I watched two cooking shows last night – one good, the other not so good.
The Good – The Incredible Spice Men. These guys are terrific – they’re funny, knowledgeable, clearly LOVE cooking in addition to being good at it (quite often you don’t get the sense that some of the cooking presenters don’t actually enjoy what they’re doing. Maybe they did at one point but … ) But Cyrus Todiwala and Tony Singh – they love it. They love talking about food, cooking it, sharing it. And the delight they take in it is infectious. If nothing else, you want to sit in that madhouse of a kitchen set and watch them create these spiced up versions of classic British dishes.
If they can get across nothing else other than the idea that spice does not equal burn, they will have accomplished a lot and I think they are well on their way to that. They are using a vast arsenal of spices in this program for both sweet and savory dishes (adding the vanilla beans to the cheese? Brilliant and I can’t wait to try it) and showing that spices are ingredients worthy of attention, not after thoughts. There’s often a moment I have while watching the show – like when they put cinnamon and pepper with strawberries – when I think “Of course! It seems so obvious now that I’ve seen it done.” Another cinnamon moment was the pulled pork with cinnamon and clove. Pulled pork is a BBQ staple from my childhood and I love it but variety is the spice of life so I have no hesitation about changing up the flavor profile on this childhood favorite, especially as – another “OMG! Of course” moment – both those spices would play so well with pork. Also – because they explain what they are doing and why, extra useful information is imparted as well. I didn’t know how to pick out a decent chunk of ginger before – but now I do.
I’m sure there will be complaints about artificiality – some who don’t care for the puns, the gallivanting around, the “set ups” where we’re led to believe tension is high as spicy fish and chips are presented to “scary” biker gang (which was the mellowest, most clearly non-threatening biker gang I have ever seen in all my days). But it’s a TV show – and by definition it is an artificial construct. The secret to GREAT TV cookery shows is when the viewer feels like they are being talked to as opposed to being talked at – and this show, these men succeed beautifully in that regard.
Jamie Oliver on the other hand …
The Not So Good – Jamie’s Money Saving Meals. I’ll be honest – I’ve never much cared for Jamie Oliver as a TV presenter. His early cookbooks were really interesting and a useful read. But watching him on TV has always been a bit of a slog for me, even in the early days when he was “Gosh-Golly, Who Me?” Jamie. I just don’t think he’s very good as a presenter.
In the early days there were moments where he seemed to forget he was on camera and in THOSE moments, moments where he was just talking about the food to whoever was prompting from off to the left, worked. As soon as he recalled that he needed to hit his mark or hold to get an angle, it fell apart.
Now that he’s “Tilts At Windmills” Jamie, I find him even harder to watch. Not because of the tilting at windmills (he’s often gotten hold of a legitimate issue but then gets a bit ‘bull in a china shop’ when addressing it). No, I find him hard to watch because instead of becoming more at ease with the fact that he’s on TV, he seems to have forgotten how real people move and talk. People complain that Nigella is now a parody of herself, arch beyond words and over the top. But she’s got NOTHING on Jamie Oliver. With every successive show, he is more and more like someone playing Jamie Oliver, all his ticks and schtick while the cooking has all the depth and detail of a cooking sketch on a TV variety show. Dan Aykroyd as Julia Child comes to mind.
Last night was perhaps the most glaring example to date. I commented mid-show that it was more infomercial than cookery show but I should have said it’s like a bad infomercial because there have been infomercials in my life that have imparted more information per sequence than last night’s show. Yes, the tips of storing fresh herbs was useful but mostly because it reminded me I needed to harvest the herbs outside before the weather gets properly chilly. Using leftovers is a great way to cut down on food waste but I can think of several equally interesting, quicker and MUCH cheaper ways to use leftover brisket and I can do it without the relative pantry and equipment luxuries he seems to assume are at hand.
Look, I don’t agree with eviscerating the man for pointing out that fewer and fewer people bother or know how to cook these days (he’s right). The articles last week, shrieking that he’s down on the poor for buying ready meals are clearly built around carefully picked comments from conversations about how PEOPLE (all of them) are subsisting on ready meals or take-aways. But that won’t sell as many papers so it became “Rich man criticizes poor for having audacity to eat.” As tedious in its way as Jamie himself and even more predictable.
Will definitely be keeping up with The Incredible Spice Men (and quite likely buying their book as they seem to share the TransAtlantic Towers outlook on what food and eating it about) and giving Jamie a miss. Might thumb through the book should I come across it in the shops – then make a call on the book separately but if the rest of the series is like last nights, no reason to miss something more interesting. Like emptying the dishwasher.