An Audience With . . .Nick Nairn
The ready, steady cook
Ahead of his talk at the Citizens Theatre we spoke to Nick Nairn about food, fear and following in his dad’s footsteps.
Up until now, the most terrifying moment in Nick Nairn’s career was during the height of the recent foot and mouth crisis, when he interviewed the First Minister live on the BBC programme Landward. However, Nairn likes to push himself, and so to kick off An Audience With . . . the new season of talks at the Citizens Theatre, he’s going to get up on the main stage and talk about his life to the whole auditorium.
‘Yes, the whole auditorium, thanks for reminding me! I’m aware that I’m not the classic after dinner speaker type, but what I have got is an interesting story. I think that’s what people like to know, really. How does someone like me, who left school at 17, end up on the BBC?’
Nairn’s life as a foodie started out, unusually, when he joined the Merchant Navy as a teenager. ‘I became interested in food — not cooking, food — through travel. I come from a very conservative family — my father regards onions, garlic, herbs and spices as the work of the devil. So when I joined the Merchant Navy, I tasted my first curry in India; my first pizza in India.
‘I became obsessed with cooking, when I came back from the Navy. I’d encountered all these incredible foods on my travels, and was always trying to throw dinner parties and entertain people. To be frank, I started my first restaurant because I didn’t feel that my dinner party guests were appreciative enough — I’d slave all day to make something they’d wolf down in ten seconds and then say ‘right, let’s go to the pub’. So I thought I’d find myself a more deserving audience!’
The story of how Nairn opened his first restaurant in Aberdeen, became the youngest British chef ever to win a Michelin star, and ended up cooking a dinner for the Queen’s 80th birthday — via, of course, Ready Steady Cook, three of his own television series and a phenomenally successful Cook School in the Trossachs — will be the main meat of his hour’s talk. Members of the public will also have a chance to pose any particularly tricky cooking questions, although he’s got a funny feeling he knows what you’re going to ask.
‘People always want to know the same things, you know — what’s Ainsley [Harriot] like, do you and Gordon [Ramsay] still get on — and I am going to talk a little bit about the other chefs. I want to be honest and give everyone good value for their money. One of my other main reasons for doing this, though, is that my parents actually met at the Citz. My mum had just graduated from art school and was working as a set designer there; my dad [legendary Scottish actor Jimmy Nairn] actually trod the boards, on that very stage I’m going to be standing up and talking on. My dad’s my hero, and he’s also had an incredibly interesting, varied career; I just thought it was a nice thing to do, to follow in his footsteps.
An Audience With . . .Nick Nairn, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow. Thu 6 Sep.