Celebrity chefs 'stop people entertaining'

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The Independent Online

As if the modern couple did not have enough stresses to cope with, research has found a new affliction of our times ­ Kitchen Performance Anxiety.

The cause is the glut of celebrity chefs on television and symptoms include nausea, difficulty breathing, sensitivity to noisy or nosy guests and an inability to concentrate on recipes. The Domestic Goddess and the Naked Chef, it seems, have taken the joy out of dinner parties with today's host or hostess feeling under intense pressure to perform to their exacting standards.

As a result, the dinner party is becoming a declining pastime with fewer Brits choosing to take on the pressures of entertaining. Sixty-one per cent of people interviewed insisted they considered it worse than attending an interview or going on a first date.

Professor David Warburton, of the Department of Psychology at the University of Reading, sent questionnaires to more than 1,000 people asking them about their attitudes to entertaining at home. More than half of those asked (54 per cent) felt pressure to serve dishes as divine as those created by the likes of Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson or Gary Rhodes while 87 per cent said they were unable to even relate to celebrity chefs.

All these factors resulted in 68 per cent admitting they held fewer dinner parties than before because the strain had become too much.

Professor Warburton's studies of the habits of 16 couples, aged 25 to 45, led him to conclude that some people suffer from a disorder similar to Social Anxiety or Social Phobia, both of which are already recognised medical conditions.

He identified a number of symptoms of Kitchen Performance Anxiety in a report on the subject. They range from mental block, in which the sufferer freezes up during cooking, through to mental distraction, characterised by lack of concentration, and sensitivity to noise and onlookers. The physical symptoms include rapid heart rate, difficulty in breathing, nausea and headaches.

"Cooking for guests has always caused slight worry and some butterflies because it's natural to want to give guests the best one can," said Professor Warburton.

"Unfortunately, my research shows that for many people it has moved beyond this and become tremendously stressful."