Clearing the Table
I love AA Gill like I love my dad. This is not a question of magnitude but of kind: if you compare the molehill I have for Adrian with the mountain I have for my dad, you’ll see the soil in both looks kind of the same. Despite a couple of points of difference – one of dad’s greatest passions is wine; I suppose you could say the same about Adrian but you’d be mischaracterising it slightly – they are cut from the same Savile Row worsted. For one thing, they’re about the same age. Perhaps because of this, they have plenty of other things in common: both hunters, shooters, corduroy-wearers, wet-shavers, owners of politics that sometimes cause me to close my eyes and purse my lips as though in physical pain.
My dad loves a good restaurant as much as the next man, but it’s not misleading to say that food – in all its plurality and splendour; the history and the culture and the high- and low-end alike – is not something that gets him up in the morning (he has told us a few times, and we now tease him for it mercilessly, that his desert island dish is a simple sandwich jambon beurre; he would be far more interested in the Romanée-Conti he’d pair with it). And so – through his column, and the book-length collection of his best snippets, also called Table Talk (buy it now; it’s worth it) – Adrian has taught me almost everything I know about how to cook, and eat, and think about food as something more than the ingredients on your plate. Every week was a miniature tutorial on how to modulate a piece of writing: how to play your hand and dazzle with your depth of knowledge when you needed to; how to play dumb when it makes for a better story; how to be critical, but supportive, when something in a restaurant’s DNA is worth saving; how to fillet – surgically, bloodlessly – a place whose every facet is an insult to the concept of hospitality.
Perhaps it is well and good that he is now gone. This is a bad time to be alive, or feels like it, and the giving and taking of offence has never been so politicised. He was too clever to allow it to happen, probably, but I’d hate to see some of his more controversial stances – or, simply, his unwillingness to think too deeply about other people’s feelings – fetishised and warped; to see him become a daddyish father figure (Bae A Gill?) to smug bluff types who don’t agree with everything Milo Yiannopoulos says but would defend to the death his right to say it. Adrian was willing to say anything – it is why not everything you read about him this week will be laudatory – but there was always a caveat. It had to be worth saying in the first place.
I never met the man. He is my AA Gill in the way it is Susan Howe’s My Emily Dickinson: all I have is the writer, and the work, and what they say to me. My AA Gill wasn’t done yet: there were still so many restaurants left to review (my kingdom for his take on StreetXO). My AA Gill sort of was done, too: there is no more fitting headstone than the incredibly rare ten stars' worth of praise he bestowed on the Magpie Café, in Whitby, a glorious final fuck you to a lifetime of eating overfussed, undernourished food in sterile servile dining rooms. My AA Gill was the funniest man in the world. My AA Gill was a slightly stern, slightly remote, slightly scary man that I loved despite – because of – everything he did or said that I would never say or do. My AA Gill was so, so clever – and at his cleverest when he was making you forget it. My AA Gill was so gifted he could make a cancer diagnosis sound like dinner and dinner sound like a cancer diagnosis. My AA Gill was a father figure – perhaps, in the bits of my psyche I don’t like to prod, I’ve aligned him so closely with my dad that I’m sort of writing this for both of them, which would certainly explain the lump in my throat – and I will always measure myself against him.
My AA Gill is dead, and my dad is alive; and I am so incredibly grateful, and so incredibly sad.