Yesterday, two unthinkable things happened. Firstly, I discovered that L and I both had a completely empty calendar. Ladies and gentlemen, in the month of August, this is something which does not happen. With a few mouse clicks I soon remedied that. Three Fringe shows and a bite of dinner (The Outsider on George IV Bridge, since you ask, fabulous as ever). Back home to a sad phone call from Marion Kendall. A few of you will know her. More of you will have known her husband Jim, better known in Tom Eats! circles as Long Tall JK. Marion is Jim’s third wife. Meg died of cancer, Helen of MND. Marion came into Jim’s life some three years ago. Time for some fun.
Jim dropped dead last Friday (9 August), making breakfast, I gather. Fitting perhaps – though horrible for those left behind of course – as he was one of the best cooks and most knowledgeable foodies I know/knew. This column is about Jim.
I have bored many of you with the tale of our first meeting, dinner at Jim & Meg’s in Dunfermline one Friday night in the 1980s. I hated going out on a Friday. I had met Meg but once. Tall, pale and interesting. Clearly a vegetarian. I had spied Jim from afar. Similar. And probably a teetotaller. So my precious Friday night is to be taken up at some dry, vegan affair. Couston Street front room was a bit Laura Ashley, in a posh sort of way. Lots of ethnic knick knacks, the sort that veggies collect on their travels. Nice company, good smells from the kitchen. Ten minutes on, nae drink. Suddenly Meg said, Jim, you haven’t given these people a glass. And, lo and behold, what appeared? Rhubarb wine? Dandelion and burdock? Nope, some excellent red Burgundy. OK, veggies, but not teetotal, praise the Lord.
The call to dinner confirmed my fears. An obviously home made loaf adorned the table. Really. Only veggies make their own bread. (Oh, I do? But this was in the 1980s). But they don’t make wondrously garlicky pork terrine. Or rich dark venison stew. 35 years on, I still remember that meal, and others around the same table. Great cheese, which was hard to find in Dunfermline in those days. An apple with it, asked Jim? Just the right sharpness of pippin to go with the cheddar. Details mattered to him.
We lost touch for a bit after Meg died, and were reacquainted at Helen’s funeral. The next meetings were, of course, around a table. This week’s intended Tom Cooks! column is about bouillabaisse. Our first dinner with the twice widowered Mr Kendall featured one of the finest shellfish bisques I have ever eaten. Thickened with rice, he told me.
He then became a regular feature in the Tom Eats! column. As ever, his standards were probably more stringent than mine. Before one of these trysts he asked if I would mind him bringing a friend. Thus it was that Ms Marion Sutherland entered our lives. While my naming of characters isn’t up there with Mr Dickens, I called it right when I dubbed her HEF, His Elegant Friend. I remember that meal too, Contini in George Street. It was Marion who, returning from the ladies, spied the cheese board and insisted we sampled it. All Italian, of the highest standard. Where there were Kendalls and food, quality was insisted upon.
So, I apologise to those of you seeking a recipe or two. But let me give you memories of terrines, venison stew, fish soup. Of lunches long and laughter filled. Of conversations featuring family, friends and fun. I’ll stop now. I have a tear in the eye as I type this. Love to Jane, Anne and Marion. Godspeed, Jim Kendall.
This article first appeared in a Tom Cooks! column. It’s obviously no such thing. So as well as his many other attributes, Jim Kendall helped to inspire On The Side.