The Great British Menu is back on BBC2 presenting a variety of chefs showcasing their variable talents on national TV for the honour of cooking a banquet presided over by the Prince of Wales and a bushel of local producers, whatever that means. It led us to thinking about the kitchens across the country once again denuded of their own-grown talent as the chefs vie with each other for the distinction above – and, not least, for a little telly time. If you don't catch them there, you're sure to find them on Saturday Kitchen, cooking up a usually chaotic storm, or indeed on Daily Cooks Challenge, Ready Steady Cook, Feed the Desperate Celeb and other daytime hits.
And it doesn't stop there. These days your restaurant ain't a restaurant unless you've got a cookery school attached – or you're running evening and weekend 'Masterclasses' – and the reception is filled with branded cookware and signed copies of your latest cookbook, your mug beaming out from the glossy cover as you waffle faithfully on about the importance of seasonality and good local produce, while your menu offers asparagus mousse in February. You might even have your own little deli or farm shop selling your endorsed produce to discerning clientele.
Of course these days, it pays to diversify; any means by which you can get money through the door has got to be a winner, but it begs the question who is doing the cooking and when is cooking ever enough? The sudden national desire to be famous and on t'telly has infiltrated our nation's kitchens like an outbreak of norovirus. The story of El Gordo and his receding restaurants is a warning to the wary but you can be sure agents across the land are dripping poison into their naive cheffy clients' ears with tales of fame and fortune from TV land. Yet to witness some of them as stiff and unyielding as supermarket smoked haddock in front of Saturday Kitchen's camera is to realise that fame is not a suit of clothes that fits just anyone.
So do you think that all these digressions add to your experience of eating in a restaurant? Have you ever bought a restaurant cookbook hoping it will reveal their kitchen secrets and been sadly disappointed? Do you care if the chef is cooking or is it just a case of following a recipe?