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The Four Rules of TV Cooking.

I used to watch a lot of cookery shows.

Sophie Dahl’s (now defunct) show was a dismal attempt to use the toothsome Ms Dahl to rip off the schtick of Nigella. Now Dahl might be eye candy but she can’t make candy. Or Dal or pretty much anything. So first rule is to get someone who can cook. Nigella can actually cook but you’d be amazed how often this basic rule is ignored. The most appalling example was Tom Parker-Bowles. I remember him making an utter horlicks of roasting a chicken or something and boiling peas. Apparently he is food critic for Tattler or some such… Sometimes you have to pity the upper-classes. Anthony Worrell-Thompson falls into much the same category – now he probably can cook in a sort of chicken in a basket sort of manner but he’s usually too pissed. I also have severe doubts about Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

The second rule is to have some charisma. Delia Smith can cook but she don’t have it. She’s so ponderous and school ma’am-ish. Rick Stein is borderline but seems a nice guy and had a cute dog and that counts. H also didn’t violate the third rule.

The third rule is the most often violated. Don’t be annoying. Now the thing is some are annoying from the start. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall springs to mind and some become annoying. I assume it is because wht is annoying is their “trademark” which grates after a while. Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsey spring to mind. Oliver’s cheerful mockneyism is unwatchable (“Take some of the old coriander” -cant the poor barrow-boy afford fresh ingredients?) and as for Ramsey – it’s like watching Reservoir Dogs with food and keep your shirt on Gordon. It may once have been the torso of an Adonis but it’s no more. The Hairy Bikers just piss me off. I can’t tell you why exactly but… I think it’s this… Remember Two Fat Ladies? That worked so some BBC-type thought, “Let’s do the same with working class blokes from up North!” It’s the shallowness of the commissioning more than anything. At the other extreme is Heston “Beaker” Blumenthal who prepares things that require a moderately sized university chemistry facility – sorry Heston me old china I can’t do that because Tesco is fresh out of liquid nitrogen. Oh, and Ainsley Harriott – do I have to explain? The absolutely most annoying of them all though is Gary Rhodes. He looks like a stick-insect that has stolen fiddler Nigel Kennedy’s barnet. There is something really weird about him and that catchphrase, “Now, build the dish”… that’s like the phrase “theatre workshops”. I’m with Alexei Sayle on them, “Anyone who uses the word workshop who isn’t involved in light engineering is a twat”.

Which brings me to rule four. Just because you’re on telly and know bain-marie is doesn’t mean we want you launching “crusades”. Now there’s a lot of them at it these days but the king of the meddlesome ratbags is Jamie “Turkey Twizzlers” Oliver.

There are chefs on TV that don’t break the rules but off the top of my head I can’t quite name them off the top of my head right now.


  1. Timdog says:

    Nigel Slater? Seems to love food, is charming and inoffensive and I think you’d be hard pushed to find him annoying. His books are brilliant as well which helps.

    Nigella’s books are genius, but the problem on TV is she overdoes the sex kitten thing, AND she’s always bloody eating everything. The show where she ate a tupperware of noodles on a bus at 10am rather put me off.

    Michel Roux Junior is awesome. I know Masterchef isn’t a cookery show like the ones you refer to, but I think he’s one of the coolest guys on TV. The whole Roux family are pretty cool actually come to think of it.

    Beyond that I’m struggling a bit.

  2. NickM says:

    I’ll definitely give you Slter and Roux Jnr. You’re rigt about Niglla, she’s a right bowl-licker. It is a wonder anything makes it to the table.

    As to the other good guys. They just don’t really stick in the mind do they?

  3. Ashtrayhead says:

    Why is their stuff ‘pan fried’? What else are you going to fry something in? Why not just say ‘fried’? So many questions!!

  4. Sam Duncan says:

    The trouble with Masterchef and all its spinoffs, though, is that they take themselves too bloody seriously. Rule 5? Maybe it’s just a variaton of Rule 3. Anything that makes you long for Lloyd Grossman is doing it wrong. Grossman may have been a bit of a twat, but at least he understood that it was fun. “Tensions rise in the kitchen as Bob leaves his pommes frites in too long. This could be make or break…”. Give me a fucking break. He’s making chips, not a nuclear device.

