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Category Archives: Commodification

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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FOODIE (noun. vulg.)

Off TV for a while: a couple of things I’ve read this week have touched upon the charmlessness of foodies and blogging. Firstly the Guardian has a blog piece about taking photographs of food, and the social meedja lifestyle bragging-rights upload that invariably follows. I am not immune to this phenomenon, and I sometimes Facebook pics of things I’ve made, but I draw the line at doing it in restaurants, for two reasons.

Firstly, I think it’s at least slightly rude. If Michelin-level cooking is ‘theatre’, well, they don’t let you take photos in the theatre, do they? The couple next to us at Hibiscus last year were photographing fucking EVERYTHING including the flatware with a big DSLR – and scribbling in notebooks between courses. It distracted me a little, but the fantastically withering look they got from the sommelier at one point was almost worth it all. Apparently Heston now bans cameras at the Fat Duck, but who can blame him? I can understand the impulse though, particularly if you’ve saved up a couple of hundred quid for something both excellent and ephemeral, and you want to savour the memory or show your mother. And I agree that the appeal of some food blogs, e.g. The Critical Couple, is the detailed photographs of courses in fuck-off restaurants round the world, which has got me drooling and saving more than once.

But the more egregious reason for not taking photographs in restaurants, for me, is the cognitive switching between experiencing and recording. This is worst at gigs with people taking hundreds of really bad digital photographs instead of actually experiencing music, the only art form that you have to appreciate in real-time. The instant that the most important thing about the evening becomes recording it, whether out of boredom, for braggingtons, or blog hits, you’ve gone down the rabbit hole of life-at-a-remove, the curse of the digital 21st century.

So I’d barely finished this Guardian piece when one of my great pop mates tips me to an article about ‘The Young Foodie Culture‘ in New York. From the punchable opening: “Chang arrives at the tiny Thai place with her friends Jasmine, a stylist, and Marcos, a graphic designer.”, it’s a meditation in smug box-ticking foodie wankery that needs the hashtag #firstworldproblems attached to every other bloody sentence. As several commenters note, it’s ludicrous to extrapolate detailed trends based on one person (although that didn’t stop a Guardian blogger having a go based on about five records played by a single DJ at a single Dalston club on a single night). I’m struggling to decide whether the journalist or his subject is more irritating, but he does touch on some real foodie issues, such as the gluttonous lack of interest in locavorism or sustainability. And then he records the actual delivery of a line like ““Don’t you always feel so humbled eating an artichoke?“. Yurgh.

Anyway, after typing all the above, I was hungry, so I went and got an expensive coffee eclair from Paul.

But when I took a photo of it it looked a bit like a poo in a box.

A lesson for us all, there.

 
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Posted by on March 27, 2012 in British, Commodification, Critics, Dislike

 

masterchef: passing the test

As La Fanny notes in the previous post, the essence of cooking well is actually “IT’S GOOD ENOUGH TO EAT”, rather than “IT’S BETTER THAN SEX” — culinary excellence is not (in itself) that high a bar to clear; there are tens of millions of excellent cooks in the world, and only a very few of them wish to be high-profile chefs in the Ferran Adrià sense. Masterchef has to preserve this low-bar high-bar dichotomy: essentially it’s a very severe (and carefully calibrated) obstacle course to discover the very very very best “ordinary” cook.

(Hence the need to siphon off a different class of competitor, with Professional Masterchef, which has a somewhat different sequence of pathologies…)

The obvious ones (for Masterchef OG) are:
i: technique (not burning stuff; not undercooking it; knowing how to prep meat; a basic knowledge of what to do in a kitchen and what not to)
ii: palate
iii: timing
iv: inventiveness
v: working knowledge of the tradition
vi: dealing with pressure
vii: curiosity and ability to learn Read the rest of this entry »

 

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