“It’s cooking, cooking, cooking!” That’s how one irate viewer signed off her short letter to Points of View back in the mid-’90s, due to there being a little too much of the c-word for her liking on telly. That was then, so God knows what she makes of it all now, as cooking is more in vogue than ever before. But is there really too much? Are we drowning in a sea of stir-fries and sautees, or are the TV schedules merely a well-stocked cupboard?
It’s perhaps a little unfair to be writing this article at this time of the year. Christmas is just around the corner and it’s the season where many of us are in genuine need of some help from the pros, so naturally the various stations go into overdrive to offer us advice on how to entertain family and friends. Which brings us neatly on to an important point: with more people than ever choosing to try their hand in the kitchen, surely people like Jamie Oliver (pictured) are providing an important public service. A lot of it is down to our change in tastes, if you will, and our rampant consumerism demanding more of the same.
Naturally, with more folk daring to don the oven gloves, more of us are discovering that there is actually a sneaky little culinary wizard lurking within and, just like budding singers look to The X Factor for a shot at fame and fortune, wannabe chefs have also found their vehicles. The staggering success of both Masterchef and The Great British Bake Off should come as no surprise therefore, and with both spawning spin-offs and specials it’s just another example of supply meeting demand.
But what is it that really annoys the hell out of the detractors? It could just be the modern chef’s insistence on rebranding mushy peas as ‘pea puree’, or the way they talk about black pudding as if it’s some exotic delicacy because it’s recently managed to find its way on to the menus down Chelsea and Mayfair. It’s more likely to be down to the dear old BBC slowly becoming a version of the Food Network that occasionally focuses on the news and politics. Nowadays, it proudly professes ‘We Know Food’, but it may not be too excessive to suggest that in doing so it has reached saturation point. On top of the programmes we’ve already mentioned, there’s The Great British Menu, The Hairy Bikers and the wildly successful Saturday Kitchen (Live!) to name but a few. At least in the days of ‘cooking, cooking, cooking’ there was only Delia Smith, Ready Steady Cook and not a lot else.
On the other hand, the genre has been fused with others to create programmes that inform and entertain beyond the confines of the kitchen. For years now, the likes of Rick Stein have been travelling the globe to show us how they do it elsewhere, whereas ITV and Channel 4 have brought us shows like Come Dine With Me and Dinner Date in a mainly successful attempt to mix cooking with reality TV. As long as these happy marriages go together like a prawn in a coriander dip, there’s no limit as to what’s next.
Ultimately, cooking is something that we’ve all had a go at least once in our lives and, if we’re being honest, it’s also something that we’d like to get better at. Whether it be baking a cake, knocking up a chicken madras or firing up the barbie, there’s something extremely satisfying about getting it right – not least because it has a happy knack of impressing people – and if there are celeb chefs who are only too happy to point us in the right direction then surely that can only be a good thing.
But have you had your fill or are you hungry for more? Let us know with a comment below.