Monday, 28 November 2011

Chef Off

You can’t go wrong with a bit of modesty I think. I mean, sure, there are arguably more glamorous ee’s to see, noun wise: bravery, generosity, sympathy and empathy are all gooduns for a kick off. Oh and telepathy, telepathy I’ll grant you would be especially bitchin to witness. In fact, to be honest, when you compare it to that lot, modesty is pretty much the Ringo of thee ee’s. But even if that’s the case I would say Ringo is still my favourite (metaphorically you understand, not literally, that would be insanity; literally it’s Paul. Obviously. ) I mention this soft spot for modesty only because I suspect it's that which lies at the root of my biggest problem with today’s seemingly endless crop of T.V chefs.

As far as I can see, it would appear to be perfectly acceptable in the world where cuisine and cameras meet, for a person to cook their dish from their recipe which they then procede to eat and afterwards they tell you how awesome they think whatever it is they have just made tastes. I mean, c’mon. That’s not okay, surely? Get over yourself! You made it! I always understood that if you’d made something you were proud of, it was the done thing to enjoy a quiet sense of self satisfaction, then give it to someone else and let them go all ‘I’ll have what she’s having’ over it. You didn’t hear me going on about how amazing the mug tree I made in 2nd year Craft & Design was, did you? No. You didn’t hear anyone going on about how amazing that mug tree was, but for some reason the chefs…hey…wait a minute…how come nobody said how amazing my mug tree was? know what, that doesn’t even matter right now, because this isn’t about me, this is about those egotistical T.V chef’s and their God complex.

Actually it’s not even fair to call it a God complex because even though I’m not terribly religious, I remember enough from a couple of sleepy mornings at the Sunday School of Hard Knocks (nah, doesn’t make it sound any cooler, does it?) to know that Genesis is essentially a biblical cookery show for the creation of the earth and in fact it sounds like old Godfrey was actually pretty chilled out about what he’d just made. Think about it; ‘And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good. And God said “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear. God called the dry ground “land,” And the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good. And God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.’

You see where I’m going with this? If creating the light of the earth was just ‘good’ how can a Beef Wellington be ‘exquisite”? If all the lands and seas were just “good” how can a Banoffee Pie be “transcendent”? If all the creatures on the sea and air were just “good” how can a Citrus Sorbet be “breath-taking”? Of course evolutionary science has now pretty much conclusively proved that the earth was here a long time before it’s claimed God cooked it up, but hey, what chef worth their salt hasn’t occasionally allowed themselves the odd cheeky wee ‘Here’s one we made earlier’ moment? Although just a little shy of 4.5 billion years earlier may be pushing it a bit; you certainly wouldn’t catch me serving people up something which had been left sitting out that long. Anthea Turner used to prepare hers earlier that afternoon.

I suppose early T.V chefs were a bit more in this vein. Take Delia Smith, she was just a nice woman, in a nice kitchen who used the Old Testament approach to presenting. Y’know, “On the first episode, Delia said “Let there be Smoked Salmon Tartlets” and she created Smoked Salmon Tartlets and Delia saw that they were nice. On the second episode Delia said “Let there be Apple Crumble” and she created Apple Crumble and Delia saw that it was nice.” Was it particularly exciting or particularly enjoyable to watch? Not really, but it was informative enough and…well…nice.

It was possibly the lack of enjoyment and excitement to be found in cookery programmes that led to the appearance of Jamie Oliver on our screens in the year 27AD (After Delia.) Oliver attempted to inject some excitement of culinary shows ostensibly by doing everything Smith had done, only faster and with worse grammar. There’s no denying he was enthusiastic though. Really enthusiastic. Too enthusiastic. So enthusiastic that watching him you felt, no matter what he was making, that the one ingredient it could probably use was a couple of handfuls of Ritalin.

In calling his programme ‘The Naked Chef’ Oliver was also carrying on an inexplicable trend which continues to this day and that I am no closer to understanding. I can only assume that T.V producers must think there’s something to this reverse psychology lark because they have persisted in giving their food shows the most consistently unappetizing and unhygienic names you could possibly conceive of. First there was ‘The Two Fat Ladies’, which was basically Delia except fatter and two of em, then there was the aforementioned ‘Naked Chef’, which is both boggin and dangerous and now of course we have ‘The Hairy Bikers’ which is….ick. I dunno about you but I would say they’re getting worse. I keep turning on the tele, expecting to hear, ‘Now on BBC 2, we’re back in the kitchen with ‘The Sweaty Lepers’” or “Now on Channel 5 it’s time to cook along live with The ‘Wheezy Flashers’” or “Coming up next on Channel 4 a double bill of ‘The Kitchen Corpse”

