This week, I have been watching Heston Blumenthal's three-hour long advert for Little Chef and enjoying it a lot. I like Heston. Channel 4 obviously like him too, as they have recently snaffled him up on a multi-year contract to make programmes for them, just as they did for Jamie Oliver. Their cookutainment line-up is now so formidable, it's hard to see anybody else even bother to try and seriously compete with it.
One could wonder exactly why Channel 4, who are currently feeling the financial pinch to such a degree that they are cutting down on in-house production of drama series to a skeleton of their most successful products and are also contemplating mergers, would be so keen to painstakingly build up this roster of A-grade TV chefs. Well, one could wonder that up to the point that they watch UKTV Food. Because it turns out, making cookery programmes on the telly is quite an artform in itself. As an aficionado of rubbish TV, I thought I'd introduce you to some of my favourites in the exciting, buttock-clenchingly awful TV cookery programmes genre.
Tamasin's Weekends (UKTV Food)
The epically terrifying Tamasin Day-Lewis takes us on a whistle stop tour of some of the dishes she would prepare for her braying, shooting the poor in the face, everyone on horseback, jodhpury upper-middle class leisure time. Often, Day-Lewis - who is the sister of Daniel, the actor - will rope in some of her friends to help. These friends, who are usually called Arabica, Fenella or Ribenica, are then put to some serious kitchen graft by the stern Tamasin, who has the look of Tracey Emin dressed as a scarecrow and you're unlikely to want to cross. She is also a keen proponent of locally-sourced and organic produce, so her programmes will often start with her chastisement of a greengrocer at a farmer's market. The man, normally 6'5", 28 stone and with facial tattoos, is left in the foetal position as Tamasin haggles over the price of rhubarb.
Paradise Kitchen (UKTV Food)
Far from Tamasin's well-appointed country kitchen, where a fox steams merrily away in the Aga, we go to Andalucia to meet up with Gioconda Scott. The doe-eyed Gioconda is probably too sweet and innocent to realise how annoying people speaking in English but then affecting Spanish pronunciation of local words can sometimes be. However, I imagine the majority of viewers - me included - are willing to forgive this on account of the fact that Scott is without serious parallel in the ranks of People Who Look Absolutely Terrified To Be On TV. With sunny Mediterranean skies glowing off the terracotta-lined terrace, with chorizo sausages playfully swinging in the breeze, with tapas dishes heaving with a bounty of just-cooked artichokes and pimenton, Scott smashes up another mortar-load of picada whilst looking like a rabbit caught in the headlights. Compelling television.
Sophie Grigson's Weekends (also Sophie Grigson's Sunshine Food; Grigson) (UKTV Food)
Much less laid-back than Tamasin's weekend plans, Grigson normally spends Saturdays and Sundays running around like a blue-arsed fly. This does not mean she doesn't have time to slap out some hearty tucker, though. Oh no. She's pretty good at what she does, too - coming from a family of cookery writers gives her a solid background of knowledge, and two decades of regular TV work has honed her camera skills. No, she makes this list because she is the most resolute, militant left-hander I have ever witnessed. Gordon Ramsay and Keith Floyd are both also left handers, but niether of them use the southpaw method of wielding a huge sharp knife. It's white-knuckle chopping of the highest order. I have to also point out at this juncture that I find the fact she looks like she was drawn by Matt Groening highly off-putting.
Rick Stein's Taste of the Sea (BBC)
The programme title which allowed a generation of wags to remark, "I've heard that rumour", the Stein genre is perhaps a surprising choice for here. However, whilst I think his culinary skills are beyond reproach and his Food Heroes project is admirable, he's still just not a natural on the telly. I find him to still be a bit twitchy and nervous, as perhaps evidenced by his legendary mandolin slip-up, easily the most stomach-churning real-life injury ever suffered on TV. I also found his habitual recourse to reading poetry made me hope he choked on a bone. Luckily, Rick's early career was helped along by his insane pet Jack Russell terrier, Chalky. Chalky helped take the pressure off of Rick, all sweaty palms and blue plasters, by biting a cameraman's arsehole or jumping in the sea. However, with Chalky now passed away, I await to see how it affect's Rick's confidence on camera. I would suggest he perhaps get a parrot* and wear it on his shoulder. But that's just me.
* Or a seagull, obviously. A dirty great herring gull.