Thursday, 29 March 2012

Drowning in a sea of twee

(Photo: Woman & Home)

I’m more than a bit hacked off with the recent trend of lifestyle-over-content cookery programmes. I feel that less and less is about the recipes and the cooking, and more about what sort of vintage crockery I should be serving my desserts in, or what kind of salvage tiles I should be coveting for my kitchen. In the new series ‘The Little Paris Kitchen’ I’m so distracted by what Rachel Khoo is wearing that I actually forget what it is that she is cooking at all. (Yes, yes, I do covet all her lovely bright vintage dresses, so very annoying that I rise to the bait like this!)

I was lunching with friends P and M yesterday, and they urged me to watch this new show as they knew it would get my goat on many levels. So of course I couldn’t resist the challenge and watched two episodes as soon as I got home, and found myself so irked by the programme that I actually can’t wait to watch the next episode… hah! It’s not just the over-stylised way the programme is made (each and every piece of crockery is a beautiful and lustworthy vintage item, everything is cute and twee and pretty) but the premise of the programme is confusing.

Why on earth would you want to watch a British girl re-interpret French dishes? She makes very strange re-hashes of classics such as muffin-style Croque Madame (strange) and Coq au Vin skewers (why? Whatever next, a beef borguignon kebab?) She interviews people in a leaden and stilted way, asking a Moroccan tea specialist if he used boiling water in his kettle to make tea (really?) and showing off her matiness with the local fishmongers. I’d be more interested in watching someone French cook really great French food, instead of cringing while a Brit ex-pat tries to re-invent the wheel and demonstrate her palliness with the locals. Not to say that all of Miss Khoo’s food looks bad, and some of it does look tasty enough, it’s just a question of why would anyone want to make French-style food when the real deal is pretty much perfect and not difficult to make in the first place? As P said, ‘I want to hold her face onto her stupid hotplate’. It’s like someone going to Italy and teaching the Italians how to make pasta…gah…really rather bloody irritating. Even if she has done a Cordon Bleu course!

I haven’t finished…remember Sophie Dahl’s much-panned ‘The Delicious Miss Dahl’ cookery programme? She seems like a very lovely lady, but I found I was rather more entranced by all her chipped enamelware ladles, rustic chopping boards and the fabulousness of the kitchen, which had been over-styled to within an inch of its life to resemble a delightfully bohemian enclave, complete with ‘authentic’ travel knick-knacks, bunches of gnarly onions hanging from rustic twine, and gorgeous pottery plates (all mismatched and chipped, of course). I have very few memories of what Sophie actually cooked (apart from one roasted tomato soup), but do remember tittering while Miss Dahl went and sat on a vintage velvet chaise longue and read out some poetry or stared winsomely out of a window at the rain. I kept expecting Jamie Cullum (her husband) to pop in and start singing. Everything was incredibly stilted and smacked of fakery, especially as I then learned that the kitchen where the series was shot was completely mocked up to look as though Sophie lived there. (But of course it would be, what was I thinking!)

Nigella was probably the original vehicle for all the over-styled over-sexed lifestyle-mag cookery show trend, what with her lusty glances as she licked spoons batting her eyes to camera, while her gorgeous KitchenAid mixer twinkled under strings of artfully festooned fairy lights and beautiful bouquets of flowers drooped handsomely near her Le Creuset cookware. Not to mention her flirtatiousness with the camera – it could be so hilarious at times that the food really does take a back seat. You are either agog at Nigella’s brazen raunchy moves, or coveting that lovely salad bowl (from her product line, of course). When I found out that, unsurprisingly, Nigella’s beautiful home had been recreated on some industrial estate to enable filming of one of the more recent series, I still felt cheated.

All of these programmes and their ilk leave me wondering whether any of the people in them know anything much at all about food, and whether we should really be blaming the stylists and producers of such shows who appear to all be in league to make us feel inadequate for not living in chic and retro bohemian splendour – and all the while the food sulks moodily in the corner. What do you lot think? Am I just a dreadful curmudgeon? Or are you also sick of feeling like you’re being preached to by the home and style police?


  1. I should point out I was only speaking figuratively when I said I'd like to hold her face...! It's just so frustrating when such a content-less show gets commissioned whilst many other more worthy subjects are left untouched and this particular presenters smugness does nothing to engender herself to me.

  2. Argh - even the Guardian are now sucking up to this whole trend. Tut tut!

  3. I have the same rage about cookbooks that are packed with glossy photos but are lazily written and impractical to cook from. Jamie Oliver is a repeat offender. I assume his cookbooks are ghost-written because he's too busy posing with rustic-looking fishmongers to get his hands dirty with boring stuff like copy editing.

    I imagine for him, 'writing' a cookbook involves a long photo shoot and a quick chat to his editor.

    Editor: Okay, there's a recipe for lasagne in here. Would you like to say anything about it?

    Jamie: Oh, yeah, just write 'tinned corn makes this a lubbly jubbly twist on the classic'. That'll do...

  4. Pip, I totally agree, I worked as a copy editor on food magazines for a while, and the process was usually meticulous, but I gather that budgets in book publishing have been slashed, and there's hardly anyone checking recipes for accuracy anymore! You're best off with a copy of Good Housekeeping Magazine as they have a whole test kitchen checking every recipe, but it's not the same as going and browsing the latest cookbooks for inspiration, to be sure.