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Updated: 05/02/2013 16:30 | By Chris Pople, contributor, MSN Him

Cookery programmes have nothing to do with cookery anymore

There was a time when food programmes on TV were mainly there to teach you how to cook. It seems those days are gone.


Delia Smith (© Matt Crossick, Matt Crossick, Empics Entertainment)

 

So Delia Smith has quit TV, ending a career that began more than 40 years ago and taught countless millions how to boil an egg and make a perfect lasagne.

Delia made us feel better about ourselves.

Her contributions to our nation's culinary education during that time cannot be overstated. Calmly, clearly and with the practiced ability of everyone's ideal Home Economics teacher, she did what so few cookery programmes these days do - she taught us how to cook, and she taught those of us who could cook how to do it better.

And, because her recipes invariably worked, she became wildly popular - she made us feel better about ourselves - and we'll forgive her more recent experiments with oven-ready potato wedges and tinned mince because goodwill like that isn't lost overnight.

With every passing year Masterchef appears to be increasingly about John and Gregg’s hamming-up of contrived deadlines and increasingly less about food

But what is there to replace her? How many TV cookery shows exist these days whose primary purpose is to teach cooking? Sure, Gordon Ramsay occasionally stops ranting and raving for long enough to launch into some perfunctory recipe segment ("Eggs... butter... flour... done!") and the Hairy Bikers have been known to knock up the occasional plate of food in a wildly unsuitable location, but the focus is always on the personality and not the food. Nobody watches Big Sweary to find a better way of making scrambled eggs, they want to watch him lose his temper.

Cookery shows these days fall into three categories. Firstly there are the reality TV set like Masterchef or Great British Bake-Off. Actually, I have a lot of time for GBBO which has a constructive interaction between the judges and contestants and has revealed some genuine talents, but with every passing year Masterchef appears to be increasingly about John and Gregg's hamming up of contrived deadlines and increasingly less about food.

What none of these shows are primarily about, of course, is teaching people how to cook.

Then there are the aspirational set, such as Nigella and Rachel Khoo. We watch as they flounce about a colourful local market chatting to their best friend the greengrocer, then it's back to an impossibly beautiful kitchen (which we're expected to believe is their own) as they knock up some indulgent treat to serve to their attractive friends. Jamie Oliver also used to belong to this category before he turned to:

...the Big Issue set. Hugh's Fish Fight or Jamie's School Dinners are the most obvious examples, shows that don't even pretend to be about cookery any more but are dedicated to casting the presenters as fearless crusaders for public health and animal welfare. Whatever you think of the causes, and clearly there are plenty worthy of attention, it's hard to shake the nagging feeling that it's more about ratings and selling books than rescuing battery chickens.

What none of these shows are primarily about, of course, is teaching people how to cook. Gripping, engaging and entertaining they may all occasionally be, but only Delia ever really cared about that. And with her retirement, we are all that much worse off.

 
Chris Pople is a food blogger who charts his food experiences online at his blog, Cheese and BiscuitsFollow Chris Pople on Twitter: @ChrisPople
  • WHAT DO YOU THINK: CAN YOU LEARN ANYTHING FROM TODAY'S COOKING SHOWS? ARE THEY A WASTE OF TIME IF YOU WANT TO LEARN TO COOK?
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