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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When food porn got boring

Oops, I think I just made one of those clickbait titles. But what else do you call the demise of the thing that’s gotten everyone salivating up till now?

It started with the announcement that (the generally excellent) Lucky Peach is folding after their final issue is published in May. Confession: I have a subscription (though my pile does not include the elusive first copy that apparently sells for upwards of $175), and my first thought was will I get my money back for the issues I won’t be getting? ☹️

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Hammers, sugar and Jamie Oliver

JO taxesThere goes Jamie Oliver again, mouthing off where he has no business, and upsetting the Twitterati:

JO tweetAnd although I briefly jumped on that bandwagon, I’m going to go out on a limb here and defend him for once. Or rather, to try to shift the focus. Because so what if he thinks sugar should be taxed? People much more qualified than Jamie Oliver have already pointed out that the idea of sin taxes is simplistic, unrealistic, and largely ineffective. So until we actually see indications of policy decisions based on the ramblings of a celebrity chef (which yes, has indeed happened in the past), then let him say what he likes.

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Breaking: Chef Doesn’t Care About Saving World

If you do a Google Image search for “Chef Saves World” (because why wouldn’t you?), you’ll find pictures of people like Jamie Oliver (often dressed up like a vegetable), René Redzepi, Ferran Adrià, and Mario Batali (huh?). Who you won’t find a picture of is Thomas Keller, because he’s not interested in saving the world. As reported recently in the New York Times:

‘Chefs’ obligation to help save the planet? A lofty idea, they [Keller and Spanish chef Andoni Luis Aduriz] agreed, but the priority is creating great, brilliant food.

“With the relatively small number of people I feed, is it really my responsibility to worry about carbon footprint?” Mr. Keller asked. “The world’s governments should be worrying about carbon footprint.”

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Attention Wikipedia

It was an experience of exquisite narcissism to be able to take myself out to lunch the other day with a book. Written by me.

Yes, so it finally arrived, which means that it will be coming to a bookshop near you very soon (it is, ahem, of course available through the usual online channels. You know where to look).

Funny, I was once “ridiculed” in an online spat by someone I have never met who claimed that my PhD on “food media” must be bogus because there is no such thing (because, like, it doesn’t exist on Wikipedia). Well, to borrow a line from Courtney Cox in Scream (I forget which one): “uhm, you know the saying, ‘I wrote the book on that?'”

I will add no spoilers. But just for the record, it was not me who called Jamie Oliver ‘a self-righteous, elitist git.

Recently spotted in the Doctor’s kitchen

Magic, really. I thought I was marking exams, but suddenly there was a brownie occurrence. Specifically, goat’s cheese fudge and smoked almond brownies:

The best part? You can do this too!

All you need is:

1 good brownie recipe waiting for a new identity;

1 batch of goat’s cheese fudge lurking in the freezer (preferably homemade, and preferably blessed by Norwegian angels);

120 exam scripts to mark;

An oven.

In the approximate words of the immortal Nigella Lawson (or the Barefoot Contessa, or that Italian babe with the big head [GdL], or that annoying Brit who keeps annoying people whose job it is to involve themselves in childhood nutrition [JO], et al.), See how easy it is?

Making a milkshake out of yoghurt

I have been reading (and writing) about Mr. Oliver’s latest LA venture for some time now, but I didn’t get to *enjoy* the full spectacle of the first episode until last night. Late at night was a stupid time to watch, because it sent me to bed depressed.

Smite me with your bleeding heart if you must, but I am not depressed about the obesity “epidemic” in Los Angeles, America, or the rest of the world for that matter. Which is not to say I don’t find it sad that so many people get it wrong when it comes to feeding themselves and their families. Nor that I don’t find it sad that some children are made to eat something resembling airplane food on a mostly-daily basis. But getting depressed about these things would be a waste of my time and energy, a) because the reasons for this state of affairs are much more complex than even I dare to imagine that I fully comprehend, and b) because there is little I can do to change it.

