I saw a celebrity chef pull up outside a swanky London club in his $250,000 Ferrari amidst a volley of snapping cameras and flashes, some half-baked, silicon-infused, sugar-coated blond tucked under his arm, fodder for the tabloids. I have to tell you that I wanted to deck him. Here’s why.
You see, Mr Celebrity-Chef, you walk past me without so much as a by-your-leave when actually you should be stopping to shake me vigorously by the hand. It was me (and thousands like me) who put you in your Armani suit and your supercar. You would, after all, be nothing without us — your devoted minions — celebrity-chef junkies who just can’t get enough of you.
I did a crude calculation a while back. In my worst years as a user, I would watch around 600 hours of cooking shows annually (that’s not far off a month) and spend anywhere up to $1,000 on cook books. I would buy gadgets for my kitchen that I never used but was told I had to have. My pantry would be full of ingredients I couldn’t even pronounce, let alone know how to use (although they did look good in their expensive glass containers). I would lie awake at night wondering what swanky meal to put together for dinner on Saturday, stress about it all week and then chicken out of the braised leg of pheasant, re-hydrated porcini and ceps mushrooms in a tarragon and marsala jus with shavings of white truffles at the last minute. I reckon I never cooked a single recipe I saw on TV and maybe less than a dozen from all my cookbooks put together.
I would wake up on the morning of a dinner party dripping in sweat, obsessing over how to ensure that the icing sugar was evenly distributed on the 14-inch black glass plate on to which my stilton-honey-stuffed-chocolate-coated-grape will be placed. And I would always forget to taste the wonder of my boiled egg and soldiers that I would have for breakfast, the stuff TV shows should actually be telling us about.
If there are any TV moguls reading this, you guys have a hell of a lot to answer for. You make millionaires out of some cute, witless girl who encourages us to cook crap meals in less than half an hour. You get studio audiences to whoop with delight when some over-the-hill, face-lifted has-been juggles a handful of garlic cloves. You take an hour out of our lives to show us how to make a pate from a rare wild boar that comes only from Southern France and is only available in the first two weeks of November. And just when poor sods like me think they are over the worst you serve up some glitzy new show with even more exotic entrees served up in even more exotic locations with ingredients that would have Alton Brown himself reaching for a culinary encyclopaedia. Show after show, day after day, you keep them coming. Then, just to rub our faces in it, you get us to buy the book that accompanies the series, making loads more cash for your network so that you can employ yet another witless wonder with a regional accent to showcase dishes we will never eat. I bet you sleep well at night on your full stomachs.
In fairness, we need to carry the can too. After all, it is we who binge stream these wretched shows and part with our hard-earned cash to buy the pots, the pans, the shakers and makers (and, of course, the books). So much for the college fund. Thankfully, it doesn’t take too many hours in rehab to kick the habit. I found hanging out with buddies who cook real food worked a treat. I have been clean for almost a year now.
Truth is, there are some great TV personalities out there who have done a lot for food (the aforementioned Alton Brown, Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson to name a few). The point is most of them are missing the point. Food is not simply a science or just an art-form. It is a necessary function of survival and it just so happens that our planet has provided us with the most extraordinary variety of gifts that makes our survival — well — tastier. Weave that into a cloth of social fabric that adorns our tables, and you’ve got great grub. Trust me, you don’t need a celebrity chef for that.