  5. JuliaM says:

    The Yank cookery shows you get on the Food Channel on satellite have some horrors, too – ‘Barefoot Contessa’, anyone?

  6. RAB says:

    You’re right, Delia is like watching paint dry, but she can cook. We google up her recipes and every one has worked so far.

    You just couldn’t beat Floyd for flair, food, funny and really gripping presentation though could you? The two fat ladies came close though.

    Two friends of mine did a cookery series a while back, Neneh Cherry and Andrea Oliver. I loved it having eaten their food, I know they can cook, and they look good and have a rapport that only oldest best friends have, but gawd knows what the rest of you thought, because the shows were just one long party, with the ladies seemingly making it up as they went along, so the viewers never knew what the recipes actually were, which has got to be Golden Rule number one for a cookery programme surely?
    “Bung in some more garlic and wine Neneh!”
    “Yeah, can’t hurt can it?”

    It didn’t get a second series.

    But here’s a funny thing. Every other week we are chastised in the Media for being a nation of obese junk food munchers, never out of KFC and Burger King, yet the TV is awash with Food porn, cookery shows are about the most popular on telly. So which is it?

  7. Kevin B says:

    The Kevin B cookery show.

    “Pre-heat oven to gas mark 5. Remove outer covering and pierce film lid. Place container in the centre of the oven and heat for 25 minutes. Sing, dance, juggle and tell jokes to entertain audience while meal is cooking. Eat meal.”

  8. Angry Exile says:

    I don’t see the idea of Heston Blumenthal’s stuff as cookery TV any more than the idea of Top Gear is to teach people to drive. It’s about cooking but it’s just supposed to entertain and make us go wow. He’s apparently cooked a pig – a whole one – in a garden hot tub which had had the temperature control modified. That’s as realistic for most viewers as a Lamborghini review conducted on a runway.

  9. NickM says:

    Seconded on “Barefoot Contessa”.

    “Grossman may have been a bit of a twat”

    A bit of a twat! I liked new Masterchef until this series. It was serious because winning was a big thing. I was a whole different show.

    Yup, Delia is the Honda Accord of cooking. You’d be amazed how many never really test their recipes.

    Conceeded. Excellent comparison with Top Gear.

    Ever applied to be on “Come Dine With Me”?

  10. JuliaM says:

    “…but gawd knows what the rest of you thought, because the shows were just one long party, with the ladies seemingly making it up as they went along, so the viewers never knew what the recipes actually were, which has got to be Golden Rule number one for a cookery programme surely?”

    I remember that! I loved it. The recipes weren’t that hard to follow, despite the camerawork, and I think they were also available on the website of the channel that showed them, weren’t they?

  11. Talwin says:

    I know that she’s now cooking for the Heavenly Host, but Fanny Craddock demonstrated in spades that the third rule, being annoying, made viewing her progs. and absolute must.

  12. Scott says:

    (Sad ) semi-reflected glory moment; my brother is a mentally good chef – now lives in New Zealand! Once declared Pru Leith was a dried up old lesbian after she was critical of his dishes he was doing at Olympia one year, and was offered a one year placement/internship with Michel Roux Jr when he was younger, but declined it!! Still on first name terms with both Roux brothers and Michel even now 12 years later. Yet after all that, has never once cooked for me, even when he was kipping on my floor between jobs, I was expected to do that, cheeky blighter, has regularly (and successfully) competed internationally with the British Craft Guild of Chefs teams, but finally left the country when it was apparent he was never gonna get the TV chef jobs that were going round (oh the damage to his ego!0!!)

  13. Pavlov's Cat says:

    There will only be one TV chef for me and that is Graham Kerr ‘The Galloping Gourmet’ . Now that man had style, charm and could cook.

  14. Macheath says:

    As an antidote to Jamie Oliver’s ‘cheerful mockneyism’ may I suggest the RADA-trained, perfectly modulated tones of Madhur Jaffrey?

  15. nisakiman says:

    I’d tend to agree with RAB that the TV chef sans pareil was Floyd.

    Not only could he cook, he was of the “I love to cook with wine. Sometimes I even put it in the food.” school. Most entertaining and thoroughly un-PC.

    Don’t make ‘em like that anymore…

  16. EndivioR says:

    My Mum used to watch Graham Kerr just so she could get annoyed at the way he talked with his mouth full at the end.

