'There is only one thing worse than being a TV celebrity and that's being a TV celebrity chef.'
The Cooking Game
Human beings have always liked food. We enjoy looking at it. We enjoy putting it in our mouths. And we especially enjoy watching other people make food. Even better is watching other people make food and then buying ourselves a take away. This is because many human beings are, on a deep and fundamental level, really lazy2. Naturally, we don't like to admit this to ourselves, so we put some good solid time in, slumping on something soft, concentrating on watching someone make some food. That feels much better than actually cooking it ourselves and/or waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat of guilt under a duvet composed partially of empty pizza boxes. This explains the phenomenal rise in popularity of the TV celebrity chef. Everyone understands this, even Cliff Richard, though it had to be written down on a small piece of paper for him to carry around in his top pocket. Yes, everyone understands the appeal of watching people cook on TV - everyone that is except the TV celebrity chefs themselves.
The TV celebrity chef is under the illusion that watching food is not enough for the avarage person. No, they believe that we also need to watch someone with personality and flair making the food. But this is a mistake. We don't care if the food is made by a gorilla wearing a steel helmet and hooked up to a computer run by crazy mad scientists from Venus - just as long as someone, somewhere is shoving the stuff about and looking like they are working at it - anyone will do as long as it isn't us. But the celeb-chef can't live with this fact, they need to be important, to make themselves heard - and so, to this end, every single celeb-chef in the world clings hopefully on to one big illusion - the thing they call their 'gimmick'.
Take Gary Rhodes, for example, the British TV celebrity chef. After much thought and experiment, he came up with a gimmick that would make other people in the industry bite of their own toes in sheer envy: spikey hair. That's it. Spikey hair. Everywhere he goes, everytime he is on tv, his hair is nice and spikey. More recently, he has added a new thing - make normal food, and then call it 'British', do something weird with it and feed it to some admiring old ladies. So, for example, rather than just boil an egg, Rhodes is liable to call it 'The great British egg' before shoving it into a pheasant and covering it with custard and then feeding it to some admiring old ladies, all the while, of course, with nice spiky hair. (That's Gary Rhode's hair, not the old ladies, though some of the real fans do try and imitate the 'Gary' look).
Another example: Ainsley Harriott. His gimmick is laughing at aubergines. Now, it is well known by those on the front line, that television cookery is fraught with innuendo. Words like 'Dribble', 'Plum' and 'Insert' do not lend themselves too easily to serious commentary. Some chefs ignore the innuendo problem. Some, like Deliah Smith, turn it into an art form. Deliah can announce that her saucepan has a 'good stiff handle and a nice firm round bottom' while using the merest shift of an eyebrow to suggest knowingly to the viewer that she is in on the joke. Ainsley Harriott, on the other hand, jumps right in on the other end of the scale. Ainsley will find innuendo in anything - dates, eggs, flour, anything. Simply picking it up and saying 'You don't get much of these to the pound' is enough for Ainsley. He also likes to make things interesting by making them very colourful. If Ainsely were to boil an egg, for example, he would paint it blue and then draw a smiley face on it in yellow, before looking at it knowingly and collapsing in hysterics.
Some potential and actual other gimmicks from England and around the world. See if you can guess which ones are real!!3:
- Always cooking outside.
- Cooking from inside a small cupboard.
- Being very drunk, proud of it and drinking some more.
- Sitting in a peasant kitchen next to a big radiator.
- Only coooking things you grew yourself.
- Only cooking things you previously hit on the head with a shovel.
- Being an old lady and driving around on a motorbike with another old lady.
- Cooking very fast.
- Cooking very slowly.
- Only cooking things if they are nice and fluffy.
- Being very modern.
- Being very old fashioned.
- Mountain climbing.
- Wandering around in different places.
- Cooking in a skip.
- Only cooking things featuring cold hot dogs.
- Cooking for dogs.
- Cooking by dogs.
- Dogs cook for people, but with a general emphasis on bones and dirt.
- Cooking things in cold dough.
- Only cooking stuff you found in bins
There is one TV celebrity chef who is the exception that proves the rule: Jamie Oliver. Jamie understands exactly why we watch cookery programmes on TV. We want it easy and that's what he gives us. Say Jamie boils an egg. He gets up, gets dressed, gets on his scooter, motors some miles into town, looks for a parking space, joins the queue, buys some eggs, motors home, has a cup of tea, calls the gas board to get the gas working, looks all over for a clean saucepan before deciding he probably has to wash one, washes the saucepan, makes a cup of tea and boils the egg. Eight hours of film is then edited down to about as many seconds: Jamie bouncing a basket ball, on his scooter, dropping the egg in the saucepan and saying 'Pukka'.
Given all of this, what do I advise? Well, here is my favourite recipe. Cold hot dogs. Buy a tin of hot dogs and a loaf of bread and a bottle of ketchup. Put a hot dog on the bread, squirt on some ketchup and roll it up. You can eat with one hand and use the remote with the other and there is no washing up. Brilliant.