Toast of the town

Toast of the town

Michael Jackson explains why he's being toasted in Wellington
Michael Jackson

07 April 2003

Publication: Issue 30

The good news, from the viewpoint of my infantile, absurd ego (The Psychotherapist Who Claims To Love Me™) is that I am to be the subject of a statue. Or is it a relief? For the psychotherapist, perhaps.The artist identifies himself as a sculptor, especially known for portraits in toast. Yes, bread that has been flamed, seared, or whatever the culinary buzz-word is.That’s the bad news. I mean, it’s not going to last, is it? When I raised an eyebrow, my correspondent in New Zealand pointed out that the artist’s toast work had been displayed on the side of skyscrapers. More impressive yet, his previous subjects have included Dame Edna Everage and the Mona Lisa (“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” writes L. Da Vinci, of Rome).The toast to Michael Jackson has been commissioned by a shop called Regional Wines (it also sells malt-based drinks), in Wellington, New Zealand’s capital. The artist, Maurice Bennett, uses hundreds of loaves, and thousands of slices, per statue/relief, so they take some time, but you can see some of his earlier work on his website: my image doesn’t break his Dualit, I’d like to return the compliment and toast Mr Bennett. I still have in my cellar some Lammerlaw, from Dunedin: “Light, clean, peat, grass and apricot in the aroma; firm maltiness in the palate; warm finish,” according to a well-known whisky book. Here’s to you, Mr Bennett. Nice place, New Zealand. A beacon of culture and civilisation, I’ve always reckoned.About Australia, I am less sure. “Where’s your visa?” I was asked on one visit, then taken into one of those bare offices where they shine a light in your face and offer you a cigarette. I don’t smoke. As an alternative, a glass of Highland Park before the firing squad seemed a possibility. They issued a visa for my visit, fining the airline that had brought me visa-less from Japan (where none is required).I had been invited to Adelaide to do a competitive tasting, in which the point was to identify the whiskies blindfold. The organisers were hoping my presence would attract some media coverage. They pressed me to come, but warned me I had no chance of winning.We would be tasting well-known malts, each from a different region, and all readily available in Australia. The regulars knew which malts were available in their local market, and could deduce by elimination what they might encounter in the tasting. Some of them practised almost every day until they could identify at 100 yards any malt sold in the state of South Australia.I taste hundreds of whiskies every year, but the majority are new releases, vintages, limited editions, wood finishes etc. How often do I nose the principal version? Not daily, for sure. When I am tasting blindfold, I try to avoid the temptation of guessing distilleries. It confuses the issue, when I should be trying to recognise flavours, find ways to describe them to the consumer, somehow encapsulate their merits in a score. In judgings, I have seen distillery managers fail to identify their own products. If you can’t be sure of your own whisky, you can’t favour it.The organisers of the Australian competition had on previous occasions invited another well-known whisky writer from Britain. He had turned them down, on the grounds that the presence of his experienced nose would be unfair to the regular contestants. I admired his excuse, but in truth, any professional is on a hiding to nothing in such circumstances.For that reason, I, too, normally plead lack of visa, but I took the risk because I had other reasons to be in Oz, and the whisky event was paying my fare.The organisers were right about my not winning, but neither did I disgrace myself. I was told I was ‘a good sport’. I have never quite understood that expression. Is it a euphemism for ‘a good loser’? If so, we Pommies have enough experience at failing to win, especially in Australia. Good losers? We are superb losers. Those nice New Zealanders would give us a medal: made of toast.

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