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Author Archives: takotsubo

GREAT

BOOOOOOOM. What a final. Everything. Tears. Drama. Brendan. Cake. Brendan! Fondant. Intrusion into personal living arrangements! (leaving at least *one* question unanswered…) ‘Soggy bottom’ disasters. BRENDAN! John finally nailing it! Contestants coming back! Exclamation marks! Tabloid bullshit!

I’m gonna miss GBBO. This time round they seem to have got the balance perfect, and assembled a finals team of people you could feel warm about and interested in. If Brendan was precise and practiced, James was innovative and seat-of-the-pants, John was quietly… just very good, and he delivered exactly when it mattered. But over the weeks, it was all about Brendan, and the triumph of practice, planning precision and drive over TV-friendly cheer. British values, indeed.

The Guardian summed the final up really well here.

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HOLLYWOOD NIGHTS

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WE’RE down to the semis in TGBBO, and we all know who the winner is already. That’s right: Paul ‘Inside’ Hollywood. Mel & Sue are fun and sparky and dry. Mary Berry is dotty and posh and particular. John is flustered, Danny is pragmatic, James is coquettish, and Brendan is… well, Laurence Olivier playing Christian Szell in Marathon Man. But it’s The Big Bear that takes it, every week. Alright, I didn’t know he was apparently a gay icon until the Guardian mentioned it today.  He’s the only judge they all fear – you know Mary Berry isn’t going to tear your head off with a look, and she’s going to find something good to say, however pisspoor your St. Honoré. But PH never gives the impression he’s going to say anything other than the absolute, unvarnished truth.

Confident MC contestants can face down the Torode / Wallace blockade, because they know that it’s hokum and that they might well be right or lucky. But no-one dares to gets as much as a langue du chat past Hollywood. In interviews, he appears completely normal, and unaffected or just plain embarrassed by the fame and Twitter nonsense or whatever. In fact, he appears to be that rarest of TV creatures: a completely bullshit-free zone. This is a victory. A victory for rounded personality and unfiltered expertise that’s not been pushed through the dumbed-deeper-and-down TV drool-sieve. And people like that. Five million viewers (apparently) can’t be wrong. Apparently he’s just wrapped a new series for the BBC called – with presumed Liverpudlian irony – ‘Bread’. Which is good, because one thing that is missing from TGBBO is him masterclassing his own hot oven skills.

Anyway, Brendan. (Yeah, I was a bit harsh above. Anything to get a laugh). OK, he’s self-obsessed, aloof, eerie, curiously kitsch, and machine-like – or at least, that is the role the producers and editors have created for him. Yes, he insists on dominating and stamping his individuality on everything, rather than sitting back and letting his talent speak for itself. And yes he takes criticism appallingly, usually accompanied with an ‘I could have you killed’  dagger stare. But strangely, I’m starting to get the impression that he’s actually an extremely warm and genuine man who has just been waiting years to show the world that his pernickity, precise approach to cookery is best. Unselfconscious, nerdy talent FTW. I’m hoping he takes it all the way.

 

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NIGELI$$IMA

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After reading John Crace’s glorious kickabout this morning, I was keen to watch another episode of this hugely successful, slightly bizarre ‘Italianate’ show. But not much had changed. This isn’t cooking. This is advertorial.

‘Her’ kitchen (at least they aren’t pretending) is grand beyond the imaginings of emperors, but even that’s nothing special these days, so the producers have decided to shoot almost the entire show at the magic hour; with sunlight (actually mega-lights, probs) streaming in and making a series shot in Bristol look a bit more Tuscan-porny.

After that, things get a bit confusing. The music shunts between daytime TV jazz, Meters funk, 40s Dixie and folky tinkling. The banter shifts between the phone-sex innuendo satirised years ago by Ronni Ancona and slightly forced gags and filler-guff about markets. “Sooooo easy, it makes itself…” well yeah, apart from the bit where you have to individually shell each broad bean by hand. The pitch of the cooking veers between oh-really-you-must-it’s-so-authentic and sod-it-do-whatever-you-like…like-me! She breezes things like: “Polenta, which we’re all familiar with…” – but many other bog-standard Italian ingredients are gushingly explained to the proles. Even the cameraman can’t choose between the lens smeared with Vaseline and the one that isn’t, so he just mixes and matches as he sees fit. At least she’s not claiming it’s ‘real’ Italian. The food? Oh, whatever. It’s all good easy fun.

