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Category Archives: Channel 4

Ze Taste, c’est ….setting a new and fabulous benchmark for melodrama in reality cooking shows

Many reality cooking shows, such as Masterchef or the Great British Bake Off, attempt to insert a melodramatic, tense element by playing spiky music, leaving implausibly long gaps before judging announcements and having presenters hover around the contestants bellowing ‘ARE YOU STRESSED? ARE YOU A BIT STRESSED? DON’T BE STRESSED!’

And I’m not saying that The Taste doesn’t do this because it totally does. However, it gains the edge because it barely has to. Instead, it has Ludo Lefebvre:
errhonheehon
I am British, the contestants on this season are British. We have been schooled, over decades, not to react to things with anything more than polite alarm (‘gosh, how awful’ may be employed in the case of natural disaster) let alone anything that could be misconstrued as melodrama.

I want The Taste’s Ludo Lefebvre to follow me around, reacting to things for me. Anyone who saw him in episode 4, screaming at slightly incorrectly portioned beetroot juice in the way one might after having discovered a severed head in one’s desk drawer, or jumping up and down in a kitchen in episode one, shouting ‘PUTAIN’ will know that this is a not so much a man (although at the same time, indisputably a rather glorious man) as a one-person arsenal of all of Tumblr’s reaction .gifs.

He is the drama that you need in the show- Nigella (our lady, our goddess and let this never be seen as criticism) is radiant in dresses that I would probably need to hand over my annual wage just to touch and it would be worth every penny, her slow-mo eyelash sweeps are spectacular, I have never felt more assured that my decision to become her by the time I’m forty is a sound one. And Anthony Bourdain is the cantankerous old friend who is never not fun to be around. The person you put up with dragging you to a ridiculous grill joint because they’re also going to get your meal for free and then you will go and drink bourbon with rock stars.

But they cannot be a genre of television, they can just be on it. Ludo is life and fire, death and slightly overcooked clams, he would set fire to ze world because he urgently needed to smoke some aubergines, he would kill a man just to watch him die if that man was so stupid as to overcook a steak, he would make love to you on a bed of brioche. There is a structural problem with The Taste (which is to say, being the best cooker of small-things-on-spoons does not necessarily make you the best cook) but this is all forgiven in the face of such glorious, blissful subversion of the melodramatic reality cooking competition by literally sourcing the most dramatic person on this earth.

(I urgently want to be on the next season, just so Ludo can shout at me, at least once.)

 
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Posted by on February 10, 2014 in Ludo Lefebvre, The Taste

 

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a spoonful of sugar

Hello everyone!  Fanny is back.  Miss me?

Fanny

Oh, OK.

So, after a brief period of hibernation, I decided the time had come to get back into the swing of things – I admit, I’d been sidetracked by Tom Kerridge and Masterchefs Australia and Professional but the triple whammy of Bourdain, Lawson and Lefebvre was too much to resist.  Yes, The Taste has come to town.

Originally created for American TV Channel 4 ditched the four judge idea and the slimmed down panel are the aforementioned Anthony Bourdain (now known as Tony), Nigella Lawson (now known as Poor Nigella) and Ludo Lefebvre (widely known as WHO?).  Having worked together on two seasons for the ABC channel there is clear familiarity between the three with much eye-rolling and banter which, I think, work well.

Nigella

“all I needs is a spoon and the right pot”

The show’s premise is all about simplicity and back to basics; you can learn all the techniques you want or create a five course menu but The Taste is all about ONE SPOONFUL OF FOOD.  So, it’s a shame that the show itself seems a little confusing.  Don’t let that put you off.  Episode one in summary:

  • 25 contestants
  • professional or home cooks
  • one hour to create your food
  • judges taste with their backs to a glass wall
  • contestant can hear the comments then enter the room
  • feedback and verdicts given
  • if more than one judge says yes, contestant chooses which mentor to follow
  • each judge is looking for four contestants
  • successful contestants are given an apron

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it’s chriiiiiiiiiiiiiistmaaaaaaaaas!

With some time off work, this is the time for me to catch up on some writing, you lucky people.  What better time to sit down and discuss the phenomenon of festive food and it’s televisual counterpart.

