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In praise of - napkin folding.

I LOVE the idea that the retro art of napkin-folding is back in vogue.

Hundreds of restaurant front-of-house wannabes will be competing in this section of the upcoming ScotHot culinary championships in Glasgow. Amid frantic preparations of cheffy creations in seafood, duck, marzipan and something called pastiillage, a feisty little band of napkin lovers will be folding, bending and forcing squares of beautiful starched linen into the kind of shapes one can only dream of. Or, for those who lived through the 1970s, the kind of shapes that were de rigueur in every restaurant in town. Think swans, roses, the Sydney Opera House ... that sort of thing.

In recent years the progress of the printed paper napkin, with all its heavily inked disposable prettiness, has relegated the linen napkin to the back of the dining room drawer. But now, with sustainability such a buzzword in the restaurant industry, it's happily no longer acceptable to be seen to be wantonly wasteful.

So the washable, reusable, napkin is once again having a moment. Visually it must complement the food on the plate, and do justice to chef's carefully-sourced crockery, cutlery and glassware. It must sing under the resturant's on-trend lighting and entice diners to anticipate the culinary joys ahead.

No pressure on the napkin folders, then. What shapes will they come up with? Which fabrics? Martha Stewart, the American queen of interior design, provides a clue. Her latest online guide shows readers how to make a lotus fold and a feather fold. Elsewhere there are instructions for opera fans, French pleats, crowns, birds of paradise and another called a Cardinal's Hat.

And the good old rose napkin fold, made so its petals embrace your home-baked bread roll, is favoured by the French chef August Escoffier.

Which is all very well, but someone's going to have to wash and iron them all. And it certainly won't be chef.

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Food and drink

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