Magazine article The Spectator

Cooking Up a Wheeze

Magazine article The Spectator

Cooking Up a Wheeze

Article excerpt


Cooking up a wheeze Simon Hoggart

The cookery programmes arc back, though when you settle down in front of them with your takeaway pizza or pot noodle, you'll notice they're changed. They're no longer merely about recipes they're about lifestyle. We don't just want to cook like these people; we want to be them. Nigella started it, offering for our delight her lovely home and gorgeous children, and the way that she is so composed and so together that she can whizz up a pomegranate souffle before breakfast.

For male cooks, much of the lifestyle involves swearing. Take that lovable cockney lad, every mum's idea of a favourite son, who can knock up a perfect casserole before racing off with his nephews and nieces for a picnic. These days Jamie Oliver is more likely to say 'fucker' than 'pukka'. Take, for example, this admonition, in Return to Jamie's Kitchen (Channel 4), to one of his juniors, while they were preparing a meal at No. 10 Downing Street: 'Are you completely stupid? They're going to stink of onions, you fucking numb-nut.'

I think it's a Mr Mucho Macho Man thing. Deep down the top chefs are afraid that cookery is a girlie thing to do, so they have to demonstrate how tough and fierce and hairy-legged masculine they are. In the programme about John Burton Race's decision to take his entire family to spend a year in southern France, Gordon Ramsay sent him cheerily on his way thus: 'Hats off! He's got a huge pair of bollocks, and I'm already shitting myself about when he returns.' Is it just me, or would you find that rather off-putting if he was preparing your lunch at the time?

The Burton Race programme is called French Leave (Channel 4). The fascination lies not in what he cooks in France (the family 'quite' likes his onion soup, which annoys him: Oh, world-famous chef, and it's "quite nice",' he sniffs) but in the conflict between him and the other seven members of his family, none of whom likes the idea of leaving London and all their friends to settle in the back of beyond, where the nearest school is ten miles away and the children are ignored by their new classmates. 'Nine hours sitting there, and no one talking to you!' says the eldest, and it's hard not to sympathise. Also, being a guy, and a hairy-legged chef to boot, Mr Burton Race failed to notice that the house he'd bought contained only one bathroom, which for a family of eight, including six females, may not prove enough. Particularly when the camera crew are around. …

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