So many things they can’t seem to decide on, but one thing that stays rock-like is Nigella-as-brand. She’s flogging herself and her heaving bits and her effortlessness and her bussed-in, gruesomely smug ‘lifestyle’ friends as well as ever, and Christmas is coming, and there’s a bit of the gleam for sale. It’s just entertainment, I know, but she doesn’t seem quite as joyful or silly or self-aware as previous series. There’s a slightly workaday feel to the golden glow. Back to business.

 

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DOUGH!

The Great British Bake-Off is brave in parts. It veers consciously away from at least some competition-genre staples – the candidates, for some bizarre reason, appear to have been chosen for personability, reliability and a general lack of character flaws and abrasiveness. No tears. The commentary is breezy but informative, the reaction shots and back stories brief, and the Mel & Sue hosting fun and a bit silly. The usual middle-class tropes abound; pastel shades, Union Jack bunting, Smeg fridges, dense Instagram colours. Well cosy.

This week: bread. People cook bready stuff, stuff gets judged, someone gets thrown out. The food appearing looks thoughtful and yummy. OK, it’s not the trickiest stuff: poor Cathryn thinks that trying to juggle one flatbread in the oven and one flatbread on the griddle is tricky. MC material she ain’t. The Terence Stamp-like Brendan, with his river-washed hot-rock oven techniques and his 106 grams of flour per portion fills the ‘bonkers’ quota on his own. The rest are a mix of amateur and ambition. You know the drill. Mostly pretty intense. Some haircuts. Pushovers, though. A well-known pair of other judges, shall we say, would have them for breakfast. Mmm, breakfast.

Luckily the judges here are dotty old Mary Berry and the ludicrously-named Paul Hollywood; a roly-poly Scouse fusion of Simon Callow and that well-trimmed bloke who started Paul Mitchell. I’ll give it to him, he looks like a professional baker, and he has a cheery but precise manner. It’s not nasty. The tough-test bagels bit at the end comes with a cheery, informative insert where they go to a proper old Jewish bakery. No one gets their bagels made even remotely right, apart from the Rick Moranis-alike James who supplies an I’m-over-the-moon reaction straight out of the reality book. These people clearly watch too much telly. Then the kicked out Peter gets a hug from the judges and the hosts. That wouldn’t happen on you-know-what.

Yes, I like a bit of pan-banging and cock-in-the-piping-nozzle macho bullshit as much as the next foodie-reality-genre fan, but there’s something great about the Cath Kidston alternative too.

 

YOU CAN’T ALWAYS GET WHAT YOU WAN(T)

Gok Cooks Chinese. Brilliant. Ronseal, mate. Can’t possibly imagine what’s going to happen now. Oh, I can. And I have. And now I’ve watched it, unnecessarily. This programme is so utterly, utterly pedestrian in its format and execution it could almost be on prime-time midweek Channel 4. Oh.

You probably know Gok. I have a near pathological aversion to the sleb-rag X-Factor daytime TV entertainment that smothers mainstream UK media – like drowning in a mix of fake tan and regurgitated WKD – and even I know who fucking Gok Wan is. I know what to expect. Specs. Camp. Asides. Well, thankfully, no one is keen on disappointing me. He actually comes across as entirely charming and personable, and he obviously loves his food. Shame that whoever produced this almost supernatually ordinary ‘vehicle’ had about as much imagination as a free prawn cracker starter. There was a budget, yes, and they spent it on speed-ramped rostrum pans, a lifestyle-porn kitchen big enough to take a moody lighting rig, pointless Jolliver animated inserts, will-this-do? voiceover, yeah yeah. There’s an insert of Gok standing and throwing things about which unfortunately reminds me of the opening titles of the Ali G show. The familiar grammar of a hundred precedents. Let’s make this cuddly. Let’s make this easy. Let’s make this boring.

So Gok gets to work on fried rice in ‘his’ whoah-no-really posh kitchen. “Egg in the wok, a little bit like an omelette”, he opines as he, um, scrambles the eggs in the bottom. Bish bash frozen-pea bosh and he serves his rice on a board, with chilli sauce overflowing on the edge, like someone completely fucking insane. Things pick up when he starts cooking with his dad Papa Wan, who is dry as a bone and great value. He used to work in various Chinese restaurants (as very clearly did Gok, judging by his seriously fast cleaverwork and casual pan flipping). The usual family photos and bonding follow. It’s all about the sleb journey, right? Gok’s strangely unappetising-looking stir-fried beans with shrimp are trumped by his dad’s nommy pork char-sui. They also, surprisingly, make a version of the joke once delivered in public by Prince Philip: “If it has got four legs and it is not a chair, if it has got two wings and flies but is not an aeroplane and if it swims and it is not a submarine, the Cantonese will eat it.”

