I am what you might refer to as a foodie. I love cooking, I love eating out and I watch cookery shows and own a pile of cookery books. I have eaten at a couple of Michelin starred joints and, while they weren’t the highlight of my entire life, I certainly enjoyed every mouthful. So I should love that this stuff is all over my telly box and newspapers 24/7 right? Wrong.
This week brought a couple of illustrations that we have finally gone too far. Firstly Will Self penned this attack on Jamie Oliver in the New Statesman. Most people who’ve read it have taken it as a nasty and thinly veiled personal attack on a loveable TV chef. That’s because it’s a thinly veiled and nasty personal attack. Yet I wouldn’t go as far as the loveable bit. There are plenty of things about Oliver that stick in my craw too.
Firstly there’s this trumpeting about sourcing local and organic ingredients. I know it’s supposed to be good (but Jay Rayner of all people has written about the fact that local ingredients may not always be the best or even the most environmentally friendly) but do we have to bang on about it endlessly? My grandmother sourced all her ingredients locally and ate organic produce from my grandfather’s allotment but I don’t remember her lecturing her friends regarding it over lattes. Like it or not there is a very large section of the population who simply can’t afford to shop at butchers shops and farmers markets in either time or money. We’re reaching the point where we’re sneering at them.
And if you’re going to give your children slightly strange names and then just call them ‘guys’ anyway that’s fine in your own time but I’d rather not watch it on my television.
But take the other much more personal stuff out of Self’s article and look for a minute at the small bits of it that are restaurant review and philosophical comment and you can see he has a bit of a point. For he’s reviewing a pop up burger joint. Rarely could anything sum up the food conceit of the 2010s like a pop up burger joint. It’s the antithesis of everything I want when I eat out. Something not very good for you in a temporary venue that you could make at home. Serving things on boards and little zinc buckets (never mind that Jason Atherton and Tom Kerridge have been doing this for years as a little bit of a food joke). When I go out to eat I want a good local restaurant where I can have a nice meal and good conversation over food served on a plate. If I come back again I want to be recognised. To gradually work myself up to the status of regular and the good table and off-menu special access that come with it. Meanwhile gangs of bearded hipsters are roaming Hoxton looking for the latest high end temporary fried chicken joint. If you want fried chicken and stuff in a bucket just go to KFC ffs.
Then there is the philosophy angle. We have become so obsessed with food we have forgotten that it does a basic job of refuelling us and keeping us alive and healthy. Or at least that section of us that can afford cookery books have. I doubt it’s something you forget when you have £10 to your name and are clutching the energy bill that’s just risen by 10% in one hand and a hungry toddler in the other. But while they struggle to get by the rest of us seem to be intent on a competition to see who can make the most awful cookery programme.
There’s Nigella. Yes, she’s easy on the eye for some of us but the programme is hysterical. Oh look, Alan Yentob’s popping round for a surprise lunch. I’d better just whip up this spare Kobe Beef using equipment that isn’t even available to people on £50k a year. And just two letters off and just as bad here’s Nigel and his “leftovers” which always seem to include entire packs of mushrooms and prawns. Let’s see how you do with one banana, some dusty Digestives and the can of salmon your Nan gave you because it would come in handy.
Then there’s the aforementioned Kerridge. He makes the sort of food that turns me in to a slavering, dribbling wreck. I’d probably sell a gadget or two to eat at the Hand and Flowers just once. But as much as I love the man I can’t justify watching him do a six hour cook that will turn out as “proper lush” and that I can “chillaxo relaxo” during as highbrow television. I actually cringed typing that.
But I think we finally hit the nadir on this week’s Saturday Kitchen when Paul Assignac cooked tulips. Yes tulips. FFS again. This CANNOT be teaching us how to cook. “What would you like for pudding kids? Chocolate? Cake? Ice Cream? TULIPS?” And for that reason it’s not something I’d ever order in a restaurant. It’s a total waste of ten minutes and a recipe page. It’s the cookery equivalent of the unnecessary guitar solo or those paragraphs where Louis De Bernieres slips in to words you’ve never heard of. It’s wanking.
And yet I watch. I watch them all in case I can pick up a hint, a tip or a recipe that will make my kids lives better when all they really want is fish fingers or sausages chips and beans. Jamie Oliver’s not blameless in that either. He all but started the craze.