‘I’m sure I’ve read this before,’ said the Fawn, skimming through my review of Heroes in the week-before-last’s Speccie.
‘I’m sure I’ve read this before,’ said the Fawn, skimming through my review of Heroes in the week-before-last’s Speccie. ‘You can’t have done, we were away when it came out,’ I said. ‘Well, it seems very familiar,’ she said. ‘That’ll be because all my pieces start to resemble one another after a time. Same style. Same jokes. Maybe I should just give up now, before anyone else notices.’
But I can’t, obviously. Nor can Michael Wood, Griff Rhys Jones, Tony Robinson, Dan Cruickshank, Simon Schama, Stephen Fry, Lenny Henry, Gordon Ramsay or any of those zillion and one annoyingly ubiquitous media types. Different fame levels but the same problem. We all know, deep down, that we have appalling limitations and glaringly predictable tics, and that we’ve said all we’re ever going to say many years ago. But damn it, we’re going to go on saying and doing it all the same because our agents and families and bank managers and egos won’t let us stop till we’re dead.
Take Rick Stein. Does the man need the money? (One for those of you holidaying near Padstow: ‘Takeaway cod and chips for four, moy lovely? Thank you, that’ll be £2,000.99.’) Except on his special subject of fish — which he’s done to death now, so that doesn’t count — has he ever said a single interesting thing in his entire life?
Yet here he is with another TV series — Rick Stein’s Mediterranean Escape (BBC2, Wednesday) and it won’t be the last. After he’s done the Med, it’ll be Rick Stein’s Oz or Rick Stein’s USA; then, when he’s done the Far East, India and the Caribbean, he’ll be on to Rick Stein’s Baltic States; then, at just the point when he’s getting worried that Rick Stein’s Burkina Faso might not be quite the ratings-puller he’d prefer, one of his clever production people will go, ‘Wait a second. It’s been ruddy ages since you last did fish...’
Stein reminded me of all the clichés I never want to see again: the presenter turning up for an ‘impromptu’ visit to a popular foreign restaurant and being greeted by the chef like an old friend; the presenter tasting one of his concoctions, assuming a rapt expression, turning to camera, then declaring how unbelievably delicious it is; shots of the presenter pootling through agreeable countryside in his chosen mode of transport; further lingering, tasteful shots of agreeable ports, mountains, architecture, sunsets; the scene where the presenter attempts to emulate the local chef but cocks it up slightly; the boat trip; the colourful market with its many colourful characters and colourful vegetables; the phrase ‘du terroir’ (show me the French chef that has ever cooked food that isn’t du terroir); the lecture on the importance of buying fresh, local ingredients of a quality that the presenter knows and we know we haven’t a prayer of finding anywhere in Britain; the scene at the end where the presenter rustles up a dish for a vaguely amusing group of people — the pétanque team/the Morris men/the fishing boat’s crew — and everyone is greatly impressed.
Mind you, the latest trend I’ve noticed in TV cookery programmes is even more irksome. Food is less about gastronomy these days than about ecological correctness (hence my mission this year never to eat or drink anything marked ‘fair trade’ or ‘organic’), dietary paranoia (see Cook Yourself Thin, Channel 4, Tuesday) and reaching out to new (i.e., non-white, non-middle-class) audiences.
This is what quite spoils Indian Food Made Easy (BBC2, Monday), presented by Nigella-Lawson-vague-lookalike Anjum Anand. In the first episode, she tried to help a deeply boring black chef devise a healthy Indian menu for his health club. ‘Hey, a black person just like me. And before the programme he couldn’t cook Indian food at all. And now he can, a bit. This makes me feel relevant and included. I must try it myself,’ I can just imagine black viewers all over the country going. Not. Also, there was far too much drivel about nutrition and not nearly enough discussion of taste. And her spicing didn’t look generous enough. Bring back Madhur Jaffrey.
I hadn’t expected at all to like the new Jamie Oliver (Jamie at Home, Channel 4) — surely we’ve seen enough of him by now? — but I’m afraid we may finally have to recognise that the boy is a genius and possibly the greatest TV chef ever. He chops like the pro he is; his recipes are manageable yet inspired; his matey chat — now that he’s learned to dispense with his excess luvverly jubbliness — is confiding, inviting and evocative; the background music’s groovy, the photography’s young and arty, the interludes (each scene is introduced with a still illustration akin to something from a teenager’s sketchbook) are attractive. Such a pity that when we try it ourselves it won’t taste half as good because, unlike Jamie, we can’t afford a super new Jekka-McVicar-designed mega vegetable garden — plus staff — to grow our produce in.