Tuesday, January 5, 2010
A British Invasion
When it comes to gastronomy, we Brits have done ourselves down for generations. We seem to have been quite happy to smile wryly and admit to boiling vegetables to death and making lumpy gravy.
On the other hand, the French have shouted their culinary prowess from the rooftops. Well, in the rarefied atmosphere of Michelin- starred kitchens, that is. Privately, some French food-watchers have been having doubts about France’s hallowed position as the gastronomic leaders of the world.
Tradition is all in France, and when French chefs are invited to share their culinary secrets to the outside world via the tv, to those of us raised on the antipodean madness of the Galloping Gourmet, the dearly missed and totally unpredictable Keith Floyd, or the globe-trotting Rick Stein, French cookery programmes are… well, boring.
The biggest French tv channel, TF1, has realised this, and it’s bought the rights to the Beebs 20 year- old ‘MasterChef.’ And they’re not slotting it into the whiling-away- an- afternoon OAP schedules, it’s going out on prime time. TF1 have, with typical Gallic modesty, described it as the most important amateur cookery competition in France and they’re backing up their claim with a cool €100,00 for the winner.
TF1 aren’t the first French channel to recognise the pulling-power of cookery as popular entertainment. Channel 4’s Come Dine with Me ( or Un Diner Presque Parfait) - which has to be the biggest exercise in culinary one-up-manship even seen on tv - has been a huge success for the French channel M6 - attracting two million viewers for each programme. Believe me, for French tv this is mega audience numbers.
Previously, French cookery programmes, such as Bon Appétit Bien Sûr, have been deadly serious - a cross between Phillip Harben and Fanny Craddock. Fanny would have gone down well with the French, dressed as for a night at the opera, and with just the right amount of contemptuous froideur to traumatise amateur cooks for life.
Now, even a would-be Jamie Oliver has burst onto the French culinary stage. Cyril Lignac presents a show called ‘Oui Chef’, which is loosely modelled on ‘Jamie’s Kitchen’ and the cutely named ‘Vive la Cantine’ which somehow sounds much sexier than ‘Jamie’s School Dinners’.
Francois Simon, restaurant crtic for the iconic Le Figaro has to admit that British cookery progammes are tapping into the need for the French, particularly the younger amateur cooks, to try something more cosmopitan, adventurous and above all simple.
French food, thanks to Britain’s proliference of inovative cooks is being de-mystified.
M. Simon has reservations about one of our chefs going down that well in France, however. Gordon Ramsey, for some reason, would be unlikely to have a fan base in France. I wonder why?