As usual, I am probably reading too much into everything. There's certainly no need to try and impose some kind of narrative story onto these programmes, filled with hopes, dreams and broken promises. There's probably less CIA involvement than I am imagining. Far less lost love and bitterness. However, as the people who make cookery shows seem hell bent on turning them into aspirational vehicles to sell the virtues of the lifestyle of every new grub pedlar who appears on the TV, I think I'm probably justified in doing so nevertheless. Besides, who's to say that Nigella Lawson ISN'T building a jet camel?
As well as avidly watching some of the familiar names and faces who make daily appearances on the Food Network, I have also discovered three new TV cooks who have made me feel like a schmuck for missing out on their lives for so many years. Through gritted teeth, narrowed eyes and pursed anus, I watch them perform their culinary machinations and grow grimly, obsessively, fascinated by every part of their programmes and of their lives. By this stage, they can't even halve a lemon without me trying to figure out their voting intentions, judging by their words or mannerisms alone.
Guy Fieri is the smiley and ebullient face of the Food Network, albeit a face with an improbably distracting beard. He's a big name in US cookery shows, which makes it all the more unusual that he is so determined to pronounce it "Fietty" in spite of all evidence to the contrary. But for all his fame and success across the Atlantic, there's no ego here: Guy is perfectly happy to let his children, or his wife, or his parents, or his dogs join him on centre stage to make clams. This is unfortunate and one of those excellent, timely demonstrations of the importance of ego. Ego is unfairly maligned.
|Guy Fieri: in Team Kale|
Another thing that is unfairly maligned, in Guy's eyes at least, is kale. Does Guy ever love kale. Crispy kale. Boiled kale. Steamed kale. Baked kale. Sun-dried kale. Cannon-fired kale. I have never seen an episode of Guy's Big Bite or Guy's Big Bite: Backyard where his meal plan doesn't include at least one kale element. His devotion to kale is almost touching, until you remember that it's as likely as not the result of a deal with a major multinational kale concern. Kaleco Enterprises. A convoy of kale-packed 18-wheel lorries head towards his house every hour of the day or night containing all his gratis kale. His potassium levels must be such that his urine now reacts violently on contact with water. Kale, ladies and gentlemen.
I like Guy Fieri. I like his recipes and his general no-nonsense, flavour-first approach to cooking. I'm far less sold on Kelsey Nixon, the host of Kelsey's Essentials. In every episode of Kelsey's Essentials, our titular star - one of those people who seems to be simultaneously 8 years old and sixty - tells us all about the ESSENTIAL ingredients, tools and techniques that she has laying about her pretend kitchen. Kelsey was a front runner in a Food Network competition to find a new TV chef and so there's every chance that this programme represents the culmination of all her wildest dreams. This alone could express the slightly frenzied look in her eyes. She doesn't so much look at you as see all the cuts of meat marked on your body. Kelsey is magnificently excited to be cooking on television. It troubles me.
|Kelsey Nixon: planning what to cook next|
But it is at least a straightforward cookery show. Kelsey cooks. Kelsey eats. Kelsey goes home again. Barefoot Contessa is more like a magazine programme for a life you will never, ever have. Barefoot Contessa is presented by Ina Garten, the absurdly wealthy middle-aged wife of an absurdly wealthy unspecified business scion called Jeffrey. Ina lives in The Hamptons surrounded by frighteningly wealthy friends, many of whom pop by during the day to try out a new recipe, perhaps inspired by Ina's recent trip to HyperParis: the Paris that only rich people know about. Then she'll tootle off to a florists to give you some flower arranging tips, apropos of nothing, nothing at all.
Before you know it Ina (she introduces herself on her most recent programme, Barefoot Contessa - Back To Basics, as "I'm the Barefoot Contessa", an act simply bound to earn a chorus of "no you're not" from my end) has been hanging around the kitchen of one of New York's most insanely exclusive restaurants shooting the shit with the head chef and is now back to finish the three course meal inspired by the time she went to space for Jeffrey's tea. Jeffrey looks like a man who'd be happy with sardines on toast and a wank, so a full banquet is always likely to go down well. Until, that is, he realises that all of this gourmet indulgence has come at the expense of that wank.
|Ina Garten: considerably richer than you|
The thing that really bothers me about Barefoot Contessa is the theme tune. Here is a show where wealthy people with dream lives cook delicious things for other wealthy people with dream lives. The music should just be the opening titles from Duck Tales with maniacal laughter and the unmistakable sounds of unfettered glee. Instead, it is an oddly-threatening electric piano doodle, replete with a building dramatic tension entirely absent from the programme, the food or Geoffrey's post-prandial shit, which comes out like a buttered adder.
I'm completely obsessed with Barefoot Contessa. For weeks I saw it coming up in the schedules and avoided it. More fool me. Ina Garten is a hero for our times.