Sunday, January 11, 2009

Urbane Renewal

The seasons have ticked by in a full 360 spin round the sun and we find ourselves back in the depths of winter. Short, dark, misty days punctuated with depressing news stories about the global slowdown, job losses and celebrity misdemeanours. Hard then to break into optimistic vein looking forward to a new year of opportunity, discovery and self renewal.

Into this maelstrom of confused emotion, Channel 4 launch us headlong into TV chef heaven with their now annual 'Great British Food Fight'. How many times does an event have to occur before we can call something annual? Twice will do. Hugh, Jamie, Gordon and Heston - not the latest boy band, but four of the UK's leading cooks. A quartet destined not to indulge in broth spoiling, but to kick start a campaign or two to celebrate all that is great in the state of this nation's tucker and to rid Britain of poor animal welfare.

We need heroes especially at a time like this: leaders who can inspire action in Joe and Joanna Public by getting them to think about what goes on their plate and in their mouths. This is what the 'GBFF' is all about. We try to do our bit - buy organic, free range, locally sourced but there is always more that can be done to eradicate questionable practices from the food chain and to improve the quality of our daily bread.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall may have an exceedingly long and posh name, but he is incredibly down to earth. That's where his roots are or rather those of his vegetables, which he lovingly tends and eulogises over the myriad ways to enliven the taste between ground and table. The pictures that accompany his weekly Guardian column can best be described as 'food porn' (all sensuous close-up and loving lighting), but the copy is definitely by someone who knows his onions ( and leeks).

He isn't afraid of tackling big business either as his campaign against Tesco's cheap chicken has shown. Price is a sensitive issue for many, but for those with a conscience, the sight of mass produced birds, as re-created by the River Cottage master, is fowl play indeed - proof if any be needed that the pursuit of profit can lower standards to the gutter.

Jamie Oliver is another veteran campaigner. His cheeky-chappy persona is employed to great effect in changing attitudes to the convenience meal and to the fast food culture that had permeated our schools. He has championed the underdog too - recognising talent amongst the unemployed and putting it to good use in his restaurant kitchens. His no nonsense approach wins many friends.

Gordon Ramsay is a campaigner too: he has a talent for self promotion matched only by the likes of Richard Branson. Nevertheless, his sheer exuberance and genuine excitement at what can be created in the domestic kitchens of Brown's Britain inspire many of us to don apron, sharpen kitchen weaponry and take the food fight to one of his sumptuous dishes. His passion for his subject erupts in the Tourret's-like outbursts for which he is justly famous, but there is another side to him. He lavishes praise on those that deserve it, whilst heaping withering scorn on the hapless cooks that he meets in his pursuit of bad food around the country.

That just leaves the mighty Heston. What job will the experimental chemist and kitchen alchemist take on? Blumenthal's mission, that he has chosen to accept, is not to tackle the standard of grub in the M4 service station that bears his name. That would be a step too far, maybe. No, far better to beef up the Little Chef. You wouldn't have thought that he would have stayed that way after all those greasy breakfasts, would you? Put the 'midget cook' on a rigorous training schedule, and build up those muscles I say. Perhaps the Fat Duck proprietor (what is is with all these size-ist references?) will heed what I say, perhaps not - but it is bound to be highly entertaining.

These shows are generally aired in January: a month when many of us are in reflective mood - regretting the excesses of the festive period, and hungry for a period of de-toxification and general self-renewal. They capture the spirit of the moment and leave us optimistic for the opportunities offered by the year ahead. The gradual re-emergence of the sun from its winter hiding place assists the healing process for us Northern-latitude folk. Spare a thought then for Equatorial bound people where the days vary little from one season the the next. They don't have the luxury of an Earth centred biorhythm, beating out the passage of time. No metaphorical skin-shedding for them. Boy are we lucky or what?


Anonymous said...

The equatorial-bound also cannot nip out to the local farmers' market and buy some fresh bread, a local cheese and a bottle of 'bottle-conditioned' ale. They may well have their equivalent. There cannot be a finer lunch of farmers' market procured items - however, some forward planning is required. My tip is to keep at least one bottle of ale in the garage - ready settled. Remember to pour carefully, without disturbing the sediment.

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