"..a bardy view!"

Jamie Oliver, Keith Floyd….and Queen Victoria…..

I have a confession to make. I have never watched a TV chef since the late lamented Keith Floyd departed the screen. Even then, I didn't take any notice of his culinary skills – he wasFloyd simply entertaining. Floyd combined his eccentricity with amazing locations – indeed, his programs weren't just about food, they were about culture, and they were travel programmes extraordinaire, and remain so even after his dishes are long forgotten. 

 It was the combination of his fallibility, his flamboyant nature, his style, his liking for the evil drink and tobacco, and his downright acceptance in adversity which saw him through. He treated his crew with loving contempt, and often lost his rag when things didn’t go according to plan.

He would cook in hotel rooms and set off the alarms, gatecrash busy kitchens and cause uproar, cook on a Chinese junk or in the middle of a piazza. Always causing a stir and mostly outside the pan.

Locals would sniff their nose contemptuously at his efforts to recreate their established fare, whilst all the while he exasperated his producer and crew.

Yet, through it all, he was a real star. Perhaps, unkindly, he could be regarded as the Hurricane Higgins of cooking in that he was a loose cannon and burned the candle at both ends, but unlike the aforementioned snooker player, Floyd had personality, wit and charm in abundance.

All who have followed him have tried to emulate him in one form or another, but fortunately they seem to have avoided his self-destructive nature. Perhaps that is the key to their grounding? They are not as fun, but they are more sensible.

There is an endless list of eccentric chefs which followed, all with their individual peccadilloes and style, but one stands head and shoulders above them – Jamie Oliver. Oliver

I often wondered what this man's attraction was, and would be bemused and exasperated at the level of popularity he engendered. I cringed at his worthy attempts to change the eating habits of children and his disgust at the turkey twizzler, processed junk served up to the young sprogs, and was astonished at footage of some parents who took umbrance to his control of school dinners, and shoved lardy fat pies and crisps through the gates to fuel their children's food requirements.

They represented all which was bad about poorly educated pushy parents who believed they knew better. Pretentious parents who without the advances of social changes in education and workers rights would no doubt still be subservient staff downstairs at the local manor, or working 12 hours a day "doon pit".

But enough of my controversial observation, this post is about Jamie Oliver. Up until last week I had never seen him in action bar a few seconds whilst channel hopping, but I stayed for longer on this occasion when I caught his Channel 4 programme about "30-Minute Meals".

Our intrepid chef prides himself on his cockney chappie persona, but it works well and he his immensely watchable. Every action, whether it be squeezing a lemon or chopping a chilli is dramatically flourished, accompanied by a straight forward comment, generally matey and humorous.

The common man chef appeals to the masses, yet he surely knows his stuff, and in that regard he is educational to boot. The series was shown back to back one day, and I managed to catch three programmes in a row.

He held my attention for 95 minutes, and that's saying something. As someone who likes to cook a whole salmon whenever I find a fine specimen, he showed me how to make crispy skin, and reintroduced me to the wonders of grease proof paper when using it as a lid for pan fried chicken. Grease-proof paper? I thought that stuff went out with the Ark – or at least since my grandmother departed many moons ago.

The way he threw ingredients together with all the carelessness of an artist preparing a palette, then combining them to create a masterpiece worthy to be shown at the National gallery had me transfixed.

 It was then that I realised there are cooks and chefs. Cooks dabble in watercolour. Chefs paint in oils.

Queen Victoria, Victoria upon learning that her eldest daughter would like to paint, advised her to concentrate on watercolour: "do not attempt oil" she said "you will make a terrible mistake and invite unwelcome criticism – leave it to the experts, who are gifted and have honed their skills through years of apprenticeship " 

That’s the point, if food is artistic yet can be presented to the masses and able to emulate a master, then that is a good thing, with the caveat that you may make a fair facsimile, but the original it will never be.

This is not haute cuisine which Oliver is tempting us to swallow, although he is perfectly capable, but food of the simplest of dishes created with equal flair and panache.

 For example, one programme was about a picnic involving sausage rolls. Off he goes waxing lyrical about the utter rubbish which constitutes the average supermarket sausage roll, comprised of suspect meat that has a general pinkish filling. Utter crap he says.

Buy some decent sausages and wrap them up in bog standard commercial puff pastry. Why the prepared stuff? Because, as he says, he's been a chef in hotels and making puff pastry is a laborious skill. He said that if you have the time to make it at home then you really need to get a job. This straight forward honesty no doubt endears him to his fans and accounts for his remarkable popularity. Of course, a major supermarket uses him on their advertising, so cynics like me could argue that this is subliminal advertising. I'm prepared to overlook that. Besides, if I purchase frozen pastry, I will get it from the nearest shop.

Keith Floyd would never have presented himself like Jamie Oliver. Wherever he was he would dress with aplomb, with his trademark Panama hat if he was in the tropics, or a dickey bow tie if he was in the northern hemisphere. Keith

 Horses for courses – I miss Keith Floyd – he was a one off.

In an age of political correctness, his like will never be seen again. What we are left with are bland, boring, self important individuals more concerned about themselves than their audience, yet all who have been a beneficiary of Floyd.These chefs look for causes and challenges to justify their existence. It may be merit or otherwise to highlight agricultural policy, or encourage sustainable local produce, or push organic free range and animal welfare issues.

They may be political to exercise changes in EU fishing policy or farming. They may be famous for being rude and aggressive, pretentious, pandering, and gut wrenchingly embarrassing.

Oliver may be some or none of the above – but if there is a TV chef heaven, I suspect that Floyd may just be looking down kindly upon him.

 Floyd didn't suffer fools lightly, and was highly critical of the new generation of TV chefs. His lifestyle caught up with him – he is sorely missed – but he gave the benchmark.

 In our health conscious and hypocrite world, on whose streets people are regularly drunk, violent, bilious and anti-social, there is no room any more for true expression on the goggle box.

TV chefs represent the changes in society. They may not know it – but they live in Room 101. Stock the larder and keep their recipes – they may just be the key to making beans on toast when all else fails.

Perhaps that will be their legacy –let’s hope they are not recipes for disaster.


February 8, 2011 - Posted by | Books, Culture, Current Affairs, Education, General, Politics, Religion, Science, United Kingdom | , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. As always a great and entertaining read. Loved Floyd as was the first one to make me enjoy watching cooking. I ain’t a woman. Jamie is OK, the wife loves him, but I find a lot of his graze hard to stomach. Agree though that he has style and presence. Like you I miss Floyd. Sure could rumble up some great nosh in exotic and exciting places.


    Comment by Spook Moor | February 8, 2011 | Reply

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