I don’t watch Saturday Kitchen and chances are I’m not going to start after this experience. Although the food looked decent enough, the personality of the cook rather put me off eating it. Saying that, James’ guests, entertaining Oz Clarke and demure local hero Tom Kitchin, made the hour and a half quite pleasant. Two skilled chefs, a three-course cookery demonstration and wine advice to boot – what’s not to love? Let me tell you.
Love to Cook ran a number of cookery demonstrations in Edinburgh Playhouse Tuesday October 12th. I went to the last one, a one and a half-hour session with James Martin. Tom Kitchin was there to cook the main course and Oz Clarke was on hand to give wine advice. The three course meal – Arbroath smokie pate with beetroot, caperberry and quail egg salad, roasted grouse with celeriac puree and wild mushrooms, and, finally, vanilla custard souffle with instant ice cream – was in the complementary event cookbook that we were given. It sounds good, doesn’t it?
To me, cooking’s not about being clever. There are some chefs that can be, but most cookery isn’t about intellect but about gut. Gut both in the sense of pleasing your stomach and in having the courage to do something with your ingredients that make them better than they were when you started. Craft is central to both.
Cookery demonstrations are quite strange beasts, much like live TV shows, with cack-handed editing but added scent. They give the audience a chance to interact with the chef, to smell and – if you’re really lucky – taste the food. A good demonstration is a great chance for the audience to learn something new, something to take home, a chance to get a little better in the kitchen. A mediocre demonstration is pure entertainment, entirely without educational content, an experience from which you take away nothing but a good smell and a smile.
The problem with the Love to Cook session that I went to was that I didn’t learn anything and I found the main entertainer more irritating than entertaining. I wanted to be given a tip or two, some clever advice to enhance my skills. Instead I found out quite a lot about how Saturday morning live cookery shows are done. I’m not interested in back-stage broadcasting gossip. But what really distressed me was the feeling I got that James expected the food he was working on to be thrown in a bin and treated it as if it was already refuse.
I keep coming back to respect: respect for your ingredients, certainly, but in this case also respect for your audience, your sponsors and your guests. I must admit that realising that Bordeaux was one of the sponsors, made me less interested in Oz’ opinions on the wines that went with the meal. I must also admit that James’ repeated little jokes about some of this co-presenters on Saturday Kitchen made me think less of him, not them. And although I get the point of joking about the sponsors, I think you can overdo it. They are, after all, providing the platform from which you can display your brilliance. James attitude left me with a bad taste.
Love to Cook needs to think about its purpose. I don’t quite see the point of it. Yes, it gets the chefs out so people can see them live, and that’s good for the chefs but I don’t think marketing for them is the purpose. The purpose must be marketing for the sponsors. The sponsors where there, they had a room all to themselves where they had their products on display. I had great fun with a funky icing-writer on the Lakeland stand and fondly fondled the knives on the Kin stand (such objects of desire!) but was otherwise not interested. Until the Food Network stand released their cupcakes (provided by the Exquisite Cake Company). What’s the real benefit to the audience, who pay £20 for a session of two demonstrations, and what’s the return for the sponsors? I’m curious to understand the economics behind the tour.
Oh, I did learn something! Dessert wines should be sweeter than the dessert you’re serving. Would I have paid £20 to learn that? No.