Posts Tagged ‘Cooking’

Big Chef Takes On Little Chef

January 20, 2009

The Great British Food Fight, alternatively referred to as ‘more cookery rubbish’ by the public at large, kicked off last night with Heston Blumenthal’s much-touted attempt at reinvigorating Little Chef’s branding, by way of the focal point of their operation – their rancid menu.

Like Blumenthal, I’ve not been inside a Little Chef in twenty-odd years. When Channel 4 eventually ventured in, it was both heart-warming and disturbing to see that absolutely nothing had changed in there. Not only in terms of the style of the interior, but also the actual interiors themselves. No broken chairs or peeling wallpaper appears to have been fixed. Now, this may not be true of every branch. Channel 4, devious bastards that they are, are probably using one bad example to tarnish the whole change. All the same, wilting pink walling isn’t what you want to see as you eat a leathery mixed grill.

Speaking of the food, it’s hard to defend what Little Chef were putting out. Hardened, overcooked, frozen meat. The fish pie looked like mixed bodily-fluid with the skin of an old woman floating on the surface. The Hawaiian Burger looked like roadkill. Heston and pals even gagged as they sipped the coffee. It could have been pantomime snobbishness, but it looked the real deal. Even as someone who despises the meaningless, middle-class bullshit of the word ‘foodie’, the food here simply looked unappetising

The strange thing with Heston Blumenthal is that, despite his running one of the most celebrated ponce-kitchens in the world, he comes across like a very decent bloke (and the kind of boss we all wish we had). He reminds me most of certain posh kids at secondary school who were almost embarrassed of their accents and sought to rid themselves of their upper-middle class roots by selling hash by the teenth in the playground. He comes across, essentially, as a stoner schoolchild with a frying pan.

Heston B’s approach to food is, fundamentally, at odds with what Little Chef seek to do. They’re operating in completely opposing markets – as Channel 4 knew full well when setting this absurd venture up. And fireworks have already started to fly, with the show’s one special ingredient turning out not to be the not-very-nutty professor Heston, but rather the Head Honcho at Little Chef, Ian Pegler. Pegler gifts Channel 4 the tools with which to make entertaining television, and from the moment he refused to give the company’s GP (or any figures at all, as it turned out) to Blumenthal, we knew we were on to a winner.

Ian is the anti-Alan Sugar, by way of Alan Partridge. From his bewilderingly misplaced use of the term ‘bluesky thinking’ to his assertion that Heston B could do absolutely anything he wanted with the company (so long as he didn’t change the menu), the befuddled swine was a trove of amusing vignettes, no moreso than the point towards the end at which, when pressed, he hung up on Heston Blumen-heck in a mild panic – a comedy moment which had to be seen
to be believed.

So far it’s a curious little programme this. You can’t help but feel HB is the only one of Channel 4’s four chefs who could actually do something with the idea. Hugh FW would start blubbing straight off the bat, Ramsay would fail, then blame everyone around him and Oliver would fail whilst pretending he’d succeeded, playing some Snow Patrol over the end credits by way of insisting he’d changed the world.

It’s interesting watching snobbishness battling inverse snobbishness and so I’ll watch this through to the end. It’s worth it for the guilty pleasure of the hilarious hatchet job on Ian Pegler, which would be cruel rather than amusing, if only it wasn’t Ian himself himself holding the hatchet.

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Jamie’s Ministry Of Food

October 8, 2008

As with his School Dinners campaign, Oliver’s attempting to change the eating habits of those who are just too working class to work out how an oven works.

He’s already befriended that old ogre who forced burgers on her children through the school fence in School Dinners, but having discovered that she’s not really cut out for TV, he’s got back up in the form of a young Mum who gave kebab meat to her children every night (with a side plate of fries with Kraft cheese slices) before meeting JO in episode one. She’s onside primarily to give the show a ‘heart’ which is a televisual bit of jargon meaning ‘time to fade in Snow Patrol really clumsily’.

