You can tell a lot about a person from their food secrets

My new Guardian podcast, Comfort Eating, in which I talk to famous folk about their food secrets, is my dream opportunity for an honest chat. Interviewing celebrities is always a bit of a tussle: they arrive semi-spikily, bearing lists of things they don’t want to talk about, or they don’t want to be there at all, or they’ve been a prisoner all day in a hotel suite, repeating dull anecdotes about their latest project.

Many times, the most exhilarating part of any TV interview comes right before the cameras roll. That’s when the audio person asks, “OK, quickly, just tell me what you had for breakfast?” It’s not a real question even; it’s just the time-worn way audio people nudge celebs to make a noise so they can tinker with the sound levels. But it’s the bit I love the most – and the bit when famous people are most off-guard. “Two Creme Eggs … I can never stop at one. They remind me of being a little boy,” one gym-honed British thesp replied. Or, from the mouth of a sylph-like sex symbol: “Ritz biscuits with Primula cheese and Branston pickle. I carry them in my suitcase to keep me sane.”

Hang on … what?! Let’s talk about this! Per me, these are the real questions. Go-to breakfasts, secret snack concoctions, favourite biscuits and the details of their regular Domino’s pizza order: that’s when you see the real human being. Name-checking a favourite restaurant tells me very little about a person, but you can tell a lot from what they eat behind closed doors. What we eat, in pyjamas, to make us feel comforted, happier, self-soothed or loved is very, very personal. It’s also often a little embarrassing.

I cannot, per esempio, eat beans on toast without a large puddle of bright yellow Heinz salad cream – the full-fat one, not the healthier “light” one; I need my pourable sunshine on full beam. Whenever I’ve started a new relationship, I’ve kept my salad cream habit quiet. Especially with beans. intendo, some people find it abhorrent. But it takes me back to the 1970s, when I was not much more than a toddler, stood on a chair in a kitchen in Carlisle, spreading Heinz sandwich spread – which is essentially just salad cream with bits of chopped carrot and cucumber in it – on toast and feeling ever so grownup. It’s a taste that’s comforted me an entire lifetime. The same goes for Ambrosia rice pudding, eaten from the tin with a big spoon of strawberry jam stirred in. At the end of a long, terrible day, this, on the sofa, is the equivalent of a long bath and a cuddle. As for breakfast, each time I mush up boiled egg in a mug with, yes, more salad cream, to sustain me through deadlines, I’m whisked back to cold mornings before infant school with Terry Wogan on Radio 2 and donating teddies to the Blue Peter bring-and-buy sale.

In my weekly podcast, I want to explore exactly this kind of thing: what we eat, how we eat it, and why. I’ve talked to Rafe Spall about his ideal Indian takeaway order, and how it takes him straight back to Friday nights in the 80s with his dad, Timothy. E Russell T Davies made me the snack that helped him through writing It’s A Sin – I don’t want to spoil it, but Cordon Bleu cookery it certainly isn’t.

Over the past few months, I’ve spoken to people about their Nando’s order, and Nice ’N’ Spicy Nik Naks, and the whys and wherefores of the Pizza Hut ice-cream factory. Or at least that’s what the chat started off about: we were soon talking about school dinners, first loves, bad dates, terrible auditions, messy break-ups, sibling rivalry and hideous house-shares. Food, you see, is the backing track to all of these life things. By prising the details of secret snacks out of celebs, I’ve gone into the most surprising, emotional places.

For the Comfort Eating photoshoot, I wanted to pay tribute to my ultimate soothing snack by filling the bath with deep-fried chipped maris pipers. sì, as a restaurant critic, I spend an excessive amount of time in posh restaurants, eating fancy, ornate tasting menus. But a real treat for me is crisp, vinegary chips with plenty of salt and, in full acknowledgment of the northern English stereotype, lots of gravy. I’ve tried to leave this penchant behind as I’ve grown older and apparently wiser, but I just can’t quit it. quando a cook recently made me Canadian poutine on MasterChef, it was a truly emotional moment. In one bite, ero 15 and foolish again, eating chips out of a polystyrene tray outside a youth club while Blue Monday by New Order belted out through the open doors.

Snacks such as these link us to the past and make the present and future feel not quite so frightening. The Comfort Eating podcast is about this. It’s a side of celebrities you don’t normally see, a way to their heart via their stomach. io, for one, will take a story about Findus crispy pancakes or mint Viennetta over their motivation for being a thespian any day.

Comfort Eating with Grace Dent, supported by Ocado, launches on Tuesday 15 giugno. Subscribe now wherever you get your podcasts.

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