Saturday, 7 September 2013

Enough is enough... my thoughts on cookery programming

Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good cookery show as much as the next person, be it the studio based antics of the Saturday Kitchen bunch or the food travelogues of Rick Stein, but enough is enough as regards cookery programming, give us a break! 

I remember when I was younger - a child of the 1990s - when the cookery output was a few carefully placed series of Keith Floyd, Delia Smith, a weekly smattering of Food and Drink and a sunday evening dose of Loyd Grossman’s Masterchef. In these innocent days of the Magimix and the electric ‘Saucier’ there was a gentle balance of food programmes balanced with such nuggets the now defunct ‘Holiday’ programme, ‘Changing Rooms’, ‘Ground Force’ and a flick over to ITV at 20:00 to watch Jim Carver spiral into a gambling addiction on The Bill. Those were innocent times indeed.

To look at the scheduling now you would be thinking that I had referring to a far off time when you could still by cans of Sunkist and Lipton-ice fizzy iced tea was very de rigeur (and indeed I was). Now you can hardly move for the vast amount of cookery and food shows that seem to be choking up prime time and they seem to revolve around a number of instant recognisable stereotypes: 
  • Foul mouthed yob
  • Trendy, beatnik hipster
  • Sanctimonious crusader
  • Minor celeb turned cook
  • cheeky working class double act
  • Disgruntled Michelin-starred chef
  • Smug genius
I must stop as the list could go on forever, and it brings a smile to my face to conjure up the plethora of people who fall into these rather scathing categories. Of course, it’s hard to blame them, they have in some/most part made their own success and should be entitled to reap some reward in a highly competitive industry which has seen plenty fall onto the scrap-heap. After all who wouldn’t want to have their own cookery show and get paid to do it to boot? 

What a great cynic I am! Maybe I should be turning my barrels on the directors of programming who have let more and more ludicrous cooking shows clog the arteries of evening TV... especially competitive cooking. The rise of reality TV has seen the inevitable rise of amateur cooking competitions combining a mixture of irritating, fast-paced camera angles, garage music and vacuous comments over a near endless series of weeks full of (mainly) poor cookery to a (now) stale conclusion. Also, the tiresome prattlings of the presenters/judges leaves me rather cold. Even worse these production values seem to have spilled over into more conventional shows so that we are now forced to watch the presenter’s self-indulgence through soft focused lenses or vicariously through the back of a ladle as they congratulate themselves on another dish well done!

Before I get a number of angry fans of a certain show viciously berating me I will readily admit that, as regards competitive cookery shows and the like, I enjoyed the first series or two but after the umpteenth, protracted season of the same formats, the same people (in all but appearance and cliched soundbyte) and the same empty phrases from the judges regarding flavour versus presentation I switch off. The same principle can be applied to a number of one-man or duo-led programmes, fine (even great) the first time around but growing stale, like an untouched iced bun on a tea trolley, after repeated recycling. Ironically every silk purse becomes a sow’s ear after a while, but never the reverse. 

Thankfully a few chefs like Rick Stein and Nigel Slater still have an element of the former magic and reassurance that characterised British cookery programmes and are still a joy to watch. Unfortunately, I fear I am in somewhat in a minority, having judged from a quick glance over Twitter and my Facebook Newsfeed the nation seems to have been in quite a frenzy over the Great British Bake Off though goodness knows why... But it’s popular, and brings home the proverbial bacon, so please don’t stop on my account, all I ask our dear, dear programme commissioners is that we could have slightly less of it? 

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