Sunday, October 12, 2008

celebrity chefs and other oxymorons

this was originally posted 12 may 08, and seemed to be one of the most viewed from my old blog. so it's reposted here:

I'll admit it, I'm a cable tv food channel addict. I find inspiration in many of the programs, and often tune in just before a dinner prep to 'get into the groove', as it were.

someone recently said that tv chefs were the new rock stars, and that I find a frightening notion. especially as I'm considered an "old washed up has-been rock star", by many, including my children. especially my children.

I suppose the notion of the "critic" applies equally to both. to have spent most of one's life creating something out of raw ingredients with love, passion and skill, then to have some twat fresh out of journalism school dismiss it as being "too derivative".

but what exactly are these nuevo culinary stars suppose to communicate to their 'fans'? is it fair to include cooking amongst music, dance, theatre, film? are they all ars gratia artis or sheer entertainment? both and neither, one could argue.

I'd say it has more to do with the late-20th century disease known as the cult of personality, or celbere gratia celeb, possibly (with apologies to any romans left wandering about the aqueducts).

in a world where the likes of a paris hilton or even perez hilton can become 'famous' for doing nothing other than being opulent and pesty, it's no wonder that certain egotistical, insecure and clueless chefs found new careers. or possibly, first careers.

so my enjoyment of watching intriguing, creative food being prepared by the few clever and talented chefs on the food network is always tainted by dodging these so-called 'celebrity chefs', who spend more airtime flogging their latest line of books, kitchenware, trendy appliances and the like than actually working with food. and when they do, it's usually a tolerated distraction - "Look at that magnificent trout!! It'll look amazing on my new dinnersets, available from the website below [web address now covers the fish, which is never to be seen for the remainder of the program]".

a random sampling of some of the main offenders, in no particular order, as I find them all annoying as hell:

jamie oliver. yes, I'll be expecting the hate mail, flame throwers and all-around abuse from the soccer moms of the world, but really, this guy is grating beyond belief. he's like a slightly more grown-up version of an eastenders regular. sure, he's done a lot for the british school lunch programs (well, anything'd be a help there), helped underpriveliged kids with his fifteen series (ditto) and covered a lot of ikea coffeetables with colourfully bound prints. but I can't recall the last time I saw him actually prepare anything that one could a) follow; 2) replicate and c) want.

nigella lawson. I can understand the local appeal of the self-appointed domestic goddess, every brit housefrau can see how to make the most basic food from the most common ingredients usually found in most brit pantries next to the delia smith books, and lots of pudgy, pasty-faced pommy blokes can drool in fantasy, wishing it were her in his kitchen and not that bewildered pepperpot that he married, the one that keeps hiding his sherry behind the delia cookbooks.

I've actually caught a nigella episode once where she gleefully demonstrated the fine art of bubble-n-squeak, one where she raided the pantry after a night out (presumably, the limo driver didn't have any grey poupon in the glove box) and several where she refuses to actually touch any food ingredients by continually placing them into plastic bags, which are then shaken (and thrown into the bin, I'm guessing green ain't the right pastel shade for her). the gypsy gal finds her annoying purely by wearing cardigans that match the kitchen colour sceme.

rachael ray. the one who put "yummo" and "evoo" into the average yank lexicon. the one whose best work was probably the fhm photo spread. the one who's better off now serving as the trailer-park oprah to middle america than serving lunch for $40 a day (and the same budget for wardrobe).

ainsley harriott. it's like watching lenny henry do food, except I'm not too sure this ain't a parody. and what's with the swashbuckling sautee pan moves? dangerous in real life, methinks. I've often wondered if len... sorry, ainsley is the child of that guy who did the 7up uncola ads in the 70's. mahvelous.

bobby flay. someone stuck a ken doll in the kitchen and figured out how to animate it.

tyler florence. see above entry.

tom parker bowles. with the personality of a goldfish and a toothgap that alfred e. newman would be proud of, this guy is very, very lucky that he's got a family inheritance in the wings.

emeril lagasse. buy his books, order his knives, eat his produce, use his toothpaste and recreate his catchphrases with a gusto that bart simpson could only have dreamed of. oh, the dude's a chef as well? oy vey.

rocco dispirito. he and flay should start a new madame tussade's wax museum for chefs - starring their real selves. at his best, he's a lame hell's kitchen contestant about to get kicked off, at his worst, he's that kid down the block that everyone wanted to beat up, except that his mom was the school principal. remember the scene in the show the restaurant where the smart-arse intern kid called rocco "captain douchebag"? the kid shouldn't have articulated it, but it was clearly what rocco's staff were thinking.

antony worrall thompson. the only other garden gnomes that I've seen in a kitchen sat silently on the windowsill. this is the guy who published a "recipe" that calls for five snickers bars, puff pastry, mascarpone, soft cheese, sugar and eggs. I'd doubt even ra-ray would give that atrocity a yummo. gordon ramsay called awt a teletubbie, which is possibly the best call I've heard in yonks.

iain hewitson. huey is arguably australia's best known chef, along with australia's best known songwriter, neil finn and best-known actor russell crowe - all new zealanders, of course. after years of demonstrating the making of (purportedly) wholesome, nutritious meals, an overweight huey became the new poster child for jenny craig. there's a parody of huey's wiki page here.

a brief 'boy thing' aside - the following I do enjoy watching, but have yet to learn a thing about food from any of them: giada de laurentiis; clodagh mckenna; tana ramsay; rachel allen; tamasin day-lewis and sandra lee.

I really don't count iron chef as a true culinary show, it's more a hybrid of wwf and sale of the century. although I'd love to see an aussie version. I can imagine chairman kaga "revealing the mystery ingredient..... vegemite!!"

and I'm not sure where to place people like keith floyd, alton brown, ming tsai, maggie beer, hugh fearnley-whittingstall, rick stein and the rest.

so, to all these tv personalities, I say, shove over for the real deal. the true chefs with a lifelong passion for food that outweighs their need for fleeting publicity.

with that, I'd like to give a nod of the toque to those for continued inspiration, education and spiritual cuisine guidance. I'd like to thank (again, in no order):

serge dansereau, tony bourdain, john burton race, neil perry, michael smith, christine mansfield, richard corrigan, rosemary shrager, tetsuya wakuda, giorgio locatelli, atul kochhar, paul rankin, stephanie alexander, marcus wareing, tony bilson, mario batali, charlie trotter, angela hartnett, raymond blanc, kylie kwong, michael chiarello, lidia bastianich, yes, gordon fucking ramsay (the guy can cook), clarissa dickson-wright & jennifer paterson, and finally, marco pierre white.

now shut up and cook, y'all.