Not so Mr. O. He’s depressed alright. And he also has the conceit to imagine that a) he understands everything about the system that he is taking on, and b) that it his responsibility – nay, his right – to take this system on. He keeps talking about how it is his “job” to do this and that: his “job” to try to force the LAUSD to let him into their schools (where he’s been banned from filming); his “job” to try to persuade Dino – the nice man who let Jamie into his burger joint Patra’s – to make his burgers with grass-fed Black Angus beef, and his milkshakes with yoghurt instead of ice cream. Dino really is a nice man. He lets Jamie mess about in his kitchen, and lets him fix a yoghurt smoothie, and then rightly responds: “I tried it, and it tasted good, but he missed the point. This is a great drink, but it’s not a milkshake.”

Here’s what Dino looks like when he’s explaining that Jamie is crazy for thinking that he can take burgers and fries off the menu at a burger joint:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And here’s what Dino looks like when Jamie tells him that using grass-fed Black Angus beef for his burgers will make his burgers cost $4,89, instead of $2,69 (warning: picture of a scared man):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I nominate Dino as the Food Revolution hero, because Dino gets it right. He gets that Jamie is missing the point if he thinks that putting a smoothie on the menu of a burger joint is going to do a damn thing to curb obesity. I’ve never been to LA, but I’m also pretty sure that people who want smoothies can find them elsewhere. Dino gets that he is running a business, and servicing customers who come to his restaurant because there’s something on his menu that they want to eat. He gets that there is a difference between freedom of choice and responsibility.

What Jamie Oliver does not get is that saying, on leaving Patras, “I don’t know if I can work with Dino” is in fact a very stupid thing to say, because he does not have to “work with” Dino, and neither does Dino have to work with him. Just as the LA Unified Schools District has no mandate whatsoever to work with Jamie Oliver. (Which they did in fact offer to do, just not on camera. But that, as someone else put it summarily, ‘is not a TV show‘.)

But my case is not really with Jamie Oliver, just as my case, in another context, is not with quacks like Gillian McKeith. No, my case is with the many people who do listen to them, and who do not get that these people, who may even have their hearts and concerns in all the right places, are simply not the authorities that they make themselves out to be. What’s the harm, especially if *something* improves? The harm is that worshipping pseudo-authorities is a slippery gateway to compromising all our rational decision-making faculties, believing whatever scare stories and half-baked statistics they throw about, and soon everybody will be taking advice on how to live their lives from someone called Oprah. Oh wait…

(And oh, if do ever find yourself at Patra’s, don’t forget to try the new Jamie Oliver Revolution burger, made with grass-fed Black Angus beef. If you’ve got $4,95 to drop, that is:)

The fight to fight obesity

A few days ago the LA Weekly reported that Jamie Oliver’s latest US crusade was off to a bad start, because the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) had banned the chef access to all their schools. He responded with this remarkable statement:

“Normally getting into schools isn’t a problem. We’ve never had a total shutdown. In my country, it would be illegal.”

I’m intrigued as to which part of this situation could be considered illegal in the UK. Not allowing a celebrity chef to film a documentary in schools? Not allowing a celebrity chef to interfere with issues of public health (if indeed school lunches are that)? Or perhaps not paying attention to Jamie Oliver?

But the main problem here is not really any of the above, but rather that first word: “Normally.” There is really nothing “normal” in the world of Jamie Oliver, or in the world of celebrity chefs saving the fat world from its fat self, because everything is made up as they go along. And luckily for Mr. O, they’ve been going along quite swimmingly, not least thanks to his “activist” endorsement by TED last year.

Until now, that is. Which also makes it hard to not actually feel sorry for the man when you see a headline like this:

“I’m finding it really hard to tell the truth in this country,” he apparently said – adding that he’s never been “so deflated” in his whole career. Now, say what you like about him – and I have plenty to say myself – but the only reason that he’s been able to get to the self-delusional position of believing that he is some sort of truthsayer is because no one has ever gotten in his way before (OK, a bit here and there, but they “normally” come round to his side and everyone comes out larfin’).

It’s all a very curious drama to watch – including the sideshow which features Michelle Obama hooking up with Walmart (not for the first time, mind you) to promote “healthy” eating: some say it rocks, while others think it’s doomed.

And while the celebrities sulk and the corporations flex their (friend’s) well-toned arms, most people will probably carry on chomping their Pop Tarts and not giving a crap how many calories they eat.

Bunny chow

First, catch your rabbit.

Or get your friendly German butcher to get someone to catch it for you, and then ask him to cut it into nice little pieces that in no way resemble the Easter bunny (meaning he can keep the ears, eyes, and everything else). Then arrange them in a roasting tin with a bit of olive oil, a lot of white wine, garlic and herbs. Cover up and braise until “tender” (that was about two hours at 180C for two wabbits).

