Best In Print

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Virgil Evetts

When I was a kid I always regretted watching “making of…” TV specials – rather than helping to build my excitement about the film in question they just ruined the magic for me.  Similarly (sort of) I find some of my favourite food writers are altogether too exposed when put in front of a camera.

Take Nigel Slater for example; I absolutely bloody love this man’s writing.  He is truly a master of the craft, and knocks most of his peers right out of the water, up onto the beach and behind the dunes.  He’s one of the few living food writers who  writes about his love of food , without feeling the need to throw in recipes  to be followed slavishly- in fact he advocates quite the opposite. 

However, on TV he just doesn’t do it for me.  He clearly doesn’t enjoy the whole TV thing and comes across as vaguely bored and a bit embarrassed by the attention.  Perhaps he’ll settle in to it in time but, wound me as it does to say it, what I’ve seen so far on Nigel Slater’s Simple Suppers (7.30 Fridays on Sky’s Food Channel) is about a inspiring as a war-time rationing cook book put to madrigal.  Strangely, the food presented therein is not at all reflective of the homely but intelligent offerings of his substantial written body of work. Maybe it’s the producer’s fault for trying to style him as a more urbane, and considerably less hirsute, version of Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall (who, conversely is brilliant on TV but less so in print), which just doesn’t sit comfortably with me.  One way or another I now feel like I’ve seen a little more of my hero than I wanted to and it’s ruined a bit of the magic.  I think it was his fried fish with stewed rhubarb that really tipped me over.

Fanny Craddock was another fine example of a good face for plain print. The woman looked like a malevolent, pantomime drag-queen on TV, and always sounded like she was reprimanding her viewers, but wrote intelligent, witty books about food, which are still relevant and highly readable today.

Dare I say it, but to my mind the queen of the ‘better-in-print’ principle is the alarmingly saucy Nigella Lawson.  Her TV persona (a sort of food-burlesque routine) scared me well away from her books for years, which is a shame and ultimately my loss, because she’s a wonderfully articulate writer and a brilliant recipe creator.

The trouble is that TV has become the obligatory progression for the successful food personality in the UK.  The TV shows end up being an essential part of the marketing strategy for a food celeb’s brand, and the books end up being little more than a follow-up campaign to the series (probably scheduled to coincide with the DVD release for extra market impact). The fact that some very good chefs and food writers just aren’t cut out for the contrivances of TV  doesn’t seem to matter very much.

At least you have to have some sort of culinary resume in the UK.  In the United States there are so many hours of programming time to be filled, on myriad cable channels, that pretty much any guy with a shiny gas BBQ of midlife-crisis-proportions can get a show.   Just check out the Food Channel in the wee-small hours if you don’t believe me.


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6 thoughts on “Best In Print

  1. The ones that make me cringe are the ones they slot between programmes, that look if the chef`s have just come home from a night out and have decided to cook in the wee small hours of the morning! I think one makes a liquorice ice cream, another, something with Jelly.

  2. Funny you should mention Jamie’s arm waving, Zeetra. I had the sound down when an add for one of shows came on the other night and noticed he was doing funny things with his arms in every single shot. He was like an aerobics instructor with a beanie.
    Yes, one can’t help but wonder if Nigella’s director has a back ground in porn.

  3. Im going to wave the white flag here…

    I for one have not read a cook book, well does Edmonds count??
    I am although,picky about the food tv shows I watch.

    Jamie drives me bonkers with his arm waving and general banter.
    Nigella,is lovely. Its fantastic to watch a cook on TV eat their own food,healthy or not.
    Jo Seager is one I enjoyed watching as her recipes are very simple and she just “bungs” everything in together…
    I did enjoy watching Fanny Craddock when her shows were on food TV.
    Apart from the general laugh for how she appeared, her food was just plain well… not words can describe… but she was honest and funny.
    Gordon wont get any more of my time, simply dont like his food.

    I prefer baking shows not cooking shows and they are very hard to find.
    Everyday Food (a Martha Stewart show) had a great male baker on there. I could watch him bake for hours.
    Maybe I should pick up a good cook book and read it.. I might leanr something new….but who to read???

  4. After reading Nigel Slaters “Toast” I just lost interest completely. I can’t remember specifics so am loath to post anything here that isn’t accurate but I just found his attititudes to his parents and childhood created a loss of respect as opposed to empathy.
    I agree that Nigella’s writing is fabulous – I think she is a master of the pen when it comes to creative writing. I honestly can’t say I have used enough of her recipes to give a fair judgement call on these. I do enjoy watching her on tele as I am fascinated by her moves and angles that always seem to involve cleavage and/or flicks of hair.

  5. I don’t watch much food tv for a variety of reasons but I do agree about Nigella. She is very irritating to watch but a very clever writer. Her “How to Eat” is a great read, although very English in approach to meals. I like her writing but not her recipes if that makes sense.

    I prefer Jamie Oliver on TV to in writing – I do like his style of food but think that he has a team of writers, whereas on TV his enthusiasm and generosity comes through.

    Not having Sky and avoiding MasterChef and NZ Hottest Home Baker limits what food tv I watch to be honest. I will watch Top Chef at times but not regularly.