Nairn is one of the better television cooks; he has a mission to popularise the local wild food of Scotland, and his trademark gimmicks - speed and great blasts of flame - actually have something to do with cooking, rather than just being extravagances of hair or lifestyle. They offer synecdoche rather than mere applique, you might say - a representative detail of the skill rather than a logo simply stuck on top to help with the marketing of the cookbook (though it would be quite entertaining to see a bookshop dump-bin which gave off enormous gouts of flame now and then). What's more, the landscape isn't just a pretty backdrop for the recipe, as with other touristic telly-chefs (if it's moussaka then it must be the amphitheatre at Delphi). Here, the scenery is also the place from which the ingredients have sprung - literally in the case of the mackerel Nairn cooked in last week's programme, which leapt on to his unbaited hooks with such eagerness that you wondered whether he'd have to end up beating them off with the oars.
He went fishing again this week and got just as excited, whinnying with pleasure as he heaved two fat cod out of the depths. This used to be a plain sort of fish, quite happy to consort with chips and peas, but it has enjoyed something of a lifestyle makeover in recent years, now being seen in all the best restaurants with a very smart set of companions. And, though Nairn had opened his programme with a reassuring note about simple island cuisine ("As long as you use your imagination and retain some pride in fresh local produce you'll never be stuck for good food"), it was notable that he hurried back to Edinburgh with his own cod steaks, where he could be sure of finding that celebrated Caledonian delicacy, Parma ham. He deep fried this into a ruffled toque for the fish, which had been enthroned on a cushion of stir-fried vegetables and surrounded by a glossy carpet of red wine sauce. From native Shetlander to cosmopolitan flaneur in just a few hours.
But then there is something of a town mouse/ country mouse dynamic to the series. Nairn eats plain dishes with those that shoot, catch or grow the ingredients (murmuring politely as he does so, however humble or outlandish the recipe), then he retreats to a strangely ascetic loft kitchen to perform more sophisticated transformations - the wild arctic hare doesn't go into a casserole but is arrayed as petals on a bed of wild rice. The everpresent danger in such refinements is that they might tumble over into preciosity. Nairn's hardly ever do, but in this second series there are tiny signs of an exquisite sensibility at work - the dead leaves scattered across the floor of the studio, for instance, are surely a bit too World of Interiors for a programme which mostly has an outdoorsy matter-of-factness. I would also prefer it if there was more acknowledgement that getting things to taste just right depends on the cook's ability to taste what's wrong (Nairn isn't as candid as Rick Stein about how mistakes can happen, or as vocal about what is missing from a dish). But, even if your chances of getting squat lobster or wild blaeberries are virtually nil, the series encourages the right sort of appetites.Reuse content