I began my journey with the legend herself, Ms Fanny Cradock.  There were two quick episodes on Good Food Channel, one focusing on mincemeat, t’other on Christmas pudding.  In episode one, our main ingredient is described as “the Cinderella of Christmas” and such delights as mincemeat pancake, galette and OMELETTE (eggs with flakes of butter, nothing else) are created, right before our eyes through a fog of icing sugar.  Icing sugar on everything and about a centimetre deep too.  The speed in which she works is pretty astonishing: no messing about.  Fanny would do very well in the omelette challenge with James Martin, I can tell you.  Eggs are mixed together, pastry unfolded and costume jewellery glistens in grease.  Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the 1970’s.  The next recipe is for a tart.  Pastry is lowered into a shallow, round cake tin and filled with mincemeat.  Fanny cracks on saying “I’m not going to explain it all to the older people, you know all this stuff.”  Nice to see – basically, “you’re all old enough to know how to make bloody pastry and form it into a tart shape, now let’s get on with it”.

We move swiftly on to a Swiss roll filled with, yep the ‘meat.  The sponge is pre-prepared and handed over by Sarah (aka Poor Sarah) and various maxims are uttered such as “everything is so much better when you know how”.  Thanks.  We are advised that you need a good quality rolling pin – not one with handles though: “that’s the best kind, the professional kind.  Maybe you’ll be lucky enough to get a rolling pin in your stocking”.  If I did, I might be lucky enough to hit my husband round the head with it.

Fanny and Sarah

Delia Smith is a more recent Christmas icon.  Carsmile still swears by her instructions for turkey or goose from the ‘Complete Illustrated Cookery Course‘ 1992 edition (originally published in 1978).  As is the way on speciality channels, we are served up a whole evening of her 1990 series, Delia at Christmas.  This particular episode began with the words “I don’t agree with vegetarianism…” but she humored us with a selection of recipes for cheese terrine, stuffed peppers and ‘sausage’ (cheese and herb) rolls.  An issue with the screening of classic shows is the aspect ratio as Delia invited a friend over to explain the delights of fizzy wine.  “You don’t have to stick to Champagne,” said the very wide sommelier, “there’s other fizz out there like Cava or this stuff from India!”  I’m not sure if I was more excited about the Indian wine or the amazing shoulder pads.

The following installment was the legendary “36 Hours of Christmas” and I started to wonder why programmes continue to be made on the subject of Christmas turkeys.  People moan about dry, tasteless meat but once you know the best way to do it, why bother with anything else (“everything is so much better when you know how”)?  Now we are acquainted with Delia’s technique, I don’t care about Gordon’s recipe or even Jamie’s version.  But the more shows I watched, the more I noticed the seemingly endless ways of cooking the festive bird.  Lorraine places a bag of frozen peas on the breast before it goes into the oven to slow down the time it takes that part to cook, Nigella sticks her poultry in a gigantic red bucket (to match her silky, red dressing gown) with herbs and spices to add moistness and don’t even get me started on the stuffing controversy!

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if you smell what C4’s cooking (P)

During a recent trip to a well known supermarket (OK we’ve got the product placement symbol, so it was Sainsbury’s!) I heard a pre-recorded tannoy announcement for a brand new ‘culinary chat show’.  Oh, the joy.  After a hard week at work I thought I may have imagined it but, no.  I tuned in to watch episode two and, readers, I tried but I failed to get any further than 20 minutes in.

does the light really go out when you close the door?

does the light really go out when you close the door?

Of course, it’s only natural for there to be teething problems or for chemistry between the presenters to develop but this is essentially Sunday Brunch and that’s not really a good thing.  Our presenters are Lisa Faulkner, the woman who I still can’t forgive for winning Celebrity Masterchef over lovely Dick Strawbridge and housewives favourite, Ben Shepherd.  Lisa’s cooking credentials are pretty sound, Ben on the other hand – no idea.  And I may never find out.

