Sometimes when working on location you just have to go with the flow. You are no longer in control as you are back at base, so occasionally it’s a case of take a deep breath… Back inside the pages of Medina Kitchen, there is one photo of a sumptuous looking pistachio cake with a huge slice out of it and a trail of crumbs. When I see it I smile – but that’s now, about a year on. The cake actually looks fine in this half-demolished state and in fact bathes in a luminous golden glow on its brass platter.
In reality, Simon Wheeler (the photographer) and I had chased that cake all the way from Carthage right across Tunis, speeding along in a little red Peugeot taxi with bated breath – almost shouting “stop cake-thief!” but not quite. It all boiled down to our charming gourmet host who for the sake of this blog I shall call Marcel. The cake had been baked in the beautiful Carthage villa of Mina, one of the eight ‘stars’ of the book. After our morning shoot of other dishes followed by a long lazy lunch in her garden, the photographer and I set off to snap some of Carthage’s ancient wonders nearby (these, apart from the ruins of Queen Dido’s palace and various Roman relics, include a bizarre Carthaginian children’s cemetery. No one quite knows the circumstances of these children’s deaths, but the deserted, overgrown place with its enigmatic carved headstones has a distinctly spooky atmosphere).
Anyway, back to that pistachio cake. So when we returned to Mina’s villa late in the afternoon we expected to find the last dish ready and waiting to be to shot in all its glory. Instead, there was the charismatic Mina, beaming at us and saying “Ah but Marcel has taken it home for a dinner-party! We thought you’d finished with it.”
Given that the light was already fading, this was disturbing news. Hence the taxi and the rabid pursuit of Marcel, a man who has a close relationship with his stomach. The problem was that he lives in the medina, plum in the middle of the labyrinth where no cars enter. So, once dropped by the taxi on the edge of the old town, another chase ensued with us dashing down the rue de la Kasbah, dodging bemused shopkeepers packing up their wares and pulling down their shop-shutters. The odd scavenging cat just escaped ensquashment (new word) during the pursuit.
Finally we reached the huge studded wooden door of Marcel’s riad tucked away down a blind alley. Boom boom went the knocker, summoning the guardian instantly. “Vite! Ou est le gateau?” I cried as we tore into the patio while Ahmed’s mouth dropped open in amazement. The last rays of sun were dipping, the swallows were circling above and the muezzin was clearing his throat about to launch into his call to prayer at the nearby mosque.
And that was when we saw the pistachio cake sitting on a marble table – with one huge slice missing. Marcel of course was nowhere to be seen. Go with the flow I say.