Nigella's Christmas Kitchen, BBC2
Jamie Cooks Christmas, Channel 4
Christmas at River Cottage, Channel 4
Willie's Perfect Chocolate Christmas, Channel 4
The Hairy Bakers, BBC2
Expect indigestion to set in when Britain's over-exposed cooks take control of the schedules
Sunday 21 December 2008
The Christmas cookery shows that glutted last week's schedules were so grossly unctuous, phoney, gelatinous and chummy that they defy continuous prose and require execution by bullet point:
Silence, Please! Awful musical Christmas chef's backing tracks, rated in order of least-bad to worst:
Nigella's slinky Santa jazz standards. Pervy.
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's folksy free interpretations of carols. "We Three Kings", played on a ukulele? Why?
Willie Harcourt-Cooze's wistful pan pipes. Aural lobotomy.
Jamie's cuckoo-clock jingle-jangle, complete with indecipherable baby talk. Is this the leper bell of a Christmas child catcher?
Clutching at Cheese Straws. Producers have asked them to fill five hours' worth of TV with Christmas treats, but there are only so many ways to stuff a turkey. What poetic conceits and bizarre recipes betrayed their desperation?
When Hairy Bakers Dave Myers and Si King presented yet another saucepan of stewed fruit, they knew they had to dig deep into their poetic pockets. "Oooh," Si gurgled, "that's Charles Dickens, that is."
Poor Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall had to make a fishing trip for whiting seem festive. First he joked about "dreaming of a whiting Christmas". Then he made his daughter give the fish she had just caught "a Christmas kiss". Then he wished Goodwill on Earth and Mushy Peas to All Mankind. Then (this is no word of a lie) he arranged fried whiting into a "Fishmas Tree", with peas for baubles. You can't say he isn't trying. Very trying.
The Hairy Bakers filmed themselves making mince pies on an indoor ski slope. This is just getting ridiculous.
Flagrantly bored by the whole Christmas schtick, Nigella took herself off to Paris for one episode for no discernable reason. Good for her.
Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? It can be lonely pretending it's Christmas all alone in a studio in September. What do our Christmas chefs do to create an atmosphere of bonhomie?
Dial an agency asking for an ethnically and socially diverse mix of people but NO fatties thank you.
Breed and multiply. One's own progeny always look best on screen.
For maximum brownie points, offer to cook for policemen, paramedics, prison officers and other community stalwarts who work on Christmas Day. (The Hairy Bakers did this and it was actually quite touching.)
Source a colourful character with an outlandish accent and no ambition to upstage you. (This year Jamie Oliver used his mentor, Gennaro Contaldo.)
Cosy up to your ingredients. Studio cabin fever can drive chefs to form meaningful extramarital relationships with mangetout. Jamie Oliver almost had a conversation with his beef jerky mix, I swear.
*Change the Record. Spot these chefs by their favourite words or phrases:
1) "Girdle", "plumptious", "anoint".
2) "I'm just gonna plate this baby up."
3) "Tongue", "sprout", "forage".
4) "Bellyful", "Bramley", "Muscovado".
Answers: (1) Nigella; (2) Jamie Oliver; (3) Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall; and (4) Hairy Bakers Si and Dave.
Accidents Do Happen. Every kitchen has its potential hazards. If – God forbid! – the worst should happen to any of our telly cooks, how would they be most likely to go? (Not that we have imagined it in lurid detail or anything.)
One Hairy Baker would unfortunately flambé his own beard, and the other would die trying to put it out, the double tragedy putting the nation off crêpes suzette for ever.
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall would quickly regret eating the pickled toadstools that came in his Secret Santa ...
Willie Harcourt-Cooze would go out with a bang while attempting to rig his house up with a new set of electric Christmas lights, the horrible truth later emerging that he had made the fuse box out of chocolate.
Nigella would expire from marzipan poisoning with cream-cake complications.
Sleepwalking, Jamie would cheerfully spatchcock himself instead of the chicken.
I'm clearly getting too into this, so I'd better stop. The plethora of Christmas cooking shows this year marks a national comfort binge – exactly what producers think we need in these times. And perhaps they're right. There was a pleasing air of frugality about, with a lot of talk about "respectfully" killing the Christmas goose/turkey/venison and using up every bit of it. Both Nigella and Jamie offered recipes for Asian turkey salad, however, which has to be overkill. It's cheap telly, though, isn't it? Just a star, a studio and some ingredients. There are plenty more of these shows on their way next year. I hope you've got the appetite.
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