“Dump Caine’s spectacles and make the girl cook the meal,” ran one furious cable from Hollywood execs after seeing The Ipcress File’s daily rushes.
“You’re quite the gourmet, aren’t you Palmer?” Colonel Ross sneers as Harry Palmer (Michael Caine) drops flavorful French champignons into his supermarket cart instead of less-expensive button mushrooms.
There’s no pretense in Palmer’s choice. Simply good taste. The creator of The Ipcress File’s iconic character is Len Deighton, once a 17-year-old photographer for the Royal Air Force Special Investigations Branch who became a chef in some of the best kitchens of London and Paris. Deighton eventually combined his two interests - espionage and food - but it was a pairing that confounded Hollywood movie executives in the 1960s.
Spies & Sole
Deighton - who likes to remind journalists he was born in a London ‘workhouse’ in 1929 - started his culinary career as a post-war art school student mopping the floor at the Festival Hall restaurant during the 1951 Festival of Britain. When the fish chef's assistant became ill, Deighton stepped up and learned how to fillet sole and make pastry.
He couldn’t afford expensive cookbooks so Deighton used his art training to draw ‘cookstrip’ recipes and streamline the prepping process.
Deighton liked to throw large dinner parties at home as well, mainly for journalists and artist friends who’d jump at the opportunity to see Deighton’s WWII memorabilia, handle his old machine gun, and savor his Chicken à la Kyiv and Baked Alaska.
A Spy in the Pantry
Deighton's cookstrips were eventually published in London’s Observer newspaper, a stunning revelation to a generation of 1960s macho men looking for someone who could demystify Boeuf Bourguignon and Osso Bucco in ‘Boy’s Own’ language. Recipes were presented as black-and-white strips, adding dashes of brandy and Burgundy alongside instructions like BROWN or COVER in bold caps for beginners.
The cookstrips formed the basis of Ou est le Garlic?, one of Deighton’s five celebrated cookbooks. Deighton’s Action Cook Book, a ‘60s classic reissued in 2009, draws most of the culinary headlines, however, possibly because of its cheeky, ready-for-action cover model intent on making Italian pasta.
And why not? Deighton’s Cappellacci di zucca recipe dates back to 1584.
Len Deighton’s 14 Favorite Cookbooks
- The Oxford Companion to Food - Alan Davidson
- Memories of Gascony - Pierre Koffman
- Mastering the Art of French Cooking (2 vols) - Julia Child & Simone Black
- All About Meat - Leon and Stanley Label
- Cutting Up in the Kitchen - Merle Ellis
- Keys to Good Cooking - Harold McGee
- Larousse Gastronomique - Editions Larousse
- Great Chefs of France - Quentin Crewe and A. Blake
- The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen - Jacques Pepin
- Reader's Digest Complete Guide to Cookery - Anne Willan
- Cookwise - Shirley O. Corriher
- The DIY Cook - Tim Hayward
- Mosimann's World - Anton Mosimann
- The Complete Techniques - Jacques Pepin, a condensed version of Pepin's The Technique (2 vols) and The Method (2 vols)
List compiled by the Deighton Dossier Website