary Berry’s dumbed-down dinners are sadly familiar

Date:21-06-2013 07:58:05 read:10

Mary Berry’s dumbed-down dinners are sadly familiar

Too many men just want to eat the food their mothers cooked for them

Nothing fancy: TV cook Mary Berry prepares only fuss-free plain food for her husband Paul  Photo: Getty Images

Dinner the night before last took me three hours. Twenty tiger prawns, fresh from the fishmonger, had to be peeled, washed and de-veined. I ground Szechuan pepper, cornflour and sea salt in a pestle and mortar to make a batter. Each prawn had to be dipped three times – in egg, batter and hot oil – and then crisped in the oven, while I wok-fried a pan of veg.

It was fiddly, time-consuming, frustrating work. Finally, though, the dish was complete: crispy seafood piled on a mountain of leafy greens. I placed it on the table with a flourish, sitting back to enjoy my handiwork. And then my other half walked in.

With barely a glance at my masterpiece, he grabbed five of the biggest, juiciest prawns and stuffed them into his mouth. “Mmmppfff,” he muttered. “I’m ravenous.” Before I could protest, another fistful disappeared. “This is delicious,” he said, merrily munching away. Suddenly he stopped, puzzled, and nodded towards the kitchen. “So, what’s for main course?”

Devastating for an amateur cook, but how must it feel when you’re one of the nation’s top chefs and author of 70 cookery books? For even Mary Berry, the doyenne of home baking and judge on The Great British Bake Off, knows what it’s like to have a husband who’s unappreciative of her skills in the kitchen. Berry, 77, has revealed that the only way to keep her other half (retired bookseller Paul Hunnings) happy is to cook the simple, old-fashioned dishes his mother used to make.

Speaking at the Good Food Show this week, Berry said her husband often asks: “Why are you bothering with all these fancy recipes? I just want stews and pies and roast dinners.” The secret to her 47-year marriage, she says, is sticking to plain, uncomplicated fare. “He always just wanted the dinners his mother had made him.”

Now if Berry, she of the perfect Victoria sponge, puts up with such dull demands, I don’t feel so bad about my other half’s unadventurous diet. His favourites are spaghetti bolognese and shepherd’s pie, cooked the way his mum does it, with chopped carrots and the unfussiest of sauces. He’d choose pie over paella, sausages over smoked salmon and roast beef over anything else. Salad “isn’t a real food”, and if there’s no meat on his plate, he looks bewildered. Meals end with a “second dinner” – Nutella on toast or frozen pizza – which I suspect he enjoys more than his main course.

My mother – a Cordon Bleu-trained chef – often has to “dumb down” her cooking for my meat, veg and potatoes-loving father. The celebrity sphere, too, abounds with men who eat like toddlers at home. Even male chefs have a weakness for childish treats: Jamie Oliver loves Ben and Jerry’s ice cream; Rowley Leigh eats Fray Bentos steak and kidney pies and Gordon Ramsay tucks into burgers and gummy sweets at home.

So why do men prefer to eat nursery food? For a start, stews and pies are “more hearty and traditional”, explains Nick Thorogood, of Food Network UK, which revealed last year that half of British men favour their mother’s cooking over their spouse’s. “Men seek the comfort of the cooking they have grown up with.”

Psychologist Marsha Pelchat, who researches food preferences by gender, says men and women may have distinct tastes, based on different hormone balances, sense of smell and papillae (the bumps on the tongue that contain taste buds). Men prefer heavier, meatier dishes, and can withstand increased levels of bitterness in food; whereas women tend to crave sweetness.

Monica Galetti, judge on Masterchef: The Professionals, sous chef at Le Gavroche and author of Monica’s Kitchen (Quadrille, £20) says she cooks “simple fare” for her husband, David. “We have fish three times a week, usually griddled because it’s quick,” she says, “although he’d be happy if he could have roast chicken every day of the week.”

Hélène Darroze, the two-star Michelin chef who runs her own restaurant at the Connaught in London, says her cupboards are stocked with “tomato sauce…and good quality parmesan cheese”, as she knows male friends prefer “un-fancy food”. Daisy Whitbread, pastry sous chef at the Ritz Restaurant, agrees. “I go for the comforting home-food options, such as lasagne, which we both love,” she says.

Yet chef and Indian food writer Madhur Jaffrey says the tastes of her husband, Sanford, have changed with age. “As he’s got older, he prefers milder things – basic dhal, rice and keema [minced meat],” she explains. “He likes basic pastas with salmon, prawns and peas. And he’s an American, so he likes apple pie with ice cream and rice with black-eyed peas.” Ruth Rogers, owner of the River Café, says of her husband, the architect Richard: “His mother was Italian and she taught me how to cook. At home we eat simply – grilled fish or salad.”

The way to a man’s heart may be through his stomach, but all too often that stomach just can’t stomach fancy food. I, like Berry, blame their mothers.

    Ever For Health Copy Rights 2013