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.