Xanthe Clay, a well-known and respected food writer, wrote an article recently on fake food television; what if anything do the Nigellas, Jamies and Lorraines of this world actually offer us? She posits we have become addicted to a world of food porn (lite), where we are titivated by the notional food on offer, yet we remain glued to our sofas rather than being inspired to race to the kitchen.
Despite food programmes achieving unbelievable ratings – The Great British Bake Off had ratings of nearly 4 million for this series alone; the Hairy Dieters (in their latest ever-morphing incarnations) managed to knock that other porn-lite escapism 50 Shades… off the top of the best-seller lists – are they actually achieving their aim, which is surely to get us cooking? One might question if that is their aim: book sales and personal gain are the more probable driving factors. We would argue that of the many, many, many food programmes damming the schedules at the moment, very few are directed and produced to entice you stove-wards. Jamie’s 30-Minute Meals (soon to be followed by his 15-minute meals, where you will require an actual sous-chef and Johnnie Peacock’s blades) showed people how to get a proper family meal on the table at the end of the day. Gordon Ramsay’s current Ultimate Cookery Course on Channel 4, possibly the only show in living memory that shows the man can damn well cook, is full of really useful, insightful techniques and hints that a foodie would lap up.
Ah, that tricky animal, the foodie. Elizabeth David’s bête-noire of food vocabulary has gone on to become very likely the bête-noire of food television. This vast amorphous organisation, offering whole channels both terrestrial and digital dedicated to food, has yet to find the real pearl in all the grit, the oyster of the chicken if you will that will lure the ‘food fanatic’ as Xanthe puts it, to their shores. She goes on to cite real gems that have been buried in the schedules, such as Ken Hom’s and Ching He-Huang’s series on China – at this point we might beg and plead Fuchsia Dunlop to do something similar – and Raymond Blanc’s Kitchen Secrets, with its wholly separate pleasure of seeing his chefs seize something back of the kitchen power-balance in their teasing of his skills. The examples are interesting, representing as they do a food fanatic’s wider desire for knowledge of different cultures and countries and hunger for the tricks of the trade which they can parade as industry ‘insiders’.
It seems that food TV is, then, not made for the foodies. It’s made for the millions of people who prefer not to cook at all, not to engage their senses in any visceral sense but rather vicariously through Nigella’s emotionally-heaving embonpoint or Gregg Wallace’s shiny-with-sweat-and-false-tension forehead. Food TV makers clearly prefer not to get their hands dirty with the real gritty drama; food history remains a bit-player, global cuisines of any interest shunned by the main channels. Food fanatics are hungry for more – please Sir, can we have some?