Watch cook, won’t cook

So Simon Cowell is intending to fling yet another cookery competition into the arena of public consciousness – this time inviting people to compete for the chance to produce something fit for sale in Marks and Spencer.

Ex-Countdown maths genius Carol Vordermann is involved somehow. This is the woman who looks as though she exists on Ryvita dust but if asked, might claim she’s a complete glutton existing solely on lard and Krispy Kreme doughnuts.

The thing is, you can’t switch TV on these days without a gooey close-up of some creamy sauce being stirred before the camera pans out to reveal a sweaty, stressed, acne-ridden palid chap who obviously never EVER leaves the steamy grease-laden air of the kitchen.

The viewer, in contrast, is very likely to be someone who is glued to the sofa, drink in hand, Doritos and Agent-Orange-coloured dip within arm’s length who either doesn’t have a kitchen or whose kitchen consists of a microwave occasionally used for heating things up.

I met a woman recently who has had a fantastic new kitchen fitted but doesn’t know how to use the oven.

“But how do you manage to cook?”

“Oh no, I never cook. That would spoil it! I just like a nice kitchen.”

My point here is that people who watch cooking programmes avidly – and you could spend you life doing so right now – tend not to cook at all. They are too busy salivating over Nigella’s sensually licked digit or the way Michel Roux loves to fiddle about endlessly with an exquisite dessert that, in the end, looks too perfect to spoil with your teeth.

It was kind of depressing that the first event to sell out at Cheltenham Festival of Literature this autumn – and it sold out purely to Friends of the Festivals – was The Great British Bakeoff, the programme that gives you diabetes just from watching. It also gives you the strong and unmistakeable message that none of the cakes you’ve ever made in your entire life were any good at all.

This is not literature, dahling, this is popular culture. The nearest the GreatBritish Bakeoff comes to literature is the credits at the back of the recipe book.

I have a love-love thing with food. I mostly love eating it but I also find it incredibly relaxing to do proper cooking. My cooking is just ordinary. I don’t aspire to be perfect, like in TV Land, or cordon bleu.  My style is much more of a Jamie-handful-of-fresh-herbs than Delia-quarter-teaspoon-of-minced-star-anise but I do cook with interest and thought and a certain amount of enjoyment.

I admire people I know who cook properly and make their own discoveries. I’m looking forward to visiting son #1 who, over three weekends sounds like he’s perfected the totally scrumptious cha siu bao you find in most dim sum spreads; the fluffy white steamed cloud of dumpling concealing the rich wonderful taste of twice-cooked pork.

Yesterday I made a pie out of my head. Well, my head wasn’t the main ingredient but the guesswork and vague memories all came from my head. It was challenging, slightly exciting and ultimately rewarding.  I haven’t cooked pastry for….oh since last Christmas (mincepies) and few things smell as good as pastry cooking in the oven.

So if I was Grand High Empress of British TV, I would insert a few little surprises in the schedules for cooking programmes.

Just as you’d got your lager to hand, your packets of e-number-laden, salt-heavy nibbles and you were tuning in to yet another Celebrity Masterchef and wondering if you’d recognise any of the D list celebrities at all, you’d find a simple recipe on screen with the message:

“If you’re so interested in food,  go get these ingredients and go cook.”




About janh1

Part-time hedonist.
This entry was posted in Art, Current Affairs, Food and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Watch cook, won’t cook

  1. IsobelandCat says:

    Reminds me of a neighbour whose cooker was never used. After several years she could have sold it ‘as new’. She seems since to have made some progress with the culinary arts. I rarely watch tv, and more rarely cooking progs, though I loved Ken Hom, and Rick Wotsit used to amuse me. Delia made her name as a down to earth cook, but I suppose that’s what celebrity does for you. My mother, a very good cook and a wonderful baker of unfussy cakes nd glorious biscuits, liked Zena Skinner, who was as unglamorous as could be. She also experimented with vegetarian cookery to my benefit. I rarely have the right ingredients and can’t cope the faffing about with pinches of this, that and the other, so my cooking generally has a certain amount of innovation. But people come back to eat with me, so it can’t be that bad!

    • janh1 says:

      Sounds great, Isobel. I think my mum’s favourite cookbook was by Zena Skinner. I much prefer to browse a good cookbook – or read one in the case of Elizabeth David – than watch some competitive cooking programme. They’ve all been done to death!

      I like Rick Stein a lot. I was slightly afraid of fish before he said that all you need is a really, really sharp knife and the River Cafe duo are good at fish too. I also liked Keith Floyd hugely. There was a man with appetites and flair for cooking who really enjoyed life!

      • IsobelandCat says:

        Ah, now I know what you should have for Christmas; a course at the Billingsgate Seafood Training School, and if you go and Charlie Caisey teaches you knife skills, or Paula does some cooking with you, tell them you know me! Charlie used to bring me fresh prawns especially for Cat.

      • janh1 says:

        Seriously? There is a Seafood Training School?! Wow. We have a very good fishmonger not too far away so I’d have a lot to practice on…
        The guy at the counter there is an absolute whizz on filetting so I usually get him to do the prepping.
        He’s the chap to whom I was enthusing about Mallaig langoustines and he told me virtually all of them go directly to France from Aberdeen fish market. Tragedy!! (Probably had Scottish langoustines in France, come to think of it…)

      • IsobelandCat says: and the Fishmongers Harvest Festival will be coming up soon…

  2. Victoria Pendleton was sold out at the book festival too. The festival has lost its literary way in my opinion. Now it is a just part of the marketing machine for TV spin offs. Best wishes

  3. janh1 says:

    Hi there 🙂 Yes I preferred it when Cheltenham Festival of Literature was more purist. It’s all about growing the success for the following year, I think, and you do that by bringing in people more associated with TV popularity than literature! Having said all that, I never object to hearing from Michael Palin…. 😀

  4. I love food but I’m not an inspired cook (but I generally don’t poison people) and nor do I watch any cookery programmes.

    I think I would like my own personal chef if I won the lottery 😀

  5. tootlepedal says:

    Watching cooking programmes is mind numbing and that may be why they are so popular. People who are watching telly have nothing better to do or they would be doing it so maybe they want their minds numbed after a hard day considering the world of real life. I am retired and don’t do anything real so I would like the telly to be more interesting.

    As a side note, we can’t buy any of the fancy ingredients round here which tends to take the magic away from cookery programmes. I do have a book which gives 50 interesting mince recipes. My kind of literature.

  6. I get impatient with these programmes. I generally start with Mrs Beeton and throw in a pinch of BBC Good Food for my stuff. Real life cooking is therapeutic in the extreme. Lovely photos, Jan!

    • janh1 says:

      I suppose, as i might have said, I applaud wanting to cook to a decent standard but I’d rather not put people off cooking but leave it simple enough for them to enjoy! Theraputic, as you say. I knew someone who used to say cooking for the your family and friends involves stirring the love into the mix. I can’t help agreeing! 🙂

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