Could it all be over? Is the TV audience finally sick of the bad-boy, rock’n'roll chefs, the outrageous eccentrics and the smatterings of food porn?
Of course not. The antics of Carluccio and Contaldo beat the Two Ronnies any day and have me longing to be in Italy. Fearnley-Whatsisname has stayed in the game, though finally cutting and washing his hair. The sweary squad won’t go quietly, but they have begun to grow up a little. (Tell me, when was the last time you heard Ramsay eff-ing, or saw Marco sling a pan across the kitchen?) But others have disappeared.
Little has been seen of AWT for some time (and most certainly nowhere near Tesco). Nigella has transferred her finger-sucking antics to telly in the States, and Saint Delia was defrocked following her last TV flop – though she still puts in appearances on the Waitrose ads with Heston.
Jamie? He’s still buzzing around, of course, like a wasp over a pot of jam. Still, he’s harmless enough and, like all of the above, a brilliant cook. What’s more, he has the prerequisite stock-pot-sized personality that has ironically seen most of his peers systematically absconding from the kitchen.
Lowering the bar
However, presently, the bar to being a celebrity chef is seriously low and sinking by the minute. Today, anyone who makes it into the regional heat of Masterchef adds the c tag to his name.
Now – God help us – Simon Cowell is getting in on the act. His new cooking talent show hits the screens next spring, and the Eggs Factor-style auditions are currently taking place all over the UK. (I’ll leave the rest to your imagination.)
Jamie? He’s still buzzing around, of course, like a wasp over a pot of jam. Still, he’s harmless enough
Paradoxically, demand shows that the desire to watch, read about and create good food is on the rise, in tandem with the need to know where our food comes from and how it is treated.
Take street food, which was last year’s trend and is still getting stronger. Or take the hottest ticket in foodie town right now, the self-styled Young British Foodies, started by three pushy young Londoners. Although they are media- and PR-savvy (let’s forgive them for aping the YBAs ), they do at least seem sincere. In their first awards ceremony, in May, anyone – whether 90 or 19 – could enter, so long as they had the YBF spirit.
This is what they say about themselves: “They’re the people putting food and drink back at the heart of our communities. Perhaps more importantly, they’re the people who have come to represent the best of British innovation and entrepreneurship in a struggling economy.
“Whether they’re using an airing cupboard as a smokehouse, or putting their own twist on butchery techniques that are centuries old, together they are defining a new culture of food in Britain.”
But how long before we see them on our screens, too? That depends. Celebrity TV is still a powerful medium, which requires a certain kind of presenter, but it is no longer the only way to stir the desire to cook.
Today’s best cooking show
Arguably, the best cooking programme on the box is the Great British Menu, with real chefs from real restaurants, cooking amazing food.
Off the box, Nigel Slater is no celebrity, but his writing is an inspiration and his books are sublime, as are those of Syke Gyngell. And the internet is awash with great blogs and websites (for example, ethical eating and drinks websites).
Passionate, innovative and caring cooks are alive and kicking, their attraction stronger than ever. The demise is of celebrity itself, with all its silliness, pretension and attitude. The c word has been attached too quickly, and too often claimed without qualification, so it is no surprise that it is losing its currency.
Further reading Celebrity chefs: should we trust their endorsements?