Published on February 24, 2008
In an online poll of American men, Nigella Lawson was named favourite celebrity chef. I know there are people out there (I mean women) who want to slap her. And then there are some others (I mean men) who want to do a lot more. All I can say is: if you've got it, flaunt it.
And Lawson has plenty of it, flaunting her way to millions. It's the boobs, the hips, the hair, the posh English accent and the scrumptious way Lawson licks sauces off her fingers that drives men wild. It's as if Emma Peel suddenly decided to mother you for a while. For straight men that takes care of more fantasies than can be mentioned here.
I don't have access to sales demographics but I'd bet lots of money that men buy Lawson's books for their wives in the hope that some of that sophisticatedly sexy, domestic diva-hood rubs off.
All this foam and thunder over Nigella Lawson is simply proof that the celebrity chef has always been just as much an image and lifestyle as a cooking teacher.
And we do learn to cook from watching cooking shows. Bear in mind that the first true celebrity chef was Julia Child, who practically single-handedly taught America to cook. A housewife who moved to Paris with her husband and took lessons at the Cordon Bleu School to fill her spare time, Child revolutionised cooking in America by demystifying French cuisine and bringing it into middle-class living rooms, making gourmet food accessible to anyone who had a television. Because of her relaxed style - I recall seeing her patch up some botched vol-au-vent shells with scraps of puff pastry and warm water - people believed they could produce great meals themselves, at home.
From the days of Julia Child to Nigella Lawson, the celebrity chef has come a long way. The entire marketing machine has come into play and cooking is all big bucks and media impact. We now have not only cookbooks, but product endorsements and even online shops.
Martha Stewart became bigger than Madonna on the strength of her personality and her home-making show. Martha Stewart Omnimedia is a billion-dollar company that markets everything from books and magazines to gardening equipment and bed sheets. As viewers did with Julia Child, people look at Martha Stewart and feel that her vision of the good life is accessible. First she shows you easy tips on how to make your lifestyle that much more perfect - and then she sells you the equipment to finish off the job.
The impact on society has gone beyond the home. As a household name, Jamie Oliver, the "naked chef" - so-called because he strips cooking down to its bare minimum - revolutionised British school food. He was able to put the might of his own public image behind a campaign to improve the food served to children at school, thereby improving their health and fitness.
My favourite celebrity chef is Rick Stein. I use his book "Rick Stein's Seafood" as a reference for all my fish dishes. His likeable personality lent a comfortable, relaxed tone to his first series of TV shows that encouraged viewers to cook seafood at home. His subsequent series on artisanal food producers and local French food have taught me about the importance of simplicity and good ingredients. Through Stein, I've come to believe that I have a right to eat good food that has been carefully raised, harvested and prepared.
Good food is part of a modern lifestyle we can achieve. We owe it all to celebrity chefs.
One of my favourite things to watch on TV
is cooking shows. That's partly because I like to cook - I'm always keen to learn new ideas and methods for the kitchen - and partly just because I love good food. In general I would watch any food show so long as the host is engaging, the places are interesting, and the recipes are easy to follow - and swallow!
Jamie Oliver was voted the world's favourite television chef in a poll of 13,000 viewers in more than 100 countries by the BBC's Good Food magazine. James Martin was second, followed by Rick Stein, Ainsley Harriott, Nigella Lawson, Antony Worrall Thompson, Gary Rhodes and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. I can't say I entirely agree with those viewers, but many of the above are among my favourite TV chefs.
Delia Smith is perhaps my favourite of all time, and back in the '80s, that was a feeling shared by the British public. She was the Martha Stewart of the UK - without the frills. Delia is clear and precise in her TV cooking demonstrations. She's not interested in selling glamour, sexiness and other added flavours, she simply knows how to teach other women to cook. She appeals to housewives rather than their husbands.
Rick Stein is another chef I have a lot of time for. I particularly liked his series "French Odyssey", which offers classic French cooking at its best. His enthusiasm about all things food, and the calm manner with which he presents the cuisine and its ingredients make one want to listen to him.
"The Two Fat Ladies" - Clarissa Dickson Wright and the late Jennifer Paterson - were also favourites for me. They presented their shows touring the UK on a Triumph Thunderbird motorbike driven by Paterson while Wright sat in the sidecar. Their recipes were gleaned from an era when traditional ingredients like dripping (rendered fat) were used as well as raw eggs and unpasteurised dairy products.
Other TV chefs I enjoy watching are Jamie Oliver, Ainsley Harriott and Gary Rhodes. I think Oliver has come a long way since he first started. I didn't like him to begin with, but since his series about improving school food in the UK, I've warmed to him. His recipes are also very easy to follow, and they've worked when I've tried them at home. I've always been very fond of Harriott: he has a great personality - funny and witty - and speaks extremely well. Rhodes seems similar in style to Rick Stein, presenting his shows with a very easy manner.
There are, however, some TV chefs out there that I really don't like very much. For instance both Martha Stewart and Nigella Lawson are extremely popular in the US, but I've found them both completely unbearable to watch. Stewart is helpful when it comes to giving tips, but she is a very dull presenter. Lawson comes across as more of a sex goddess than a domestic goddess. I'm pretty certain that a good portion of her audience are men who don't actually cook, but do enjoy drooling over her as she plays with her rolling pin.
I used to love Keith Floyd's cooking shows. He was always very amusing. But after I had the chance to listen to an after dinner speech he gave in Bangkok - if you can call a rambling, drunken string of obscenities a speech - I went off him completely! I dislike Gordon Ramsey for the same reason: he became famous for his four letter words as well as his Michelin star food.