Controversial food critic Jay Rayner has a warning for New Zealand

Jay Rayner's not afraid of an opinion, critique or lively debate.
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Jay Rayner's not afraid of an opinion, critique or lively debate.

"If I turn up in Auckland and find they're serving dinner on volcanic rocks, that may actually drive me nuts," says UK restaurant critic, author and MasterChef judge Jay Rayner, who's coming to town for the Auckland Writers Festival.

"I'm quite vocal about people who are putting food on anything that isn't a plate. I think plates are brilliant."

I tell him I can't promise the rock thing won't happen and sense realisation dawning over the phone as he responds with, "It's actually entirely possible, isn't it? Or roof slates, where did that come from? I hate slates, I really do. I hate the noise the knife makes sliding across them."

The Observer restaurant critic says the little he does know about New Zealand's culinary culture comes from "the good offices of Peter Gordon".

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"Peter's impact on London was very significant," he says. "He really was the first person to give any sense to what Pacific Rim actually meant."

Rayner's visit to the antipodes will be fleeting: 10 days, with six events in Australia and New Zealand. He's touring his one-man show The Ten (Food) Commandments, based on his 2016 book of the same name: a series of thought-provoking and very, very funny rules to eat by, from celebrating the stinky to worshipping leftovers.

Rayner says he began doing one-man shows off the back of his books as a way to avoid sitting on discussion panels at literary festivals, which he hates "with a passion". First was 2013's A Greedy Man in A Hungry World, which he toured around the UK for a year or so, soon realising both that he enjoyed it and that it was "a bit of a money spinner".

For that reason he developed My Dining Hell, based on 20 of his lousiest restaurant experiences. A lunch event he's hosting at Masu as part of the festival will be based on this.

Rayner's latest book was the first written with a show in mind from the get-go. He says "Thou shalt not mistake food for pharmaceuticals", which skewers the superfood movement, is the commandment that tends to resonate most with audiences, along with "Thou shalt choose thy dining companions bloody carefully".

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The latter takes aim at slow eaters, picky eaters, those who take an age to decide what to order and people who like their steak well-done, among others, and praises the simple joys of dining alone.

 - Cuisine

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