So they swear (a fuck of a lot), they cook meat (with the odd vegetable here and there) and a lot of northern folk say ‘Ee that’s right tasty, that – wi’out a doubt’. All this whilst Jamie Oliver allows lots of unflattering shots of himself to be broadcast, aware that this will make him seem even more ‘man of the people’ than he was before.

Though he has a point and even though the problem is reaching morbidly obese proportions, you can’t help but find this campaign short sighted. School Dinners worked (or is beginning to work) because it was about changing the way a small niche of the food industry operated and forcing the government to change the routine.

With this ‘Pass It On’ idea, however, Jamie’s floating in la la land. As the Teaching Assistant who dropped out of his class said, time is a huge issue for most people. But it’s not only that. Good produce is almost impossible to find. Vegetables have been frozen en route to supermarkets and most meat has been intensively reared, with labelling disguising all the underhand processes that go on. Add this to general, wilful ignorance, stubborn stupidity and the fact that a lot of people aren’t that keen on Jamie Oliver and the mountain seems infinitely unassailable.

Are our eating habits so bad that it requires TV chefs to assuage the problem with campaigns like these? Or is it just another format – something new to excite viewers who are tiring of the usual kitchen based food programming?

First School Dinners, then the chicken/organic Hugh Fearnely Whatsit stuff and now this… are we being scared into a hypochondriac state by foodie fascism, or have they got a point?

Anyone fancy a chicken kiev?

One Minute Review: Come Dine With Me (again)

April 25, 2008

Come Dine With Me

I’ve covered Come Dine With Me before, as regular readers will know. And if you’re not a regular reader, can I ask why the blazes you’re not one? A regular reader, I mean. Become one this instant.

Yes, I’ve covered Come Dine With Me before, you’ve probably seen it umpteen times, so we’re all aware of how it works. The exciting news is that they’ve transferred the daytime version to a 9pm primetime slot on Channel 4. Clearly success has gone to their heads. And now it’s post watershed, there’s swearing. They’ve also condensed the format into one 50 minute episode featuring four dinner parties rather than five over the course of a hundred minutes. It’s not an easy transition and feels a little rushed, but at least we’ve lost all those irritating little ‘catch up’ segues and montages of stuff we’ve already seen before (or, even worse, stuff we’re about to see).

A development of the show in its new incarnation is the fact that the contestants they’ve picked are as thick as cat-muck. Where before we had genuine members of the public, all with their charms and flaws, genuinely trying to express the inner-foodie within their soul, now we’re served up four blithering idiots. In every instance, they blither and are idiotic. And they swear a lot. And they insult one another. And they get as drunk as they possibly can.

So far, in two episodes we’ve had:

Show 1

  • A fat, alcoholic wannabe Tory councillor with a David Cameron fixation who had no idea about even the most simple cooking process.
  • A gay, alcoholic student with a barbie doll collection who got drunk and flung booze about.
  • An abrasive geordie fishwife with wild, staring eyes and a burnt paella who was an alcoholic.
  • A mousey woman who favoured giggling over speaking. She was an alcoholic.

Show 2

  • A fat, cheery alcoholic who ducked out of the room midway through a starter to hawk up several gallons of puke before returning for the main.
  • A long-haired neurotic with worrying latent violence issues and the propensity for alcoholism.
  • An insane, oversexed old crone with a crap line in Alan Sugar related japes who came on to every male she encountered before passing out due to alcoholism.
  • A horrible, pretentious red-haired moose who couldn’t stop talking about herself when pissed. Probably because she was an alcoholic.

It’s fucking great. Essential viewing for pissed people – especially alcoholics.

