The Good Old Days with Keith Floyd

I’ve been thinking about Keith Floyd lately.

It happens on occasion, in a sporadic, nostalgic fashion (somehow – peculiarly? – when I watch some modern rubbish “food TV”). Here’s what I had to say about him a few years ago when I was being all academic and bookish:

Floyd was in many ways the pioneer of modern food television – at least in the UK and Europe, and particularly in terms of breaking down the artifice that had been a staple of televised cooking until he famously took the cameras out of the kitchen studio and into whichever exotic location he (iconic glass of wine in hand) happened to be cooking in. He was postmodern before that word was fashionable, talking to his cameraman [“Clive, back to me, thanks”]  and often enough scolding him for not paying enough attention to the food. Floyd directed his shows from the stage, and in that way made it impossible for his viewers not to be aware of the whole enterprise as a construction. By not allowing us to feel like flies on a kitchen wall, Floyd rarely displayed the conceit of imagining that he was stepping into our worlds, and that he therefore had any sense of responsibility to his audience. On the contrary, his particular conceit – and also what made him so entertaining to watch – was that he was allowing us a glimpse into his world, and into a world of food and television where things did not always go according to scripts or plans. It was a world away from the patronizing refrains of ‘see how easy it is?’ which populate our screens today.

Floyd became famous because he was eccentric in his ways, and because he did what he liked. As he wrote on his short-lived blog, ‘If you don’t like my approach you are welcome to go down to MacDonald’s [sic]’. Perhaps this was also the reason, sadly, that his fame was soon eclipsed by a number of younger Turks who took inspiration from Floyd to make careers of food and television, as well as a number of television producers who took inspiration to create and nurture a new brand of stars – though less likely to be drinking on set, and therefore less potentially liable to their respective producers. Slowly but surely, once Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson started appearing on television, we began to see less and less of Keith Floyd, until he virtually disappeared altogether.

Until 2009, that is, when his erstwhile producer David Pritchard published a book called “Shooting The Cook”, which details the rise (and fall) of their friendship and professional partnership. Later that year The Daily Mail published a series of extracts from Floyd’s forthcoming autobiography, “Stirred But Not Shaken”. In it, Floyd tells his own version of Pritchard’s story, including what he saw as an important correction: ‘I don’t want to napalm the cooks (as Pritchard has accused me in his book Shooting the Cook). I want to napalm the producers.’ The book also chronicles a number of details of his life depressingly at odds with the Floyd we knew from television: four divorces, a bowel cancer diagnosis, and recurring bouts of heavy drinking and weariness from the fame he had inadvertently earned (‘I’d walk onto the stage, a bottle in one hand, a glass in the other,’ he said of one of his last gigs, ‘Floyd Uncorked’. ‘“My name is Keith Floyd.” And they were screaming, which is strange because I am not a pop star. I’m just a cook.’)

That same evening, the UK’s Channel 4 screened a film called “Keith Meets Keith”, which documents a trip by British comedian Keith Allen to France to meet Floyd, his one-time cooking icon. It was not a pleasant film to watch, because physically Keith Floyd was a shadow of his earlier television self. But he was as acerbic as ever, and had no reservations about calling celebrity chefs – though not, this time, their producers – a bunch of attention seeking ‘cunts’, and pointing out that it made no sense for chefs to become celebrities in the first place, because, as he put it, a chef should be the chief of his kitchen, while the person who cooks is a cook. Just a few hours after “Keith Meets Keith” was broadcast, Keith Floyd died of a heart attack (following a meal, we are told, of oysters, partridge, pear cider jelly, wine and ‘a number of cigarettes’). © Me, 2012

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Withnail and I Dinner Menu

I recently listened to an excellent BBC Food Programme podcast on the topic of food and cult fiction. It was fun listening to all the food stuff from Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, and a writer I hadn’t heard of before (to my shame, it now seems), Colin MacInnes, who authored a trilogy about London in the mid-20th century, at least one of which apparently contains excellent passages about working class “mods” eating smoked salmon sandwiches while admiring fabulous views of London from some rooftop.

