Meeting Prue Leith
I love collecting celebrity cook books (not necessarily to cook from, but as delicious reading material). The obvious link between food, memories, heritage and story is fascinating to me. Food connects people. And having followed many of these chefs/authors on their television shows, over time their stories and journeys have become - in a small way - part of mine.
If you look at my bookshelf, I clearly have favourites. Although I don’t have one of Prue’s recipe books on my shelf (that is likely to change), her television persona - on The Great British Menu and The Great British Bake off - have certainly endeared her to me.
So, when an opportunity arose to be present at her book launch - ‘Bliss on Toast’ - in Johannesburg, I reserved a spot. She comes with an honorary British title - ‘Dame’ Prue Leith - which she clearly takes with a pinch of salt. But it is the combination of her bright and colourful dress sense (thanks to her husband, John Playfair), her funky specs and noisy jewellery that set the scene for her delightful and energetic presence.
Of course, her South African roots make us possessive of her as if she belongs to us and we like to bask in her successes as a proud ‘mother hen.’
To me, this grand dame, at almost 83, embodies the slogan: LIVE | LAUGH | LOVE.
(If you had to ask her, she would add LUCK to the equation).
What is so inspiring and motivating about Prue (we are on a first-name basis now 😉) is her obvious relish for living life. Her autobiography was originally titled ‘RELISH’ to reflect this love for life, but once America fell in love with her, the publishers decided the title needed an update as ‘relish’ in the US is only associated with a jammy sauce on burgers. The new title, ‘I’ll Try Anything Once’ is an apt summation of her approach to life.
Speaking of America, she was quick to share an anecdote that “Americans had never heard of her until she started eating cake.” Their obsession with the Great British Bake Off had them creating a spinoff and asking her to judge the Great American Baking Show alongside her much-loved sidekick, Paul Hollywood. (Of course he came up in the interview!).
As an octogenarian, Prue has lived a long colourful life, achieved a lot and been involved in much.
Her honesty, pragmatism and wisdom of years in navigating the ‘admin’ and landscape of her life are indicative of hard work, dogged determination, taking risks, making mistakes, acknowledging failures and celebrating successes. Getting older hasn’t seen her doing less, but rather reinventing herself and trying new things.
I only spent one and a half hours in her company, and a large portion of that was spent smiling and laughing.
Prue has mastered the art of laughing at herself, seeing the humour in circumstances and making others not take life so seriously. This is a rare trait, and from being interviewed to answering audience questions to signing books, there is a genuine and natural lightheartedness that is infectious. Clearly talking about food and where it can take you is a secret to a positive outlook on life.
As chef, caterer, Michelin-star restaurateur, patron of the Prue Leith Culinary Institute in Pretoria, novelist, television judge and personality, Prue loves to cook, loves to write, loves to eat cake, loves her husband, children and grandchildren, loves England, loves America and loves South Africa. (Even though she left South Africa at the age of 19, there is a part of her that “still feels South African”).
But most of all, she loves sharing her life (and laughter) with others.
Despite only exchanging a few words with her personally at the book signing, I feel I know Prue Leith. Her transparency and the magnanimous way in which she engages with her audience and readers is refreshing and I left feeling uplifted.
I also realised that no matter what your age, you can wear bright colours, funky specs, bold jewellery, always try something new and always be proud of your South African roots.