The F Word

May 9, 2007

 The F Word

Ramsay. He’s an interesting fellow, old Ramsay. Where Jamie Oliver isn’t just a narrow eyed, chubby cheeked berk, but actually has talent, drive and passion, Ramsay, it would seem, isn’t just a scrotum-faced sac of testosterone. He may resemble a huge testicle squirting spermy insults into the faces of innocents, but credit where it’s due, the fellow knows what he’s doing. He’s got ten michelin stars for Christ’s sake. In these foodie times that’s akin to having found ten holy chalices.But still, there are problems. I have no problem with swearing, and I have no problem with confrontation, but every once in a while the mask slips a little and we see a well of rage beneath the choreographed bad-mouthing and at any moment we sense he could smack out. Is that choreographed as well? Or is it this dangerous aspect that makes Gordon appealing? For me, it does the opposite. It makes him look like my old P.E. teacher, and he was a cunt.Ramsay teaches people, has a position of authority over them. That gives him the perfect opportunity to humiliate them. Throw in a camera crew and the opportunity multiplies. Watching a recent Kitchen Nightmare, we were subjected to Ramsay mocking a chef far further down the food chain for never having cooked mussels.

‘You’ve never cooked mussels?!’

‘No.’

‘YOU’VE NEVER COOKED MUSSELS?’

‘No.’

‘YOU’VE NEVER COOKED MUSSELS?’

‘NO. I’VE NEVER COOKED MUSSELS’

At this point Gordon proceeded to start doing a ‘joey’ impression at the chef, who reciprocated the gesture, and any semblance of adult behaviour disappeared. It’s only fair to point out that GR was berating the ‘chef’ of what was little more than a greasy spoon during this tirade, so his not having cooked mussels wasn’t exactly a massive shock.

Herein lies the problem. Walking around and calling people ‘big boy’, telling them to ‘stop playing with their doo dah and put the fucking tortellini on’ and continually (and I mean endlessly) asking them ‘where their balls are’ is exactly what a games teacher would do. And what’s the big deal anyway? Tortellini, mussels? Who gives a shit?

Now we’re into the second series of the F Word. This consists of Gordon wandering around a conceptual restaurant, teaching normal people to cook. With bursts of the worst theme music I’ve ever heard in my life buzzing in unneccessarily at any given moment.

GR arrived in the kitchen this week and slammed down the bloody carcass of a deer, shouting ‘THERE’S DINNER’. Echoes of Brando in Streetcar Named Desire. Primal man and his bloody package. Yeah – terrifying. The problem is, the highlights in his schoolboy hair rather shattered the image.

This week it was a group of ex-Etonians who Gordon quite rightly tore to pieces. They were put there for a reason – to make Gordon with his working-class authenticity (where the fuck did he get that accent then, big boy?) look good. And they couldn’t have chosen better targets from his bile – one of the chaps had an opening spiel that ran thus: ‘Yah, Dad set me up on a pretty solid share scheme so I get a pretty healthy income from that’. To top that off, he resembled a rapist.

Gordon also cooked a dessert with Natasha Kaplinsky, a woman so artifiicially constructed that I have genuinely forgotten what happened in her ten minute segment. Did she even speak, or did she stand there with those reptilian eyes, staring the camera out? I can’t for the life of me recall. By the time we got to the section where Gordon caught a facehugger in Lapland and cooked it, I’d only just come round. This section of course featured the obligatory Gordon topless shot. Every Gordon show features Gordon topless. He must have it carved into his contract in the producer’s blood.

An hour is a long time to spend on a cooking show, so obviously some junk is going to get chucked in. In series one, Ramsay had the excellent Giles Coren to fall back on for small pieces to camera about this and that, but he made his mark and has his own (far superior) TV shows to make these days, so Ramsay has called in Janet Street Porter (argh!) to fill his shoes. If anyone can tell me what was going on in her attempted assassination of Prince Charles’ food range last night, please give me a shout at the email address in the top right margin. She seemed to be trying to fit two ‘Supersize Me’ type shows into a ten minute slot and believe me when I tell you, it was a garbled fucking mess. With her narrating it, it was always going to be.

