The other day, I caught the end of Heston Blumenthal’s latest cookery bonanza on Channel 4. The egg-cooking; egg-headed egghead was somehow transforming a potato (of ‘waffle’ fame) into doughnuts (not renowned for their high potato content). Even for a culinary-cynic such as myself; it was intriguing viewing. Heston was promptly followed by ‘The Fabulous Baker Brothers’; which appeared to be a pair of models from the Next catalogue who were teaching us how to make hot dogs. Of course, these two televisual feasts (an ill-fitting metaphor if any existed) are just some of the latest variations of the celebrity chef TV formulae. Like a supermarket cheese sandwich; the recipe for TV chefs has remained unchanged since the invention of bread. If you fancy yourself as the next Mitch Tonks or Trish Deseine; here’s my step-by-step guide to becoming every TV celebrity chef ever.
STEP ONE: IDENTIFY YOURSELF
First you’ll need a unique selling point. What? Thought you’d get on telly just by being a good cook. BORING FOOL. You have to be able to ‘brand’ yourself in one word. Let’s look.
Heston Blumenthal: THE ‘SCIENCEY’ ONE
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall: THE ‘FARMY’ ONE
Delia Smith: THE ‘MUM’ ONE
James Martin: THE ‘YORKSHIRE’ ONE
Anthony Worrall Thompson: THE ‘SHORT BEARDED’ ONE
Nigella Lawson: THE ‘INNUENDO-Y’ ONE
Jamie Oliver: THE ‘MOCKNEY’ ONE
Gordon Ramsey: THE ‘SWEARY’ ONE
Nigel Slater: THE ‘INTELLIGENISTA’ ONE
And so on. You need to create a simplified identity that people will instantly recognise. Enjoy reading? You could be ‘THE ‘BOOK’ ONE’. Enjoy downbeat music sung by men with long hair who have a grudge against the world? ‘THE ‘GOTH’ ONE’. An ex-convict? ‘THE ‘MURDERER’ ONE. These are all available in the world of TV chefs, I believe.
STEP TWO: GET A KITCHEN
No, not a normal kitchen. We all have a kitchen; but could you imagine seeing it on TV? Nope; I thought not (unless you appear to live in the pages of the Ikea catalogue). You need a TV KITCHEN! A TV kitchen always has a massive island counter, on which you can prepare the swan to be stuffed into a horse, or something. You need access to a cooker so large you wonder whether some variation on Narnia is located towards the rear. Lots and lots of black, marble effect counter tops; into which light is trapped for eternity. You need every pointless kitchen utensil featured from the pages of the cheap mail-order catalogues that fall out of trashy newspapers. Massive windows that offer the proles at home glimpses into your sunny, perfect garden and your sunny, perfect life. Sound familiar? Well, you’ve seen it here:
|Jamie in a kitchen|
|Anthony in a kitchen|
And here, here, and here
|Hugh in a kitchen|
|Delia in a kitchen|
|Guess where James is|
STEP THREE: YOU NEED A THEME
You have your personality. You have a kitchen dramatic enough to beam into the nation’s homes on a Wednesday at 8pm. You need a theme for your show. You thought you could cook some of your favourite dishes? Well, you could do, but make sure the series is entitled “MY FAVOURITES” or something similar. You want to tie together all the foodie nonsense with some pretentious theme. Broad favourites are:
SIMPLE AND CHEAP COOKING: Telling the audience the way they cook food is too complicated and pricey; and they need to do it more ‘simple’ and cheap.
POSH AND PRICEY COOKING: Like theme 1; but tell the audience to make food ‘less simple’ and ‘more costly’.
IF YOU DON’T GROW IT ALL YOURSELF YOU’RE POISONING YOUR KIDS: This is pretty much Fearnley Whittingstall’s patch; but he might share.
LOOK I’M IN A FORRIN LAND AND LOOK HOW THEY COOK!? WEIRD HUH: You get to go on holiday in this one! Jamie did a budget one round Britain.
I’M DOING ONE INGREDIENT A WEEK: Quite simple; but you try and find 6 uses for a tin of tuna.
IT’S CHRISTMAS/EASTER/SUMMER/EVENT!: Self explanatory
But why not experiment with new themes; be inventive. But not too inventive. That’ll scare away TV companies.
STEP FOUR: GET YOURSELF SOME NORMAL PEOPLE
Every chef, in every TV program now, ends up doing a bit where he/she cooks for a bunch of ‘normal people’; BUT they must be members of a club with the skills, expertise and experience to evaluate the quality of your cooking. The cast of a production of ‘West Side Story’ by a local amateur dramatics society, for example. You have to cook food for them. Then get them to eat your food, stare into the camera and tell them how good it is. Like some messiah entering the village hall, clutching sacred sausage rolls baked from a recipe inscribed in stone by John the Baptist. They will literally have an out-of-body experience upon tasting your food; therefore justifying to the audience that you really are the canine’s testes.
STEP FIVE: HAVE ENOUGH RECIPES TO WRITE A BOOK
Again, simple really. In the birthplace of the English language; the second bestselling author is Jamie Oliver. This provides a chance for you to really rake in the cash.
STEP SIX: DON’T RUN OUT OF IDEAS
You’ll need to produce a new series and tie-in book about once a year; so don’t enter the business with a post-it note of recipes. Make sure you can come up with enough different material to justify people watching and buying your new stuff. If they want repeats, they can go on the internet, or one of those weird channels that shows nothing but cooking programmes.
Well done, you’ve just sat my ‘HOW TO MAKE IT AS A CHEF’ course. Please mail me 10% of your earnings as chef as token of your appreciation. Of course, you can look at this list, and realise just how oversaturated, overfamiliar and overboring the whole TV cookery game has become. There must be a reason why, as a nation, we're continually wishing to be taught better and new ways of cooking; as though a cloud of culinary self-doubt hangs over every kitchen in Middle Britain which can only be solved by taking the sage, broadcast advice of a TV Chef.
However, despite all my moaning and cynically grumbling; I’ll still be watching in wide-eyed fascination as Heston turns a potato into a doughnut.