Review: Food D.I.Y. by Tim Hayward


Macho, passé, and just the one pun – Nick Harman gets his hands on Tim Hayward’s new book, and throws it on the barbecue

Tim Hayward Food DIY

It must look like the aftermath of some terrible WW2 tank battle in Tim Hayward’s no doubt otherwise agreeable and very large garden: twisted metal scarring the skyline, black smoke slowly rising from giant holes torn into the ground. And, hovering over the whole scene, a greasy miasma of roasted flesh.

Tim Hayward, you see, is a very tough food writer. Not for him the delicate interplay of knife and fork and subtle tastes. He likes nothing better than to cook meat in primitive ways, greedily cramming the results into his mouth with his bare hands and going into raptures with the rush like any urban teenager.

In his new book we see many photos of Tim standing proudly by the manly cooking equipment that he has designed and constructed. You might compare him to Bear Grylls. “Definitely a bear, anyway,” says my interior decorator, peering over my shoulder. I don’t get it: I can see that Tim has problems shaving his face adequately in the mornings, although he seems to be able to manage his scalp without difficulty, but he is hardly hairy. My decorator erupts into peals of laughter. “The plaid shirt, the heavy biker boots, the classic Levis with turn ups? My dear, he is obviously such a bear!” And with that, off he goes to look at some colour swatches.

My decorator erupts into peals of laughter. “The plaid shirt, the heavy biker boots, the classic Levis with turn ups? My dear, he is obviously such a bear!” And with that, off he goes to look at some colour swatches

This book is perhaps a little late in coming. The craze for American junk food, the food that predominates in the book and is often rebranded in a more market-friendly way as American Casual Dining, probably peaked with the publication of Pitt Cue’s recipe book and its serialisation in, of all places, the once respectable Sunday Times. What was the minor and peculiar fetish of 20-something middle class food bloggers has gone mainstream in a big way, and so must surely now die down as is the way with all crazes.

In fact one wonders who this book is really aimed at. Most of Tim’s young fans – the ones who orbit the twin life-giving suns of the Guardian and the Observer – will be living not in large houses in the shires but in poky overpriced flats in Dalston, where digging holes and creating smokehouses would probably invalidate their leases. It would also probably be too much effort and difficult to find the time for. Only food writers have the freedom, and usually the financial support of their partners, to be able to muck about in the garden and kitchen all day and call it work.

The food bloggers will still buy the book anyway. It’s almost obligatory if they wish to stay in the gang – but what will they make of the writing style? At one moment Tim is flattering them by borrowing their own patois – “There’s nothing quite as satisfying as a filthy burger,” he gushes, although he hedges his bets by saying that cooking such food for “mates” is “amusingly ironic” – the next, he is channelling Anthony Bourdain and trying to sound all macho and up for a food fight.

But he can slip into Nigella mode too, overwriting with inappropriate adjectives and adverbs dredged up from the thesaurus, as well as trying on the sex stuff to rather revolting effect: “Trust me, even 25 minutes of rolling them back and forth, jostling their plumply greased little bodies against each other is not too long”, he leers salaciously. He is talking about cooking sausages, by the way.

What of the recipes though? Well, nothing you haven’t seen a hundred times before – this kind of cooking has a limited repertoire after all – but this time it’s enlivened by Tim’s anecdotes. For example, he tells us how he once met with a party of like-minded men to go to the woods and one of the things they did there was to eat meat. This made Tim very happy indeed. “It’s sublime. As the juices run down into your stubble they mingle with discreet tears of sheer joy.” One rarely sees that kind of meat action in one’s own life.

Apart from the sudden jump to the active present to puzzle over here, there’s that stubble. Tim Hayward seems to assume here that his readers are all hunky men. Either that or he knows something we don’t; female food bloggers may be for the most part as emotionally unstable, hysterical and lovelorn as their male counterparts, but actually only a couple have moustaches and even fewer have beards.

Tim is obviously very fond of his own facial topiary; perhaps he is one of those men who only shave at midday so as to always be sporting alluring stubble when out of an evening. He tells us that he had a griddle tattooed on his arm in his youth, which seems a very foolish thing to do, but nonetheless an achievement he is inordinately proud of. Perhaps it was a ritual required to enter into a special kind of club, or perhaps he was simply drunk one night and taken advantage of. One suspects that kind of thing may have happened to him a lot over the years.

The illustrations in the book follow the current vogue of “mimsy old style”, and the photos use the shallow depth of field that has been “de rigueur”, as Nigella would say, in food photography for some time now. As a field guide to constructing things to cook with, the book is undoubtedly thorough, but for the drying, preserving and smoking stuff you’d be better off looking at Diana Henry’s Salt Sugar Smoke, which has far better ideas and recipes and is much better written too, mostly because she doesn’t feel the need to try so hard.

The best bit of Tim Hayward’s book is really its title. Food D.I.Y. – it sounds a bit like “Foodie”, don’t you see? It’s a shame it’s the only joke in this rather po-faced book, but I suppose when you take food as seriously as Tim does, humour is about as welcome as a vegetarian coming to meat parties in what’s left of your garden. C


Nick Harman is a London-based copywriter, restaurant rater, food and travel writer. He is the founder of Foodepedia. Follow him at @foodepedia