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The Independent Culture
Why is it that cooking programmes increasingly look like culinary versions of It's a Knockout? I'm not talking about the daytime game shows here, which have about as much to do with cookery as a food fight, but the celebrity chef series, for which al fresco set-ups and cookery challenges are currently deemed indispensable. Royalty, it should be noted, does not condescend to these levels - Queen Delia remains in her kitchen, operating with that ceremonial poise and an invisible retinue of ladies-in-waiting (you can almost imagine her cooking in white gloves). This makes sense; her people want a glimpse of the regal kitchen, complete with country garden backdrop. But everyone else has to hit the road, pursued by a van-load of portable cooking equipment.

Ken Hom's Hot Wok (BBC2) (which sounds like something from the small ads in a gay contact magazine) obeys all the rules - celebrities, outdoor fry-ups, cooking for large groups of non-celebrities who will be described in the voice-over as "really tough critics" and then uniformly murmur "it's ruhrly excellent" with their mouths full. Last week, he cooked stir-fried beef for two taxi-drivers in Golden Gate park, the bridge artfully disposed over his shoulder. "Hey, lunch is served," said Ken after three minutes of clanking and sizzling. "Hey, lunch is cold," you thought, as San Francisco's notoriously refrigerating wind threatened to blow his table into the bay. Later in the programme, he whipped up a fish curry in June Whitfield's garden and made a vegetarian stir fry for the nurses at the Queen's Medical Centre in Nottingham.

Public service workers are very popular for such challenges, probably because the audience will feel they deserve a free lunch more than most, but also because their appetites come with an invisible guarantee of authenticity; these palates have not been corrupted by stardom, by the promiscuous gormandising of international celebrity. The firemen beat their chopsticks on the table - they were hungry and they were honest - and then obligingly pronounced themselves bowled over by Ken's curried beef and chips. I'm in favour of good manners, naturally, but I can't be alone in my yearning that one day one of these obedient guinea-pigs will be caught by the camera coughing a half-chewed mouthful into a napkin.

The cooking itself is fine as it happens - with useful, practical advice about temperatures and techniques and regular reassurance for nervous beginners. I can testify, having tried it last night, that coating chicken pieces in egg white and cornflour - velveting them - really does give the meat an unusual succulence. But I would have gladly surrendered the bad pastiche of the car chase from Bullitt in the first programme or the chit-chat with novelist Amy Tan in the second for an extra recipe or two. I have a feeling that the outward-bound challenges could easily get out of hand as well - next year Keith Floyd cooks cheese fondue for 20 Alpine guides while roped to the north face of the Eiger and Gary Rhodes explores North African cuisine as he competes in the Paris-Dakar rally.

Silent Witness (BBC1), the BBC's new vehicle for Peak Practice escapee Amanda Burton, comes with a little touch of Morse (choral concerts in a college chapel) and a little touch of Cracker (a gross-out pleasure in the details of dissection and decomposition). Burton, gives an opaque performance of steely composure as the forensic pathologist, interrupted by oddly unspecified bursts of collegiate argy-bargy. Does she have a secret life? Will the series tell us what the secret is? The script, by Kevin Hood, had its subtleties - your scepticism about a policewoman's dress-sense pays off much later when her superior drily looks her up and down and asks, "Have you moved to Vice?". But I'm not sure how much you can trust a thriller which conveniently forgets the forensic findings it has exploited in part one in order to wind up the sense of moral horror in part two.

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