If you were Vladimir Putin, you could be forgiven for feeling a little paranoid right now, as the Western world takes turns to blame, excoriate, vilify and condemn you over the Malaysian airline disaster. You might well wonder whether a bullet, a Jiffy bag full of ricin or a lunchtime polonium sandwich were most likely to be the means of your imminent dispatch from this life. So it’s no surprise to learn that the Russian president employs a professional food taster on his full-time staff.
The news emerged from this week’s meeting in London of the Club des Chefs des Chefs, the members of which prepare meals for heads of state and world leaders. Among other leaks from their get-together, we learnt that the Queen won’t go near shellfish, Barack Obama can’t abide beetroot and Prince Philip prefers beer to wine with his lunch. The distinguished list of leaders’ chefs had a notable omission, though – Mr Putin, whose meals are all prepared and tasted, not by a chef but by a member of his security staff to ensure it’s not poisoned.
Like the canary in the coalmine, whose function is to warn against the presence of gas by expiring in front of the miners, the official food-taster has a thankless role. If he samples the food prepared for his master, gets sick and dies, he may get a murmured “Good job…” from the boss, but little more.