City's principal shareholder Delia Smith today revealed that she might, just, be able to see the first chink of light at the end of a long, dark tunnel as the nation's favourite cook stepped back into the limelight.
After a five-year break on the writing front, for the last three months she has hid herself away, poring over publishers' manuscripts with a TV crew in tow as she prepares to teach another generation how to cook.
This morning, however, and – in the company of the legendary chef Marco Pierre White – she was back at Carrow Road for the official opening of 'Yellows', the 96-seat New York-style diner that, in previous guises, has been both 'Scores' and 'Strikers'.
“It's been a very, very busy three months,” she admitted, about to find a big friend and support in the man who, for many, taught Gordon 'F-word' Ramsay everything he knows. White was the original wild child of the English cooking establishment. Sat wholly at ease next to the woman who has been The Establishment cooking-wise for the last 30 years, they made an intriguing mix – proof, perhaps, how opposites can attract.
Back, briefly, to the football.
“There's been a television series and a book – and losing a football manager and having to get a new one,” said Delia, with the first two due out this spring. The latter walked through the door with his wife and family half an hour later having – potentially – started the long process of hauling the Canaries back from the brink of relegation.
“So it has been a very busy time,” added Delia. “But can I see a light at the end of the tunnel? Yes.”
For some, Yellows and Delia's Restaurant and bars will always be viewed as a distraction; the first course, main and dessert arrives at three o'clock sharp on a Saturday afternoon – not from 10am through to 11pm, Monday to Saturday; 11am to 10pm on a Sunday.
It is one of those arguments that disappears when a club sits in the top six; is touted about the messageboards with a vengeance when a club is in the bottom three. Delia's Catering and Conferencing last year added ?4 million in turnover to the City books; put ?500,000 into the manager's coffers. On matchdays, the various bars and restaurants will employ up to 500 full and part-time staff – no mean contribution to the local Norfolk economy. As, indeed, is the commitment to sourcing their ingredients locally.
But if anyone wished to argue the point, they can always try White on for size. This is the man who, having become the youngest-ever chef to win three Michelin stars at the age of 33, did this to F-word Ramsay at his iconic first restaurant, Harvey's in Wandsworth. Or, at least, he did according to a profile piece in the Daily Telegraph that appeared in the summer of 2006 as the 46-year-old White, too, started to slowly return to the limelight.
“I can't remember what it was about, but I yelled at him and he lost it,” White told the man from the Telegraph, in between the endless full-strength Marlboro's – a habit that found him chewing the cud outside with Delia's husband, Michael Wynn Jones, on a regular basis today.
“The next thing I knew he was sobbing in the corner, holding his head in his hands, with tears rolling down his cheeks. He was saying things like, 'I don't care what you do to me. Hit me. I don't care.'” So best of luck to anyone who fancies taking White to task for his support of both Delia and her growing culinary empire.
“I'm very honest – and I've always been a big fan,” said White today. “Because I like to watch people who do things well and have that ability to interact with others and share that knowledge.
“And Delia has done more for eating in this country than anybody else – and that's more than chefs like myself. In my opinion.”
He had, he admitted with a wry smile, “watched several programmes”.
“My wife doesn't know. I secretly lock the door and have half an hour with Delia…”
It was not so much seeking inspiration, as seeing someone teaching a nation to cook. An art that has long been lost in the era of frozen TV dinners.
“There might be five or six people at the top of our industry that have contributed to eating in this country – not for five years, ten years but 20 years. And, in my opinion, no-one has ever given back more than Delia to the great British public,” said her closet fan.
Interviewed this summer ahead of his first real appearance on the TV small screen to show his one-time star pupil Ramsay how 'Hell's Kitchen' really should be done, Delia's star guest this lunchtime revealed his new outlook on life – one that chimes so easily with the world of Ms Smith who is, after all, about to teach the nation 'How To Cheat At Cooking' this spring. To give the amateurs more of a chance the next time a reality TV show comes a-calling.
“If we're not careful everybody's going to be afraid to cook,” she said, her sights set at “short-circuiting some of the rules”. White has long since broken most of them.
But there wasn't a pretence between them; hence White's delight at the way that the Canaries' principal shareholder continues to bring food to the masses – be it either via the pages of her latest cook book or her latest football club restaurant.
“I want to take good eating to a nation, at a price point, with glamorous surroundings,” White said this summer.
“I'm not in the business of food and wine anymore, that's a thing of the past. I'm in the business of selling fun, selling a night out…. It's about casual dining. I'm an old-fashioned restaurateur, I love embracing people. I love the table by the door so you get them on the way in and the way out….”
It was a theme he returned to this lunchtime as he recalled his own childhood on the terraces of Elland Road. He is a working class lad from Leeds – Marco and Pierre owe much to an Italian aunt, nothing more.
“The most important aspect of any restaurant is the environment you sit in,” he said. “It's got to feel right. Because we've all dined in restaurants that serve very good food – but you walk in, sit down and don't feel comfortable. So it doesn't matter how good the food is, you're not going back.
“It's the welcome you're given when you arrive. Because once you sit down and you get comfortable, then you can start to be yourself; by being yourself you can start to enjoy yourself. And now let's bring some food and wine – at the right price point. Which allows people to keep coming back. So I think Delia's been very clever. I think she's created a great feel in a great space and the food? We know without saying, it's going to be good.”
And all without an ego in sight. The punters were the stars of the show. “I think the problem with a lot of restaurants today is that they're ruled by the chefs – it's about them and their egos. And what they want to give people.
“And I admit, I've been down that road; been guilty of that myself. But 30 years down the line you start to look at things differently. The picture changes – and what's important today is the punter. The environment they sit in. Watch and observe them – and they will tell you what they want. And then give it to them at a price point – and with a smile. It's that simple – it's not rocket science.”
Nor did he have any qualms about where the football stood in its midst. “I like my football; I grew up in Leeds, what do you expect? Watching that great Revie side. And they were tough. Hard boys,” said White, whose 'brand' is now firmly in the mix at the new-look Stamford Bridge.
“I remember being a little boy going to Elland Road – and that was intimidating. I was scared. And I was a Leeds boy – it was extraordinary. But what's interesting about football grounds is how they're developing.
“They're not like the football grounds that I walked into 30 years ago. It's not about a burger and a hot dog anymore. Peoples wants and their demands are so much more. The working man is much more aspirational than he was 30, 40 years ago. And I think that's right.
“Just because you're from a humble side of society why should you be denied? And I think what Delia is creating here is something that is multi-dimensional. And I think a lot of clubs in the country should look at what Delia has done to Norwich.”