Food for Thought: Paul Spence

Actor Paul Spence fooling around in the kitchen with his 10-year-old daughter, Llewella.

BILLY SUTER talks to actor and show devisor PAUL SPENCE about his food and drink likes and dislikes, and what he gets up to in the kitchen. Spence, who regularly directs and devises shows for Cat Simoni, is the star of Rowan Skits, a “risqué, irreverent and naughty” tribute to British comedian Rowan (Mr Bean) Atkinson. The show runs at the Rhumbelow Theatre at Tina’s Hotel, Kloof, from March 4 to 8 – then at Durban’s Umbilo Rhumbelow Theatre, in Cunningham Road, from March 13 to 15. For more details and bookings phone Roland Stansell at 082 499 8636. ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

On a scale of one to 10 how good a cook are you? And why do you rate yourself so?

6/10. I do the basics well, no fancy concoctions.

Your most embarrassing/awkward moment in a restaurant?

It was being too inebriated in a restaurant in Northampton, after doing a Restoration comedy in the Theatre Royal that night, to realise that it was a seafood restaurant and the starters on the tables were creamy crab whips. When you feel like you’re fast becoming the Michelin Man you realise you’ve eaten something that doesn’t really agree with you.

Favourite take-away meal order? And what are you unlikely to never order?

I love a good Chinese: fried rice, chicken noodle, sweet and sour pork. Just the ticket late night after a show… Oh, and fish, chips and mushy peas from The Rock and Sole Plaice in Covent Garden, wrapped in the Mail or the Express newspaper. (You can’t get good mush peas locally; so I guess I do miss them…) Shellfish is most unlikely. I guess it’s the iodine.

What is your first food memory?

Thick and nourishing Scotch oatmeal porridge in the morning. Full cream milk, sugar and honey on top. My folks are both first-generation South African/Scottish.

Your favourite meal – and also the meal you don’t enjoy much?

Irish stew, in a pub in Ireland. Sorry, no one does Irish stew better than the Irish. I don’t enjoy spare ribs. Way too messy… you can only eat them with a bib and then you begin to feel as if you’re merrily splattering at a medieval banquet after a bloody joust and you feel like taking a shower to clean up – something you can’t do in a restaurant.

Paul Spence with his 10-year-old daughter, Llewella.

Something you loved to eat or drink when younger, which you can’t find today?

Those black-ball things you could suck for a whole double period Maths and go through all the colours of the rainbow. You can’t call them by their old name anymore. You can only get away with it if you’re singing that Jeremy Taylor song, Ag, Pleez Daddy.

I thought Humphrey’s Sunrise Toffees were also a thing of the past until I discovered them again recently in a tannie’s tuck shop in the Karoo. They were like a mirage until I tasted them again and the flavour was just the same.

As a child did you ever develop a taste for unusual foods or unusual combinations of foods?

No, there was nothing unusual in the meals we had at home, growing up in Durban – Sherwood, Morningside, Overport, Glenwood. Just normal, nourishing family-growing-up food: meat, three veg, puds.

What is the dish you tend to cook most often?

Alfredo pasta, without the cream. Restaurants always overdo the cream and make it way too rich so the whole thing starts to curdle. Fresh Italian pasta al dente, drenched in virgin olive oil, butter and soft bacon chips topped with parsley. It is easy to make and it’s my 10-year-old daughter, Llewella’s, favourite ‘Daddy’ msupper! Oh, and bangers and mash never disappoints.

What do you like and/or dislike about attending dinner parties?

Love the laughs and conversation but the downside is the actual dinner usually arrives way too late. so you’re way too hungry by the time the food finally arrives. Then you tend to eat too much over the courses, which take forever.

My ideal dinner party starts with a simply delicious shared main meal soon after arrival, then lots of wine and a fantastic conversation (one topic, shared by all guests – no split topics which give you a headache because you’re trying to have one while two others are going on either side of you). Then, possibly, a dessert and liqueur at midnight.

What has been your biggest kitchen disaster?


What has been your biggest culinary success?

Fluffy omelettes with assorted fillings.

How serious a wine fundi are you, and what is your favourite tipple?

Not serious, just love a tasty quality Chenin or Sauvignon. Ken Forrester never lets you down. Red wine is great for late chats but always leaves a morning reminder that you’ve overdone it again.

What three people would you most like to invite to dinner?

Judi Dench, John Thaw and Barry Foster. John and Barry I’d have to invite back from that ‘undiscovered country’… just because I could ask them about all sorts of things I never had time to ask when I had the good fortune to work with them in the ’80s at the Royal Shakespeare Company (Judi and John). I worked with Barry on a new Strindberg play by Ronald Hayman. (Barry was the lead in Hitchcock’s Frenzy).

What kitchen utensils can you simply not live without?

Potato peeler, sieve, spatula and mixing bowl.

What’s the most kitsch thing in your kitchen – and why is it there?

An Australian egg-timer that changes colour in the pot as the minutes tick by. It’s actually a wizard invention from the Aussies. They’ve got lots of time to invent things like that.

What are some foods you simply refuse to try (and why)?

Guess it’s those sea creatures that live in shells. Something goes on in there that I am happy to let other people enjoy.

What is your favourite restaurant in Durban or KwaZulu-Natal and what do you usually order there?

Rawdons Hotel at Nottingham Road. Great fresh soups daily and the pub fare is simply delicious and always satisfying, with a pint of Pickled Pig.

Fave restaurant in South Africa and/or abroad?

Tiny restaurant down in Clovelly, North Devon, that I forget the name of, but not the occasion. Cars can’t get down there… you have to walk down the cobbled lane to the little harbour.

Fave cooking ingredient/s?

Virgin olive oil, real country butter and sea salt.

What marks the most memorable meal you’ve had?

One of them was in the Prater, Vienna, having wiener schnitzel and bier, the Austrian way. They just know how to do the schnitzel perfectly. Also, on tour with Watershed in Edinburgh, in a restaurant a stone’s throw from the Castle at the top of the Royal Mile. Perhaps it was the excitement of being in Edinburgh but I’ve never experienced a laughing party like that.

Another was sushi (tuna/rice) at 4am at the Tokyo all-night fish market, with other actors from the RSC Taming of the Shrew tour to the Globe Theatre. Another was while snowbound in Copenhagen with the actors of the London Toast theatre, eating fish that they bury for months in beach sand – with shots of Danish acquavit…

Who is your favourite celebrity cook? And who is your least favourite?

My favourite is Mary Berry. Such a classy lady with irresistible charm. You can’t take your eyes – or ears – off her. I don’t have a least favourite as they’ve all got something different to offer

Your fave tipple and meal on a hot, humid day? And on a freezing day?

English fruit punch with Pimm’s No 1 – and single-malt whiskey.

What is the sexiest of all foods?

Fruit salad and fresh Devonshire cream. Can’t say why in public.

What do you tip in restaurants?

The usual 10%. More if the waitron is really friendly and attentive.


Have you/would you send a dish back at a restaurant if you were not happy with it?

I would do it through the manager, not the waitron. And say something like “With all due respect to the chef, this is not quite the dish I expected, from my order”. Then I’d order another bottle of wine so the house feel better about it.

Favourite dessert/s?

Plum duff and spotted dick…schoolday desserts. And my mother’s baked custard, served cold. I think I’ve dreamt about that.

Store-bought sweet you most enjoy?

Quality, old-fashioned fudge. It could save your life if you’re stranded half-way up a mountain.

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