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Posted by on March 10, 2013 in Channel 4

 

Heston’s Fantastical Food / Dinner By Heston

This last week I have swum in both the deep and the shallow end of Heston Blumenthal’s pool. Lucky me, it was my birthday, and someone was kind enough to take me to Dinner by Heston, his restaurant at the Mandarin Oriental hotel in Knightsbridge, London. I also saw two and a half episodes of Heston’s Fantastical Food, his new ‘vehicle’ for Channel 4. It seemed like a good idea to talk about them together.

The restaurant itself is as modish and moneyed as you’d expect from a five star hotel sitting literally in the shadow of One Hyde Park, the most expensive property development in the UK. You enter through a bar filled with the sort of Prada-bedecked people I’d personally emigrate to avoid, but the restaurant itself, warm and beautifully lit, is bray-free. Dark wood and blown glass. We don’t get to overlook the fabled kitchen like some tables, but I’d take our spot again with its night view of the park. The concept behind Dinner by Heston is taking archaic British dishes, each one lovingly cookbook-dated on the menu, and celebrating and updating the ideas with pernickity attention to detail. As Matthew Fort said in a rave review in the Guardian, “Dinner reclaims and reinvents our own cooking heritage, reinvigorating the tired and ordinary orthodoxies of traditional British cooking.”

Unfortunately, the tired and ordinary orthodoxies of TV don’t come in for the same treatment. The high-concept elevator pitch behind H.F.F. is this: “Heston makes giant food.” That’s it. It’s window-dressed with his usual tropes of nostalgia, childhood flavours, and magical imagination, plus a parade of Roald Dalhl-ian silliness. But none of these quite support the premise or justify the means. “I’m going to expensively make an enormous thing, enlisting local people and food technologists up and down the land, and entertain the people doing so.” The giant fry up, the giant ice cream, the giant pot of tea. The ‘why’ is never really gotten to. And that’s the problem. There is no reason for this programme to exist. There is no good reason for the scale of the stunts – the glib explanations given aren’t even remotely convincing. The justifications – basically, that it will fire the imaginations of children – aren’t really borne out by the footage.

Back to Dinner. We skip the signature ‘meat fruit‘, a classic bit of Blumenthal legerdemain, and I go for Roast Marrowbone (c.1720) with snails, parsley, anchovy, mace & pickled vegetables, while my companion has the Rice & Flesh (c.1390) with saffron, calf tail and a red wine reduction. The marrow and snails are a little oily and samey for me but the Rice & Flesh is extraordinary; like a British risotto rippling with meaty unctuousness. Not remotely French, let alone Italian. We move on to the mains, and both decide to go for the Battalia Pye (c.1660), a barrel hoop crust filled with sweetbreads, lamb tongue, devilled kidneys and little pigeon legs, plus a little boat of the richest, densest lamb gravy ever devised by man. This is a potent celebration of meaty English flavours. You feel greedier with every mouthful. This is a pie, that most utterly Anglo-Saxon container. A pie filled with offal – which could similarly describe the sort of four-for-a-pound jobs you can get from Iceland – and yet it screams with flavour and texture and technique. It’s gloriously nostalgic and robust, and yet refined to perfection. It’s entirely Heston.

When Heston gets his lab coat on, special things happen. Like Ferran Adria, he seems happier experimenting, tasting, thinking, perfecting. Unlike Adria, whose distinctly Catalan take on molecular gastronomy is flighty and theatrical with nods to the avant-garde, our boy constantly returns to his well-worn themes of nostalgia, the tastes of childhood, and synesthesia. The bits on H.F.F. where he gets in the ‘lab’ and relates his ideas and technique are easily the best sequences; he looks relaxed and entirely in his element. This being Channel 4 TV, these scenes are pared down to the bare fucking minimum, in favour of pedestrian vox pop wandering and bonhomie with the cast of characters required, a job he isn’t really that suited for – it strikes me that this might work better as a two-hander with someone else to knock about with the public. The tone is uneven as well – when he gets wacky with the sketchpad and starts to look like a clunky fusion of Harry Hill and Joe 90, you wonder if the man who created a restaurant once voted best in the world isn’t going through some kind of midlife crisis. Do you really need to be loved this badly?

