Andrew Graham-Dixon presents a personal profile of the legendary food writer Alan Davidson, one of the unsung heroes of the culinary world.
Davidson's greatest work, The Oxford Companion to Food, took him 20 years to write. It's an encyclopaedia of everything a human being can eat, from aardvark to zucchini, all catalogued in 2,650 separate entries. But it is much more than just a food reference book; it is a portrait of the whole human race, its many cultures, customs and histories, all revealed through the stories of what we eat. If you want to understand why the Genoese enjoy dolphin, how to cook a warthog, why the French call dandelions 'piss-en-lit' or who invented Spam, then 'The Companion', as it is known by aficionados, is the place to look.
Alan Davidson died in 2003, just four years after his magnum opus was published. He had already achieved guru status among foodies and professional chefs but, in fact, he became a writer almost by accident. His first career had been as a British diplomat, serving in various overseas offices. A visit by his wife to a Tunisian fish market first piqued his interest in writing about seafood, and a later posting to Laos convinced him to resign from the Foreign Service and become a full-time writer.
Through interviews with Davidson's colleagues, admirers, family and friends, Graham-Dixon creates a portrait of a remarkable man who not only compiled a unique record of humanity's eating habits, but also helped turn the study of food into a serious academic discipline by instigating an annual symposium at Oxford University where visitors can learn about, amongst other things, the role of vegetables in the conquest of space and how to make a musical carrot.