Still, at least parental chipping makes for drama of sorts. Back at Wan Towers, the vehicle drives on solo. Thoroughly unconvinced, Gok reads the VO script anyway: “So simple, so quick.” (with a vast stock cupboard of dry goods.) “…that you can get really easily from the Chinese supermarket” (well, yes…) “You can be the Bruce Lee of your kitchen.” (FFS). Even the one blatant innuendo is forced out through gritted teeth. The producer used it anyway. Do I have to? Yes, Gok, you do.  

As mentioned, his food unfortunately doesn’t actually look all that special to the eye, but the presentation has been porned-up to the max. So this lovely simple you-can-do-it home cooked food goes to the tracking shot ‘pass’ on huge slabs of Michelin-y greenstone and slate. He clearly knows his shit though; there is a lovely illustrated tip about cutting meat at an angle to hold its shape, and a delightful cheffy moment where he seasons cooking food by dipping one side of his stock-wet ladle into a bowl of pepper and the other side into salt before returning it to the wok. He’s got it.

The really, really annoying bit comes when he visits the kitchens of Hakkasan, the multi-award winning, game-changingly excellent Chinese restaurant. We get to watch the head chef make beef with black beans at high speed, as his brigade watch nervously. Gok gets out his PE teacher stopwatch and times it at 1 minute 41 seconds. This is sped up, as a montage. We don’t get to see a top chef make a dish in less than two minutes. That, apparently would be boring to the audience, rather than fascinating, especially with an detailed voiceover. Nope. One minute forty one of high-speed sexy cheffing? Nah, people would be switching over to Auction Hunters, mate. What utter contempt for the viewer. What a waste of time. What a waste of Gok.

 

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Aside

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Saturday Cookbook is just fucking weird. ITV’s stab at getting the early doors Saturday Kitchen ‘market’, it’s on at the frankly unpleasant time of 8.25am, with Nadia Sawalha and Mark Sargeant, a Michelin chef but with the demeanour of… well, a Saturday morning TV host, really. He’s arrived.

From the opening, stagey, yes-we’re-really-here-drinking-tea-right-now onward, it’s an awkward television exercise. The format is a straight rip of of SK, with really basic GSCE Home Economics recipes, but the producer has decided to distinguish it from the BBC rival with seasick handheld camerawork (WHY?), constantly cutting to close-ups of faces (WHY?), crap sound, shitty graphics and deciding to ignore blatant innuendos rather than celebrating them – Harry Hill would tear this to shreds. The special guest is ‘chef’ Aaron Craze, proper-tat-geezer who occasionally interjects with “Gotta say you’re lookin’ fresh!” and the like. Nadia Sawalha looks happily confused as the lay sleb, breezily dropping in what she reckons at every opportunity.

There’s a clunky ‘what’s in your shopping trolley’ bit (with a real trolley), as guest Fay Ripley tries to squeeze her cheery, healthy schtick past Sawalha’s Partridgisms, then some more just-splodge-it-around cooking before Aaron Craze turns out an everyman mixed herb and nut pesto which is actually pretty interesting.

The whole thing appears to be put together with the cheapskate, oh-fuck-it-they’re-idiots grace characteristic of off-peak ITV these days. I know it’s not aimed at me, and not every food show requires Pierre Koffman cranking up the sous vide to get me going, but the game has changed, sorry. Must try harder.

EARLY

 
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Posted by on April 22, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

TORODE! TORODE! TORODE!

On Saturday Kitchen’s Best Bites on Sunday there was a rare re-run of John Torode actually cooking something, a jammy beef rendang. The MC mask is off, he looks really relaxed, fires off gags, and his Australian accent is a lot more noticable (g’day!). Lovely knifework too (like all proper brigade chefs he can do that thing with an onion that drew blood from me the last time I tried it). The segment featured at least a couple of plugs for his book John Torode’s Beef, which has one of the most unattractive cookbook covers I have ever seen:

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“John. John? Heeeeyyy. Don’t worry about the hair. Can you sit on this throne (THRONE!) in stagey blackout and look a bit diffident? Then we’ll get the trainee designer to stick billion-point Machine all over the cover like it’s 1996 or something.” Weirdly, I went past the Dalston Oxfam shop on the bus yesterday and there was a copy in the window, his bored-puppy face watching the hipsters stroll by.

It seems to be pretty popular with Amazon buyers, if fairly sticking-to-the-knitting. Also, when I Googled for ‘john torode’s beef’, the first auto-complete was for ‘john torode’s wife’. The public have declared their real interests.