Wednesday 17 October 2012

I cook, therefore I am

Apparently we're all in love with baking now thanks to the Great British Bake Off. To be honest I think we all watch cooking shows, but very few of us actually do any cooking. I have been inspired by Gordon Ramsey's Ultimate Cookery Course, not to make any of his recipes, but to properly cook from scratch again which I had moved away from doing once my boy was born. The rise of the 'dine in' offer has also scuppered any creativity in preparing meals other than to choose which side dish goes with which main course. So why are we all so fascinated by watching other people cook ?

nigella, nigel slater, gordon ramsey, lorraine pascale, come dine with me, great british bake off, delia smith, heston blumenthal
Food as love
The massive worldwide success of the Come Dine With Me formula suggests that the appeal is not restricted to watching someone prepare food that we can't make. It's about nosing round someone else's kitchen - just ask Hubbie how often I've said "ooh I love that kitchen, I'd like that cooker and island if we had the space."There's also something about seeing how other people cook at home. Let's face it we aren't buying the whole 'I'm at home and this is how I cook for my family' scenario that TV chefs fake for us. It's a well constructed artifice even if it is in their actual home.

Delia was the original and her no nonsense domestic science teacher approach told us how to do the basics which is why her 'how to cook' series is still the go to guide for a lot of amateur cooks. She appeared to be in her own kitchen at home and we all rushed out to get the exact same muffin tray or mixing bowl so that we could cook just like her. Who can forget the famous run on limes when she cooked with one and all the supermarkets were caught off guard.

The polar opposite of Delia was the manic outdoor cooking of Keith Floyd that showed us how to prepare food while drinking wine at the same time - a more realistic depiction of cooking for most of us. If Delia was domestic science then Heston is food technology. He does the actual science bit and the food is pretty secondary to it all. Then we have Jamie who's more home 'eck than anything else. I'm willing to believe that he's at home, but we all know how controversial the whole 'meal in 30 minutes' offering turned out to be. He's far too heavy handed with the olive oil for my liking and when will he give the oven settings in gas marks please ? Also, stop telling us how good it smells eh Jamie ? It's just not on.

I've always given a wide berth to Nigella (no pun intended), but having watched her newest show I can vouch for her being so gorgeous that the cooking is pretty irrelevant. I don't want to watch someone who is so self satisfied with her own cooking that I feel like a voyeur thanks. Nigel Slater is more my thing. His recipes are unfathomable, with a pinch of this and a handful of that, but his soft spoken delivery and clear enjoyment of food are bewitching. I am baffled at the concept of a 'leftover duck breast,' which he cooked this week, but that aside his kitchen garden approach is a winner for me.

This brings me onto the one sticking point I have with TV chefs - eating on camera. I noticed watching Gordon that he doesn't eat his own food. It's refreshing to not have a chef scoff what they've just cooked on screen. If I have to shout 'don't talk with your mouth full !' at Lorraine Pascale again I swear I will get very cross. I realise that part of the Nigella factor is watching her stuff her face, but I don't go to a restaurant to watch the chef eat his own cooking - why would I do that with TV ?

I cook to make people happy. Whether it's a cake for my boys or to thank the neighbours for babysitting. Indian food for Mother-in-law and Brother-in-law when they visit us. Or flapjacks for my friend SJ to stop her having low blood sugar in the afternoons on the way home from work (well that's more a public service really - you don't want to have a crazed hungry woman on your bus home do you ?)

I may not get a TV show out of it, but that's ok… for now.


  1. I cook and always have done, even when my toddler was a newborn (if pasta with crème fraiche and broccoli counts as cooking!) I think the rise of celebrity chefs has made us forget just how easy cooking can be, I loved Lorraine Pascale's last series but none of those recipes were 'fast' which was what they'd been billed as. I also think the rise of supposedly healthy convenience foods for babies and toddlers is affecting young parents cooking. The only reason I didn't feed my boy these was because he refused to have anything pureed but in my opinion only a mad person would choose to puree and store 15 different types of fruit/veg. Anyway I think what I'm trying to say is that it's a shame people don't cook anymore as it isn't difficult and tastes better.

  2. Hi Anna,

    I appreciate that not everyone is interested in cooking. However, it can be a simple matter of lack of experience or confidence. My Mother cooked from scratch and roasted and ground her own spices, minced her own meat for keema and made her own paneer and yoghurt. Had I not grown up with that influence I'd have known less about how to prepare food.

    When it comes to baby and toddler foods there is a lot of advice out there and it can be pretty intimidating. If a company promises to give you a nutritionally balanced and healthy organic meal and you can afford to buy ready made food it is tempting to do that instead of cooking.

    The best advice I was given was not to slave over meals for my son as if he rejected the food I'd be miffed. It's so hit and miss with weaning that I learned that lesson early on. Also I do use some prepared foods to supplement home cooking for us and for him sometimes. I am very fortunate he tries everything we eat, but some children are very picky eaters and that must be very challenging.

    It's still a great treat to have someone else cook for me though :o)

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