Television: Self-indulgent chef

30 March 2010

by Gillean Craig

WHAT could be more appropriate, as we prepare for our annual commemoration of the Lord’s Supper, than a brace of pro­grammes about food? Remove from the Gospels every incident and reference involving eating and drink­ing, and you would be left with mere pamphlets — a doctrine that I not only preach, but, as my straining cassock buttons bear mute yet eloquent witness, take to heart.

The Delicious Miss Dahl (BBC2, Tuesday of last week) represents a significant logical climax in the development of TV cooking. Orig­in­ally conceived as skill-based education, encouraging the newly liberated masses to widen their culinary repertoire, show after show has focused more on the personality of the chef, and they have become more and more self-regarding and outrageous.

Here we reach the apogee: the title does not even bother to mention anything as boring as cooking — the whole exercise is an excuse for the camera to snuggle up as closely as possible to the winsome Miss Dahl. Sensitively timed for Passiontide, last week’s opening episode was entitled “Selfish”.

It was not, however, a warning about the eternal dangers of self-centredness, but a full-on en­couragement to indulge ourselves as much as possible, in an imagined day of eating a succession of yum­my treats. There was an aura of conscious naughtiness throughout; an invitation to kick over every restraint. Actually, the recipes did look rather good.

Far more proper to the season was Bread: A loaf affair (BBC4, Wednesday of last week). Despite a desperate jokiness, which began with the dire title and continued on downhill, this documentary about the story of British bread dispelled, for me at least, several miscon­ceptions.

Traditional bread was not wholesome and delicious: it was (because our climate is no good for wheat) rock-hard and full of im­purities. No wonder the rich ate the far more refined white bread. With industrialisation, ways were found to make more bread appear white — albeit through lethal adultera­tion. Gradually, rich people wanted to show their discrim­ination by eating wholemeal brown bread.

Baking by hand to feed a com­munity is back-breaking, soul-destroying work. Artisanal baking for the discerning few is a tactile, even sensual delight. So the world turns.

Where would you least expect to encounter the teachings of the great J. A. T. Robinson, the only one of my tutors to tell me honestly how completely a waste of his valuable time I was? What price as a special­ist subject in Mastermind (BBC2, Friday)?

To reduce the work of a theo­logian and New Testament scholar to a series of “Yes” or “No” questions is an achievement of such towering, such monu­mental sur­real­ism as to inspire genuine, awestruck admiration. Unfortun­ately, the hapless contest­ant who offered the theme came last.

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