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“Cultural Appropriation” Nonsense

So it’s been all the rage in the food world of late. First, the Oberlin College issue, which had Lena Dunham supporting students who decried that the sushi and bánh mì served in the student cafeterias were not “authentic”, and therefore an example of “cultural appropriation”. 

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Watson gets it all wrong

So Watson the computer has just released a cookbook. Or rather, you can now buy a cookbook full of weird pairings generated by Science.

Now Watson’s been hanging out in the [bon appetit] kitchen for quite some time already, where (s)he/it has been “learning” about which foods go together for the purposes of helping to inspire chefs and other people who like to play in kitchens about surprising combinations that apparently work. As I wrote in the Mad Dispatches on the topic of “What is Cooking”, the idea behind Watson isn’t to ‘render the human cook obsolete, but rather to put the superior speed and memory capacities of a computer to the service of human creativity by analysing, for example, similar compounds in a multitude of flavour-pairings. In theory, Watson could then come up with combinations that make complete sense but might have taken us another several decades to discover in the kitchen.’

So how exactly does it work?

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Porn, the SFW edition

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Earlier this year I was delighted to be asked to contribute a short piece for the then-upcoming MAD4 on the topic of this year’s symposium: ‘What is Cooking?’

My take was (unsurprisingly) on some of ways food television influences the way we think about cooking and eating, including that pesky question of “food porn”. Since the good people at MAD have made it available, feel free to go and have a read. (And if you’re interested in food television generally, Chris Cosentino’s much-lauded talk is also worth a watch. But then so is most of the other stuff that’s been posted – let’s just say I’m in extremely good company there.)

The food porn thing does come up again and again, with varying degrees of usefulness.* But perhaps the most logical conclusion of a cultural obsession with food and sex is the porn star who turns his, ahem, gaze, to food. Exhibit A: “James Deen Loves Food“.

And then I’d recommend two interesting interviews with James Deen on the topics of food and sex: on Go Fork Yourself (!) with Andrew Zimmern, and with the slightly more irreverent folks at Eating Disorder. Both good fun.

Or we could just let Charlie Brooker have the last word.

*Anyone with an academic interest in these matters might want to check out my entry on “food porn in media” for Springer’s Encyclopedia of Food and Agricultural Ethics.

World Cup Fever: Ay Pacoquita!

It’s been called the Brazilian Reese’s. But it’s more than that. Let me introduce you to the Pacoquita.

On the outside, a happy peanut:

IMAG1966On the inside, salty sweet crumbly peanut fudgy goodness:

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Now, the only reason I have the conceit to blog about these babies is that the Philosophe and I face what my erstwhile chef-teacher used to call a “positive problem”. It is that (on my instruction) recently our dear sailor friend, who lives on some ridiculously Eden-like farm in Brazil (there is a cinnamon grove), brought us as many packets of these as he could carry. But he unfortunately forgot to check their best before dates (imminent), which means we now have to think of a way to consume a lot of these fast.

So, glut of Pacoquita + couple of fading apples = fabulous World Cup cake!

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Apparently they’re also good crumbled on ice cream. Or sprinkled on toast with mashed banana (huh?). Or just popped straight into your mouth for a quiet explosion of peanut, salt and sugar. World of Peanut Butter, take note.

I believe that nothing bad can come from these. Except, of course, for the extra burden on that poor, down-trodden scale.

Birds, bees, and fennel ice cream

There are two kinds of people in the world. There are those who, confronted with an open bottle of wine in their kitchen which they know they will not get round to drinking (because of a line-up of dinner engagements elsewhere for the next few days, for example), will let that bottle stand there until garbage collection day and then get round to throwing it out. Then there are those who, confronted with the prospect of wasting an opened bottle of wine, will go out and buy ingredients valued at three times what they paid for the bottle of wine, and make coq au vin.

I belong to the latter.

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