Not another cookery show!
Updated: Oct 16, 2019
For those of us of a certain age, TV cookery shows were few and far between back in the day. Now though it seems that every other programme has some kind of cookery element in it, there are even entire channels showing chefs, Z list celebrities and probably even one of the Muppets (see Z list celebrities) showing us how to create a culinary masterpiece.
In the good old days of just 3 channels, we had Fanny Craddock and the long -suffering Johnny, Graham Kerr as the Galloping Gourmet and before that, Philip Harben, brought cooking to the small TV audience back in the 1940’s and 50’s.
I remember watching these gems (not Philip Harben though, how old do you think I am?) on our old black and white TV back in the seventies. Graham Kerr would use copious amounts of butter and cream and would charge around the studio like a whirling dervish, obviously burning off all those calories, mind you, back in the days of no remote controls, we all burnt off those calories just changing channels on the telly.
I remember seeing him on a TV show in the States back in the 90’s, where he would reproduce all his old classics but as a healthier option and do a dish comparison at the end of the show, showing the difference in the calorie count and fat content. Whether the Americans bought into it or not, I do not know.
Then came the late great Keith Floyd. The man who helped inspire me to become a chef. Keith would travel around, all over the place, showing you where ingredients came from, then he would pop into a local restaurant or hotel kitchen and show you what to do with the ingredients he had just acquired. I think it was the seeing somebody in a working kitchen that got my culinary juices flowing. Keith also liked a drink and a smoke, a TV chef that budding chefs like myself and possibly seasoned chefs could relate to.
So, what of today? Most of the cookery shows just float off the tongue, MasterChef, Great British Menu, Saturday Kitchen, Jamie’s one ingredient because I know time is precious and EastEnders is on meals in a minute and Nigella licks her lips, winks seductively at the camera and cooks.
How many of you remember when MasterChef was a half hour programme late on a Sunday afternoon back in the 80’s? Presented by Lloyd Grossman, it featured 3 amateur cooks who cooked a three-course meal, which was in turn judged by a top chef. By top chef, I mean the likes of Michel and Albert Roux, Anton Mosimann and a young Raymond Blanc, to name but a few.
Nowadays it’s a one-hour show running over 10 or more episodes per series, broken down into 3 separate shows, MasterChef, MasterChef the professionals and of course, what series of shows would be complete without its Celebrity version.
Each show is presented by chef John Torode and glorified greengrocer and pudding lover Greg (the Hood from Thunderbirds) Wallace. The show has an ok format, they put contestants into high end restaurants for a lunch service, make them cook from secret boxes and cook their favorite food and then eliminate one each week. The only thing that really annoys me about MasterChef is, nearing the final, the contestants have to cook a banquet for a certain amount of people. Now, over the years I have lost count of the number of banquets I have cooked and served, and not one of them has ever sat on time.
Yet there we have Greg looking all flustered, pacing up and down, looking at his watch and shouting, “its 2 minutes to 7, they will be sat down in 2 minutes.” Let me tell you now, in the real world of banqueting you would be able to pop round the pub, have a swift pint, return to the kitchen and still have to wait another 10 minutes or so until the starters go and the party are sat. If all functions were as punctual as MasterChef, I might have been home an hour earlier every night.
One last thing about MasterChef, the contestants. D list celebrities are now part of television show make up, but what about Mr. Normal on the show. Greg and John chat with the contestants and every series you get the classic.
“Well, Richard, what do you do?”
“I’m a very well paid manager of an investment bank, I work 9-5 Monday to Friday, I have 2 small kids who I love to spend my free time with.”
“That sounds like a great life work balance, so why MasterChef?”
“Because I’m 42 and I’d like to open my own restaurant.”
Listen mate, you are going through a midlife crisis, if you don’t want to see your kids grow up, don't want to have sex with your wife because you’re knackered, lose most of your life savings and possibly your house, then go ahead and open a restaurant. Or just buy a Porsche like everybody else who can afford it, when they turn 40.
I don’t know if Saturday kitchen is the most popular cookery show on the box at the moment, but it used to be. James Martin was a permanent fixture between 9 and 12 on Saturday mornings. I only watched a couple as I was either working or watching Soccer AM on Sky.
Boy did this programme have some influence on the eating habits of those who watched it, and loved to cook and recreate the recipes. Not only from James but also his guest chefs.
When I was working at the Gentleman’s Club, I had been serving Tunworth cheese, which I studded with garlic and baked in the oven and served with sourdough bread. When I phoned my cheese guy to order some more, I was told that it was unavailable, apparently a similar dish to mine had been demonstrated on Saturday kitchen and the whole of middle-class Britain had gone Tunworth crazy and demand had outstripped supply. I had the same problem with pig’s cheeks for a while as well.
Although annoying at the time, the fact that this programme was introducing people to new tastes and ingredients was heart warmingly satisfying.
I don’t really go out of my way to watch cookery shows, if I'm channel hopping and I come across something that looks remotely interesting then I might give it 10 minutes of my time. I think though, that because the market has become saturated with ‘celebrity’ chef and cooking shows for people of all levels, chefs like myself tend to lose interest in the general cookery programme, but are more interested in shows about where food comes from and the history side of things.
Talking of ‘celebrity’ chef, why that title? What is a celebrity? The definition in the dictionary is a famous person, especially in entertainment or sport. Are chefs entertaining? Informative yes, creative yes and sometimes annoying, but entertaining? Singers, jugglers and magicians are entertaining, that’s why they are called entertainers.
There have been many celebrities over the years, many of whom I would now class as legends and sadly most of them deceased, but these days, you think celebrity and you get anybody who as ever appeared on telly, from washed up old soap stars to reality tv wannabes. If I was a chef showing people how to skin and cook a rabbit, I would most certainly not want to be tarred with the same brush as some perma tanned airhead from The only way is Chelsea.
It looks like the cookery show is here to stay though, with more on the way, new concepts, new cuisines new ‘celebrity’ chefs to contend with, they might have to create some new cookery channels.
One final thought though, if cookery programmes are so popular and their presenting chefs are household names, why do supermarkets sell so many ready meals?