I have a confession. Every time a TV cook appears on film or in print my blood pressure rises like the Emperor Fountain at Chatsworth. It is quite simply baffling to me why anyone can find cooking on telly even remotely stimulating. For all we know the dishes being prepared by Nigella, Jamie, Nadiya and the sainted Mary Berry might smell like the bottom of a labrador’s basket and taste heinous. I always get the feeling whatever’s being prepared in the wok underneath Nigella’s copious embonpoint might be truly awful despite the lady licking her fingers like a 70s soft porn model.
Perhaps there’s an element of disinterest because, if I had my druthers, I would have a table for lunch at Wilton’s every day and a seat at J. Sheekey’s Oyster bar every night for a late night supper. One does occasionally have to mash a potato or two but quite frankly I’ve lost interest in the food I’m buying before I’ve even got to the check-out. If it were possible to get all one’s daily requirements from litres of sparkling water and lashings of Prosecco I would be a very happy man.
My mother is a superlative self-taught cook who is more ingenious than all of the TV cooks put together. If she put it all in a cookbook she’d make a mint. Speaking of cookbooks, how many more books on baking a cottage loaf can Paul Hollywood get away with? The options for baking bread are surely not infinitesimal. And you can bet your bottom dollar Mary Berry and Pru Leith dread Christmas because they have to come up with new ways to disguise the fact that roasting a turkey is not as complex as quantum physics.
I never follow recipes on the rare occasions I cook because I could probably dine out at Roka every night for the price of the ingredients on a list as long as the Dead Sea Scrolls. It’s such a lot of fuss over nothing when the Japanese discovered centuries ago that the most healthy diet centres on raw fish, clear soup and avocado. Don’t even get me started on diets. They were the bane of my Grandmother Sherwood’s life who lived for food and got such pleasure out of every bite.
In later life, my Grandmother would ring and ask what I was cooking. I can still hear her indignation when I confessed I was having bangers and mash without gravy. One evening we went through the entire genus of seafood singing the praises of crustacea. ‘ Do you love crab?’ ‘Ooooh. Love crab’. “Lobster?’ ‘Mmmmm’ and so on.
My very favourite meal happens to be a full Devon cock crab served by J Sheekey’s un-cracked on a platter of crushed ice as large as John the Baptist’s head. It is served with lemon and mayonnaise and gallons of fizz. But back to those pesky TV cooks. Nobody would dare criticise our new Queen Mother Mary Berry. But even she must be tiring of finding new ways to stuff a capon.
Jamie Oliver is Marmite. Mind you I take my hat off to the man for managing to write more books than Barbara Cartland all based on a bowl of pasta. This morning he gave the newspapers an ‘it’s hard to be me’ lament saying that once a year he gets really rather down don’t you know. Well, let me tell you depression is a lot easier to negotiate when cushioned by millions of pounds. And any man who calls a child Daisy Boo or Buddy Bear is asking for trouble in later life.
I can’t watch Nigella Lawson without thinking ‘aren’t these new sexbots getting lifelike?’ She undulates round the kitchen like Mae West without the laughs or the sense of irony. People say there is a connection between food and sex but if there is it has evaded me. Making love to a bowl of molten dark chocolate doesn’t really bring the sisterhood along much either. I am a Delia man who appreciates a no-nonsense attitude to food rather than turning it into Carry-On Spatula.
The Great British Bake-Off has made many stars but none who have grasped fame so eagerly as Nadiya. It must have delighted the BBC to have a multicultural winner on so British a format. Nadiya has taken to the public eye like Narcissus staring at his own reflection in a pool of water. I did get rather embroiled in Bake Off because it is TV’s equivalent of Valium. It always perplexed me that even in the final the bakers made a right old hash of their bakes. It’s like switching on the Olympics and getting It’s A Knockout.
I deserted Bake-Off after the move to Channel 4 who always have a talent for screwing-up BBC formats once they’ve paid over the odds for them. I find Pru Leigh as cold as a baked Alaska and found Noel Fielding and Sandy Toksvig rather a gruesome twosome. Sandy seems awfully pleased with herself and I found Noel as creepy as a graveyard on Halloween night.
Like every other homosexual in London, I did have the River Cafe Cookbook as, evidently, did Nigella who has been fingered for lifting Rose and Ruth recipes for her latest TV show. Mind you, there probably isn’t much new in the zoo that you couldn’t find its origins in Escoffier or Mrs Beeton. I’d be very curious to know how many recipients of TV chef cookbooks actually attempt a single recipe at all. I suspect few. A very few.