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.”