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

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Suggs To Be You

There’s a lot made these days in the media about the of the importance of preserving the planet and one of the most effective ways to do this we are told, is to recycle. Never one to shy away from my responsibilities as an eco warrior, I have decide to recycle an old blog I wrote roughly three years and never got round to posting. It’s been slightly updated mind, so I’m not being completely idle. In fact like I say technically it’s recycling so I’m not being lazy at all, I’m being green and it’s not just my time I’m saving it’s our planet. No, no, please, it’s no trouble, your welcome.

You know how sometimes there are people you really admire, but gradually over the years as they make one misguided decision after another, you begin to think: hmm, I don’t really like where this is going? Well over the last couple of years I’ve had a similar sort of thing with Suggs, of Madness fame. Now I won’t keep you long but just quickly let me explain what I mean. Madness first hung up their ska hats in 1986 or thereabouts and although they’ve been re-forming on and off again, ever since 1992, it never seems to last very long. I suspect this is due to the fact that – bless ‘em – their knees probably aren’t what they used to be while their waste lines are considerably more than they used to be, making the whole trademark funny walk thing a little tougher to sustain for any length of time. That’s understandable, it’s what Suggs does on his on his down time that worries me. You never know when or even if Madness are coming back you see, so I always sorta naturally assumed he would have a good solid Plan B on the go, but…

I was a little surprised in 2004 when I saw him presenting a show called ‘Salvage Squad’ about fixing old machinery that should have been scrapped long ago. God it was chronic. I mean, no harm to the man, but I don’t care how cool you are, there is just no way anyone can talk about rust for sixty minutes straight and hold my attention, or anybody else’s for that matter…there’s just no way.

I feared the worst in 2006 when I saw that, not only had he given permission for the lyrics of ‘Our House’ to be changed and used in an advert for a magazine called Full House (Full House/it’s a magazine that’s new/Full House/ lot’s of things for you to do…) but he’d actually lent his vocals to the thing as well! Look, I’ll level with you; I bought that magazine. I figured if it’s got Suggs endorsing it, it must be like…I dunno…The Great Gatsby or The Collected Works Of Shakespear or something, so – despite the fact that it was clearly aimed predominantly at forty-plus year old housewives – I went up to the counter, braved the sneering and bought it. ‘Lot’s of things for you to do’ they said. Aye, that’ll be right…one thing for you to do more like, and even then you’d only do it if there was a sudden shortage of toilet paper. Crossword wasn’t bad mind.

And I was gutted, properly gutted, in 2007 when I saw him using Our House again (albeit lyrically unchanged) only this time actually appearing in an advert promoting a particular brand of fish fingers (I don't do commercial plugs in this blog). You might remember it: this family are all sitting round the dinner table and the man himself is reading out questions about Omega 3 from a card. I’m not so annoyed about the song use in this case, it’s more the fact that – you ask my sister, she’ll tell you – I’ve been writing to Suggs once a year, every year for roughly the last seventeen years, inviting him to my house for dinner. Does he come? Does he f#%k, he goes to a house full of weird fish fanciers who, once they’ve got him there, inexplicably fail to ask him anything about his ska-tastic past and instead want him to ask them questions in an utterly mental quiz about the nutritional value of sea life. Eh?? Surely that was that then, I thought. It’s over. Done. He’s lost it.

I was such fool. I had stupidly overlooked one critical fact: Suggs isn’t just anyone; Suggs is Suggs. Yeah, he might have done a few crap things in the past, just to pay the bills, who hasn’t? In the end though, when it boils down to it he’ll always be an integral part of one of the finest (ongoing) bands in history first, and a karaoke game show host on channel 5/occasional corporate whore a distant second, as Madness' brilliant 2009 album 'The Liberty Of Norton Folgate' only serves to prove. (Yeah I know what I said, but when Captain Birdseye releases 35 years worth of quality pop music, then I'll plug his fish fingers. naw!)