Finally, on top of this (where does he find the time? Oh yes, he’s got a whole bloody hour to fill) Gordon interviewed that very current, very ‘now’ comedic figure, Dawn French. Is that the best they could do? I know she’s still working (if you can call The Vicar of Dibley working, rather than just turning up) and she clearly digs her food, but really – how are three separate interviews with her over an hour possibly going to be any fun? Dawn has kissed Gordon! Ha ha ha! Dawn and Gordon keep saying ‘fanny’! Great! Oh look! They’re kissing! Again! Faaantastic.

The problem is, I’ll probably keep watching. The food is good and the format is hit and miss, with more hits than misses. If only Gordo would stop behaving like a 12 year old who’s taken crack instead of his normal Ritalin dose it might be a bit more bearable.

Sweet Baby James

April 23, 2007

James Martin 

Aren’t there enough celebrity TV chefs in the world? Ainsley Harriot, Delia smith, Gordon Ramsey, Gary Rhodes, Nigella Lawson, Jamie Oliver, Jean-Christophe Novelli, Anthony Worrall-Thompson, the list goes excruciatingly on.

Among the population of TV cooking arses, there stirs James Martin, of ‘Sweet Baby James’ on BBC 2.

As much as I don’t like Ainsley Harriot, at least he’s passionate. At least Ramsey swears. At least Worrall-Thompson is untrustworthy. At least Oliver has a speech impediment. Martin has no outstanding features whatsoever other than that he could be described as a fairly tall man.

This episode sees Martin return to his old secondary school to perform a food-based facelift on the canteen menu. A highly original idea other than the fact that Jamie Oliver did it yonks ago. Besides which, Oliver clearly already has his grubby mitts all over the whole school dinners issue.

In fact, Martin is like a no-frills charisma-less Jamie Oliver in more ways than one, which is saying something as Oliver himself is as bland as post-modern architecture.

While working out the point of Martin, it is difficult to avoid drawing certain comparisons. I couldn’t help thinking of him as the kind of cooking equivalent of Steve Leonard (The boring nature-twat). Leonard’s programmes frustrate me because he seems to think that his blank face is as interesting to the viewers as the wildlife he is meant to be exploring. Martin is guilty of the same. If I tuned in merely to learn some cooking tips I would be disappointed as ¾ of the programme is just Martin poncing about like the self indulgent bore-monger he patently is.

He also seems to be the masculine interpretation of Nigella Lawson (at least she has colossal thighs) in TV’s bid to present food as ‘sexy’.

I say this because Martin clearly fancies himself as quite the ladies choice. The start of the show sees him roll up to his old headmaster’s house in a sports car. I couldn’t tell you which type – cars bore me – but the point is that he seems to be eagerly putting himself forward as some type of TV lothario. The style of the shows production also betrays the programme-maker’s intentions to drum home the ‘food is sexy, honest!’ concept. The editing is sleek and vigorous and furnished with a funk/soul soundtrack giving the impression that food preparation qualifies as sexy action, with Martin being clumsily misplaced within as some sort of culinary action-man.

Let’s get this straight now – food is not sexy, and food is not art. I plan to eat it and shit it, not fuck it or frame it.

James Martin has been around for a while, but what is all this ‘Sweet baby James’ bullshit out of the clear blue sky? I can only think that it is a sickly and transparent attempt to endear an audience to a man who is the pinnacle of TV dreariness. He has no wit whatsoever and is merely a drone who can cook a bit.

The thoroughly tedious nature of the show is reinforced by a sequence late on in which he teaches a bunch of yuppie-types how to cook a crumble. How quaint. How extremely mind-numbing.

“It’s all in the marshmallows mate!” seemed to be his wittiest quip in the whole show. Laughing yet? Me neither. I do understand that he’s not a comedian, but where is the justification in his existence as yet another TV chef? Entertain me dammit!

He is simply a non-entity. He brings nothing new to the table, other than his claims to be a sweet baby who drives around in a sports car.

So why doesn’t he find his own niche? Perhaps cooking with drugs, or how to introduce untraceable poisons into a dish in order to get away with a murder?

That, I would watch enthusiastically…