Sunday, 2 July 2017

8. More Strawberries Than Are Dreamt Of In Our Philosophy.



  For many years I enjoyed BBC's The Great British Menu. Glynn Purnell's appearances on it prompted me to drop in on his wondrous restaurant, for the first time in 2009. After that food became less peripheral to my existence.
  Sadly, GBM has lost its glint for me and I missed countless episodes just because it seemed so, er, .... boring. This year particularly so. I hate the 4 nights when celebrity, sorry, distinguished chefs pontificate on their colleagues' productions. Why can't they cut to the chase?
  I'm not happy that Prue sold her soul to the increasingly awful Channel 4 to participate in the Great British Bake Off, the popularity of which I have never understood despite friends' attempts to convince me that there is something interesting in amateurs producing dubious cakes and even more dubious pastries all sneered over by the unloveable Paul Hollywood. Prue, Matthew and Oliver were such a perfect trio of judges that anyone trying to break into the circle was doomed to failure. Please Prue, come home. Make an old bloke happy.
  Two and a half hours per week of GBM is just too much. It's not hard to tell which of the unfortunate contestants will be axed by the Guest Chef Judge from the first evening or so and seeing grown men and women, enveloped in fear, with shaking hands is not dignified.
  At least the show has dropped the bit where all the participating chefs get to vote on each other's dishes though it was interesting in the way that the chefs voted rarely for the same dishes as the lay judges did. It certainly begged the question as to whether professional chefs really know at all what their customers want and if they do whether or not they really care.
  Another relief is that we no longer have to put up with sequences where the chefs visit somewhere or the other to speak to someone who has "inspired" them. It really is very dull. All I want to do is see what the chefs are cooking, get a glimpse of how they do it, perhaps have a quick peep at the place where they work and then see how it all turns out. Oh, and to hear what Oliver, Prue and Matthew have to say about it all, witness a little squabble between Matthew and Oliver and hear Prue change her mind about a dish in a matter of seconds once the others get to work on her. I just want simplicity rather like a lot of us would like in our food a little more often.

  And so to the 2017 "Wimbledon" and "Summer Dishes" themed GBM. I was annoyed from the very start that the chefs who represented the Central area (The Midlands and East Anglia) generally did not have very much to do with dining in the central region - thus Ryan Simpson works at Orwells in Oxfordshire (actually in the south-east region), Nick Deverell-Smith who works at The Churchill Arms in Gloucestershire (arguably in the south-west region) though he had done a lot of his training in various places around the Midlands and Pip Lacey who works at Angela Hartnett's restaurant in London, Murano, and doesn't seemed to have done any cooking in the Midlands at all. The chefs may have had connections with The Midlands but it would have been preferable if chefs actually working in the area had actually represented the region. This is just another example of bias towards London and the South-east at the cost of the rest of the country.
  As the series drew to a close I tried to knuckle down to watching some episodes. Most of the chefs produced dishes based on strawberries - well you would wouldn't you given that the theme of the show was the Wimbledon Tennis Championships? By the end of it all we had had a surfeit of strawberries. Anything that could be done to a strawberry had been done. The winning fish course was even served with strawberries and pronounced by all the judges to be magnificent. I'm still trying to imagine what it must have tasted like - and failing miserably.
  I've seen so many strawberries this year that I have hardly been able to bring myself to eat one. That's just how bad things have been.
  So that's GBM for another year. I hope they cut it back a bit next year and drop the guest chef and guest lay judges and just have our trio of old campaigners discussing and squabbling and looking fittingly self-satisfied. Oh, and could we please have our region represented by chefs who actually work here please?

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