Back at Dinner, we’re onto Pudding. I thought the mains were good, but these really seal it. I get brown bread ice cream (c.1830) with salted butter caramel, pear & malted yeast syrup. I’ve had many salted caramel things before, but nothing even close to this; the texture perfected, the crunch, the presentation, the slightly savoury tone balancing the utter malty sweetness. Just amazing. My companion has the taffety tart (c.1660) with apple, rose, fennel & vanilla ice cream, which works a parade of flavours effortlessly. We wait a little while for the ice cream trolley to work its way round the last few tables. This slightly incongruous flourish could have been invented by Heston’s agent. Basically, they make ice-cream in front of you using a rotund, waistcoated man, a hand-cranked, hand-made mixing machine, and liquid nitrogen throwing billowing clouds and drawing everyone’s attention; a seaside science show. There’s a touch of apple coulis in the cones, the nod to finer things. Then you roll your ice cream cone in your choice of toppings; I go for sugar-coated fennel seeds, which were delicious. The whole experience borders on kitsch – perfectly executed kitsch. For this closer, they charged us £8.50 each, but given the twenty minute post-dessert wait and the extra couple of glasses of wine we ordered because of that wait… Dinner was not cheap. But it was exceptional, and the finest expression of what the man is good at.

Back in TV land, a giant, unflavoured ice-cream weighing one tonne is prepared (twice) by experts and craned onto a waffle-coated steel structure. Then Heston and his lad-mag boys fire ‘flavour bombs’ at it with cannons and paintball guns. There is a ludicrous and lengthy preamble to all this where he attempts to make a giant cone out of the normal cone-stuff that will support the vast weight – when it is clear to the viewing public, as it must be to him, that such a thing is impossible and another solution must be found. He gloomily goes through with the TV convention anyway. One tonne of ice-cream in a public park, rapidly melting. There aren’t enough kids in the crowd to eat even a fraction of it. His imagination is rampant, but the vast expense and wastefulness of this programme, in the lingering tail of a recession, in a country where seven million tonnes of food are thrown away every year (to the point where the government has launched a campaign to reduce it) borders on the obscene.

Please. Heston. Stick with what you are excellent at. Refuse to compromise with the idiots who run the idiot box. Stay in the public eye. Stay on television, but show people about work and perfection and glorious English cookery. Don’t sell yourself short. You’ve done a great deal for food and food culture in this country. You don’t need to do rubbish like this too.

 
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Posted by on November 28, 2012 in Channel 4, Dessert, Heston Blumenthal

 

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jamie, jamie and the magic touch

Seeing as my earlier Nigel Slater post had me singing XTC constantly, I don’t hold much hope with this one (look it up, kids)!

So, the inimitable Jamie Oliver is back on our screens with not only his ’30 Minute Meals’ (coz that clearly wasn’t fast enough) but also his ’15 Minute Meals’.  All Jamie, all the time.  I think even I might struggle with all the excitement.

There was a recent elimination task on Oz MC; cooks had 30 minutes to grab ingredients from the pantry and cook whatever they liked.  The bottom three moved on to the next round and had 20 minutes to do the same.  The bottom two then had a whole FIVE minutes to rustle up a storm in the kitchen.  Pretty crazy scenes, I can tell you.

COCK!

’15 Minute Meals’ begins with a visual riot of a title sequence.  Buffalo Stance blasts out of my speakers as our host flings basil, crushes chillies and generally makes a split-screen mess.  I pity poor old Jules who, I presume, has to clean up after him.  Read the rest of this entry »

 

and finally, monsieur, a wafer-thin mint

“Do not join those who drink too much wine or gorge themselves on meat, for drunkards and gluttons become poor, and drowsiness clothes them in rags.”

Thank you, sir, and now the check.

So, me and my friends would regularly chatter on about last night’s Masterchef or the merits of Slater over Stein.  Eventually, those who did not care for food-based telly programmes (I know, they do exist!) cried ‘shut up and blog it!’.  So, here we are.  It has taken me some time but, once outside of my Masterchef bubble, I have realised just how many cookery shows there are!  Bloody loads.

It was requested that I compile a list of current shows so my fellow bloggers won’t miss a morsel.  Happy to oblige.  It took me a while and I’m considering posting a permanent weekly/monthly list so our readers can also keep up.   Read the rest of this entry »