No sooner had we got the final of University Challenge out of the way when we had the final of Masterchef (BBC2). A competition between a group of unknowns competing to be best chef may seem odd, but it made riveting telly.
The contest was initially between six people who were gradually whittled down. The two experts, John Torode and Gregg Wallace, judged the dishes and set the various tasks to be performed. These tasks included: cooking for hundreds of hungry steel workers, preparing meals for the Institute of Directors and providing lunch for scores of workers in the Royal Household (but no, the Queen didn’t come down to sample the fare).
The eventual winner, Mat Follas, looked like the convict Magwitch from Great Expectations but was in fact a lovely man who kept being overcome by emotion. He made some fantastic eclectic dishes – his winning meal included rabbit, crab, and sea vegetables. And winning he’d planned to open his own restaurant. However due to the credit crunch has been unable to secure finance.
Masterchef is just the latest in a long line of cookery programmes, For some reason we love to watch people cooking and celebrity chefs have taken over the airwaves. The high-profile chefs are Jamie Oliver (the Cockney Geezer), Mr Shouty Gordon Ramsay, charming Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, sensual Nigella Lawson and reliable but frumpy Delia Smith. Heston Blumenthal is odd looking and specialises in creating mad concoctions (snail ice cream anyone?). He owns one of the most famous restaurants in the UK - The Fat Duck at Bray – recently closed due a health scare.
Of course TV cooking is big business. Jamie Oliver’s range of restaurants, called Fifteen, are located all over the UK and there is even one in Melbourne, Australia. Jamie had a show a few years ago where he trained 15 (hence the name of the restaurants) young delinquents as chefs, with varying degrees of success. More recently, he has tried to make school dinners more wholesome and less fattening (lobbying the Government to that effect) and now he busies himself with the welfare of chickens and pigs. The Gordon Ramsay brand is worldwide and his TV show where he tries to rescue failing restaurants is a global hit. Delia Smith’s Cookbooks have sold in their millions. When she mentioned a particular product in her recipes, shops would sell out instantly.
But what about the actual food? What the world needs is good, fresh local food that doesn’t cost the earth, is grown in a sustainable way and treats animals with respect. If any one of our celebrity chefs can work towards that goal, they should be cheered on with their endeavours.