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The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - EATING OUT - Aoife McEl­wain

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

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