  17. Lynne says:

    I cook because I have to, not from any love of it. I don’t waste my time watching someone else do it. Enjoying decent nosh while eating out, on the other hand, is a splendid compromise. Shame I can’t afford to do it too often.

  18. Chuckles says:

    Delia, Floyd, Kerr, Robert Carrier, Raymond Blanc, Michelle Roux et seq, Two Fat Ladies – all good in their different ways.
    Much of the Dahl, Mockney, modern Masterchef and similar is just too contrived to be believable or enjoyable. Someone has decided on a ‘hook’ on which to hang the show, and they grimly plug it for all it’s worth.
    And Nick, you’ve forgotten such leading lights as ‘Kirsty Allsop does cooking’, and similar obtuse summits.

    Amongst the rest, I always enjoyed Kevin Woodford, both for his sense of humour, and because he really knew how to convey the vital info to his audience. Probably because he taught the subject for years. Big Kev, Little Kev was very watchable in it’s random surrealist way.

  19. Damon says:

    I know it isn’t really a “cooking” show, but Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” is my favourite. (He does cook occasionally).
    That man just loves his food (“The pig is a wondrous beast!”), and after every episode, I want to try out the food from the places he visits.

    What a great job:
    * Go to exotic places
    * Eat the best local food
    * Drink too much of the local booze
    * Make a TV show about it

    Where do I apply?

  20. James Strong says:

    Merrilees Parker.
    She can cook, she can explain it and she is gorgeous.

  21. Andrew Duffin says:

    Keith Floyd was the first – and best – TV cook, and the only one who didn’t break any of your rules.

    To this day, in our house, we talk about “little slurps” for the cook, and make silly dog-barking noises off when something turns out horrible.

    He was gent and a star.

    Rest in peace.

  22. RAB says:

    Nah, he wasn’t the first Andrew, but he was the best.

    The first I remember was Fanny Cradock, who, as Talwin says, was incredibly annoying dressed in a ballgown and poor haplass husband Johnnie, monocled and drunk as a skunk. I remember a superb pisstake by Benny Hill and Bod Todd, but typically can’t find it on YouTube now.

    Yeah Keith was the man alright. I knew him slightly back in the 70′s via his prat of a Producer, Dave Pritchard. Pritchard was also producer of RPM, a local BBC West Music magazine. He and I were often judges of Battle of the Bands type competitions for the Beeb and the local listings Magazine, Venue.

    Keith was my kind of man, a forthright, funny, in your face, hugely flawed (he was crap at women and money, especially money) genuine human being. We won’t see his like again.

  23. Philip Scott Thomas says:

    RAB: Wasn’t Pritchard also Rick Stein’s producer? An enormously fat bloke who was sometimes quite rude about Stein’s dog, from what I remember.

    My fave TV cooks were Mary Berry and Marguerite Patten.

    We don’t see much of Mary Berry anymore, probably because arthritis has made her hand more or less useless, but she did recipes for normal families. She always took in to consideration the amount of washing up and the ability to freeze left-overs.

    As for Marguerite Patten, well, she reminds me so much of my late grandmother: kindly, considerate, lovely in every way, and a very good cook. One cannot gainsay a woman of her age without being an utter cad – and probably roasting in Hell for all eternity, too. :-)

  24. Philip Scott Thomas says:

    As regards Jennifer Paterson, one half of the Two Fat Ladies, her obit in The Telegraph tells one all one needs to know about a most amazing person:

    “The Prince of Wales asked her advice on organic products for his farm at Highgrove after visiting her in the poky Spectator third-floor kitchen. From its window one day she threw in rage a pile of dirty coffee mugs left there by the accounts staff; they landed in the next door garden of the National Association of Funeral Directors. Her subsequent sacking by Charles Moore, the magazine’s editor, was rescinded within a fortnight.

  25. Macheath says:

    PST, I once met Jennifer Paterson in my local bakery in the days before ‘Two Fat Ladies’ hit the screens – she and I reached out at the same time for the last remaining poppy-seed loaf.

    We had a brief chat; she was utterly charming and, discovering I was ignorant of a particular bread-making technique, proceeded to give me detailed instructions, which I have followed ever since.

    Even in that casual meeting, it was obvious that she was completely absorbed by the subject and a born teacher – signing her up was one of the better decisions the BBC made.

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