Now put the fur back on: dip in flour, then egg (mixed with a bit of mustard for good measure), then a nice coat of fresh breadcrumbs, pecorino, herbs and lemon zest. Let that sit in the fridge to firm up for a couple of hours, and when you’ve plied your guests with a suitable amount of wine, whip out the wabbit and fry that sucker till golden delicious.

I confess I had trepidations, but I was ready to blame any catastrophes on Jamie Oliver. As it turned out, I needn’t have worried, so I’ll instead take the credit myself and declare it a very fine way to chow bunny, and a delightfully crunchy way to celebrate (almost) three years of marriage. I have no doubt the next three will be even better – especially now that I no longer consider football to be a complete waste of time, which makes for a happier weekend household.

As another contribution to a happy household, I’ve also recently mastered the art of the Reuben sandwich, or at least our dear (and temporarily departed) Sailor’s version. It’s genius, really, to build a sandwich in a pan: put the rye, buttered-side down in the pan, then lay on your “Swiss” (aka Emmenthaler), followed by a lot of pastrami, followed by a lot of sauerkraut, followed by another piece of bread, buttered side up. When that’s done, it’s ready to turn and make golden brown on the other side. Serve with “Russian” sauce (mayo + ketchup), and maybe a gherkin on the side.

Of course when I say “mastered”, I really mean I understand the principle well enough to start tinkering with it. So pictured here is in fact not a Reuben, because it’s made with smoked turkey. (Wiki tells me this is in fact called a Rachel). And I think I added some sweet chilli to the “Russian” sauce. And mustard to the sandwich. Oh, and I think it’s a much better idea to put the sauerkraut on before the meat, so the bread doesn’t get soggy. I guess I’ll make a good Jewish wife yet.

Dinner for one

It is rare that I eat alone – and not at all ideal, I might add, simply because try as I might, I cannot by myself conjure up the delightful banter that the Philosophe (co-)provides on a daily basis. Not to mention that it is nowhere near as interesting trying to impress myself with delicious food as it is hoping to impress others. But sometimes that determined path of life leads you somewhere where inventiveness and sparkling conversation have no place, and the next best thing is a big old bowl of popcorn smothered in wasabi butter (no sharing!), and of course a good measure of whisky.

The great thing about popcorn is that it (generally) lasts longer than a plate of food, which makes it ideal if you find yourself watching two hour-long episodes of food competition (basically cues for hedonic hunger). I caught the first episode of Top Chef “Just Desserts” , which is entertaining enough if you enjoy imagining yourself as one of a bunch of hopefuls (each of whom is, gringo-style, *certain* they “have what it takes” to be the best) running around looking for ingredients to make their signature dessert, only to be told 5 minutes into prep that they have to reconfigure it as a … cupcake. (What the hell is it with Americans and cupcakes?). Their next task is to conjure up the “most decadent” chocolate dessert ever, and for a few seconds I felt cold sweat on my neck as I imagined what I would come up with and couldn’t think of anything fantastic. But then I remembered that I will thankfully never be in such a silly contrived circumstance, so I relaxed and carried on chomping my popcorn.

Then I chomped my way through Masterchef USA, which reliably delivers good verbal abuse with Ramsay at the helm (and given that they did their silly cupcake challenge three weeks ago, was fortunately focused on real food again).

Tonight – alone again, alas – I’ll watch the Masterchef season finale, even though Gordon-bloody-Ramsay couldn’t stop himself from tweeting the bloody winner this morning. Sometimes social media sucks (like, when people use it stupidly and spoil the surprise for the rest of us. Or when *some* people apparently can’t refrain from producing ever-more offspring, and must announce it to the whole world).

But I think I”ll head down delicious lane again and do something righteous with a couple of eggs. Because all afternoon I’ve had to deal with the goodness of a kitchen smelling of Ottolenghi’s apple-olive oil-maple syrup (and cinnamon) cake, which promises to be a delicious mess:

I’ll be sticking to Mr. O’s advice to leave it to “mature” for a couple of days before tucking in. Which means this evening, just an omelette and a glass of wine with my Masterchef. And only one more sleep till I can start cooking for two again. As it should be.