Speaking of different channels, Channel 4, not to be out done in the cookery charisma department, soon decided to recruit their very own enthusiastic chef. Enter Gordon Ramsay. Enter Gordon Ramsay and exit everyone else in the immediate vicinity. I mean for the life of me I just can’t see the appeal of this man as a TV chef. I'm not an expert but he appears to me to be a borderline sociopath. Honestly, it’s like The Incredible Hulk went to Catering College. Why people go on shows like ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ and ‘Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares’ to be verbally abused at and humiliated by a man who, let's face it, looks like he was created when someone at Madam Tusaud’s accidentally left the Brad Pitt wax work a bit too close to the heater for a couple of months, is frankly beyond me.

Seriously, if you want to see what Tony Soprano would’ve been like as a Home Economics teacher, you should tune into Ramsay. Don’t get me wrong I like the swears as much as the next man, I’m Scottish, it’s kinda my job, but so much of those programmes is bleeped out it’s sometimes difficult to tell whether he’s making a speech or the smoke detector’s going off. I’ve never read one of his recipe books but if he writes like he talks there ought to be more f#%ks in there than in the Kama Sutra. See, clearly what Channel 4 considers enthusiasm, I would consider mental imbalance, but hey, I say ‘potato’ he says ‘Shut the f#%k up you little s#*t and get that f#%king potato ready the f#%king Gratin before I kick your f#%king a#$e”

From this point onward it was apparently pretty much required that all T.V chefs have a gimmick to make them watchable. For example, Hugh Fernley Whittingstall may have seemed like a return to the straightforward days of a nice, slightly dull, upper middle class person showing you recipes, until that is you actually saw the kind of things he was cooking: Octopus, bats, insects, even placenta once I’m sure. For a while there he was getting so weird and experimental (with the emphasis on the second half of this word) that you suspect the contents of his fridge would have had Hannibal Lector reaching for the nearest take away menu. Once my dad and I were watching one of his programmes in which he and another man were out hunting with shotguns. My dad, knowing about these things, pointed out he had his gun locked, loaded and ‘inadvertently’ pointed at his partners back. I couldn’t help feeling that if he did ‘accidentally’ shoot his partner, he would know exactly how best to prepare and serve his remains. I read a quote from him just recently saying something along the lines of ‘If we can eat cows and chickens, why not puppies?’ which should really tell you all you need to know.

If anyone truly represents the tipping point of no return, where gimmicks finally took over from cookery and presenting skills though, it would have to be Heston Blumenthal. I would say I don’t understand why he’s on the television but sadly I think I do. Does he have accessible recipes? No. Does he have appetizing recipes? No. Does he have any personality to speak of? No...but what he does have is a laboratory, fifty pounds of plastic explosive, a vat of liquid nitrogen and a rotisserie chicken. Sold! Basically if I had to sum Heston Blumenthal up in a a few words they would be, “Hugh Fernley Whittingstall in Space” But then that’s a bit unfair on Hugh because at least with his dishes there was a slight chance you could make them. If you wanted to try ‘Sautéed Yak Face’, for example, it was at least conceivable you could go out, find a Yak, kill it and hack off its face. Blumenthal’s recipes are so self-indulgently experimental and involve so many weird chemicals or expensive pieces of equipment that unless you’re making Buzz Aldrin’s packed lunch, they’re going to be no good to anyone.

I hope for the sake of whoever he lives with that he turns that mad scientist shit (see, told you I like the swears) off when he goes home. Imagine it, it would be insufferable; “Aw Heston your home, good. Listen man, I’ve had a nightmare day at work; you couldn’t make us a cheese sandwich, could you? “Yeah I could…but would not rather have something I’ve created with my new-“ “Naw, Heston just the cheese sandwich will be fine, thanks.” “Aw okay…Are you sure though? I got it from NASA. It cost fifty thousand-“ “No thanks man, really I’m sure, just a cheese sandwich would be great.” “Alright then. Oh, y’know what I could do is infuse the cheese with an element called-“ “Heston. No.” “Fair enough. How about I embalm the bread and then-“ “No.” “Or I could electro charge the“ “No!” “Right, but if I atomise the-“ “NO!” “I could always launch the-“ “Aw you know what, forget it! Just FORGET IT! I’ll make it myself!”

Nightmare. With the state of T.V chef’s today, it’s no wonder poor Delia was finally driven to drink and football hooliganism