FOOD ON THE TELLY
“Donkey”, “f*ckface” and “idiot sandwich” are all things that Gordon Ramsay has called people, actual real people, in his TV career.
We all know that the Scot plays up to the image of the screaming chef for TV ratings, dramatising his despair and disgust at the restaurants he finds himself in (“Please don’t let me be food-poisoned for the fourth time in four months,” he prays before one Kitchen Nightmare meal).
Ramsay is also no stranger to heightened drama in real life. He once kicked AA Gill and fellow diner Joan Collins out of his restaurant, saying he didn’t want to cook for the critic because: “I don’t respect him as a food critic and I don’t have to stand there and cook for him.” AA Gill responded publicly by saying of Ramsay that he is “a wonderful chef, just a really second-rate human being”. Ouch.
But why did Ramsay’s style of macho, rage-infused cookery TV become so popular in the noughties?
In the US, the ridiculous fanfare of Iron Chef (basically a Gladiators- style show for famous chefs like Jamie Oliver and Mario Batali) proved hugely popular, even though viewers weren’t learning very much about food. Perhaps it’s obvious why programmes like these are so popular – they’re incredibly silly and often times hilarious. Even their music tracks are endlessly amusing.
Take the score of Australia’s Kitchen Rules, which moves from minor chords to major lifts in tune with the judges’ feedback.
Masterchef is the originator of the dramatic cookery programme soundtrack. How many times have Monica Galetti’s raised eyebrows been underpinned by a score that could easily introduce a Darth Vadar appearance in Star Wars?
This insult-fuelled, cultivated drama paved the way for the success of The Great British Bake Off. It is all so refreshingly nice. There are no tantrums or ego-driven chefs screaming at terrified underlings, sweating into their sous-vide. It’s just a bunch of genuinely lovely people making, and talking about, cakes with the perfect hosts in Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc.
Does anyone else remember their late-1990s TV show Light Lunch where they were cooked lunch by a series of celebrities? It was my first favourite cookery programme. To a teen, Sue and Mel were a lot cooler than Delia or Darina.
With the popularity of Chef’s Table on Netflix, surely the demand for a more thoughtful style of cookery show will be recognised by programmers in positions of power.
The Mind of a Chef, a TV programme exploring the science and history of food, is an encouraging example of this. It first aired on PBS in the US in 2012, with guest host David Chang of Momofuku and Lucky Peach magazine. It has since been hosted by cooks of equally impressive calibre, including April Bloomfield and Magnus Nilsson, with Gabrielle Hamilton and David Kinch signed up for the fourth and up-coming series.
The Mind of a Chef is narrated by executive producer Anthony Bourdain who, since his very first series A Cook’s Tour in 2000, has made discerning TV, which make his occasional tendency towards macho arrogance forgivable.
Episodes of the show are available to buy for $2.99 a piece on mindofachef.com.
Here at home, one of the standout food programmes on Irish television this year was Bia Dúchais, a six-part series made by Marmalade Films which aired on TG4 in April.
It featured grassroots food crusaders such as Ed Hick and Seamus Sheridan, talking about our food heritage and the importance of protecting it. Watch the trailer on vimeo and keep an eye on marmaladefilms.ie to see what they do next.
Another outstanding Irish offering to Irish food television was Rory O’Connell’s How To Cook Well. It was stripped back and beautifully shot, with an emphasis on the ingredients and O’Connell’s knowledge of food, rather than relying on gimmicky catchphrases (sorry, Jamie). O’Connell will be back on our TVs with his sister, Darina Allen, for a two-episode Christmas special on RTÉ One on 22nd and 23rd of December.
Returning for a second year in a row with their Simply Delicious Christmas, the siblings will share their tips from Darina’s book of the same name for stress-free Christmas cooking. Or, at the very least, stress-reduced Christmas cooking.
Food for thought
A still from The Bradford Watermelon Story, from PBS’s Mind of a Chef