TV review: Gino’s Italian Escape (Fri, BBC1) and What Remains (Sun, BBC1)
Exploring Italy's food culture with lashings of cheeky chappy charm
Arifa Akbar is literary editor of The Independent and i newspapers. She has worked at The Independent since 2001 as a news reporter and arts correspondent before joining the books desk in 2009. She was a judge for the Orwell Prize for books 2013, and the Fiction Uncovered Prize 2014.
Monday 16 September 2013
Gino D’Acampo might once – and only for a split second – have fooled us with his “cockney” accent on This Morning.
As if! Since cockney-gate, his Italian credentials have only been further confirmed. Just for the record, though, he told us: “I am Gino, born and raised in Italy,” his voice pure Italiano, in Gino’s Italian Escape. And to dispel the notion that this getaway to Italy might be a Keith Floyd-style, food tourist’s smash and grab, he took us to Amalfi, where he grew up.
A cutesy tour followed: lemon groves, rugged coastline, dinky shops, narrow streets, even a quick geography lesson (did you know Amalfi is near the ankle that shapes the country’s mapped boot?). The shop, by the way, had a plethora of lemon-based products. “It’s lemon ’eaven,” Gino quipped, dropping his “h” Italian style, not cockney. So far, so Italian, but what we really wanted was to see him in his real natural habitat – the kitchen – juggling pots, his skin baked by the heat of the stove. Ah, just as we wished it, there he was among the lemon trees with cream and eggs and lemons before him, whipping up an al fresco treat. Down to business. At last.
But then – what? – a plodding trip to a buffalo farm where Gino told us that to make mozzarella, “the curd from the buffalo milk is shredded, heated and the gooey substance is stirred…” and also that “happy buffalos means amazing mozzarella”. Hmm, so was this cooking with Gino or not? In short, it was and wasn’t, but those who had switched on with the hope of learning some new recipes may have been puzzled by why he was doing so little cooking, and so much ambling around.
In the end, he made two dishes (they could hardly be called “dishes”), and neither were revelations: a lemon mousse topped with crushed amaretti biscuits that was whipped up in the blink of an eye, and a mozzarella and Parma ham wrap, which was a case of wrapping some ingredients – primarily mozzarella and ham – together. So what was happening here? Televisual mash-up, that’s what. This was part travel show and part lifestyle programme with a few fast recipes thrown in. “Let me show you how mouth-watering ingredients have shaped my home country,” he said at the beginning, but that meant we’d be taken through the “buffalo” end of mozzarella (the animals are treated like kings, apparently).
For some – lovers of Italy? Lovers of Gino’s cheeky chappy charm? – this new series could be slow-burn heaven in which food culture is explored in broad-brush. But then again, when Gino’s on home ground, he is clearly at his most sedate. There was less mischief, more “lessons” about the provenance of and processes around food, though there was the odd moment of glinty-eyed fun. While making mozzarella balls on the farm, he dropped a Gino-joke about “bigger balls” and told us later that the Italian name for these translated as “women’s breasts”.
So did we guess whodunit before all was revealed in the final episode of What Remains? At least we had two bites of the cherry, given the twisty ending that thrilled without fully convincing. Melissa’s killer was not the crazed-looking woman in the basement – far too obvious! – but one half of the dysfunctional lesbian couple. Neither was it pre-meditated or sadistic but a sudden moment of madness. Still, her partner stood by, watching this impetuosity take its course without restraining her, which was inexplicable.
This couple’s storyline – their abusive master/slave dynamic – had until this point been the most unexplained of the storylines and also rather outlandish. The fact that David Threlfall’s retired detective – thinking the murder solved – moved into Melissa’s old flat made it all even more far-fetched. Niggles aside, it was a reassuringly baroque and nail-biting end to a brilliant crime drama – so scrub those complaints.
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