Storm in an egg cup as Gary says Delia's cookery advice is `insulting'

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The Independent Online
WAR HAS been declared among television's cookery aristocracy. No sooner has the Godmother of the kitchen, Delia Smith, taken to our screens on BBC2 with her new series How to Cook than Gary Rhodes, spikey- haired chef and champion of British restaurant cooking, has denounced it as being "offensive and insulting to people's intelligence."

Later, Mr Rhodes claimed that Delia was "his hero" and always had been. But earlier in Press Association interview, he attacked Delia's back- to-basics approach. "I don't need to be shown what boiling water looks like and I think that the rest of the population don't need to be shown it either.

"I do not agree with needing to teach people the most obvious, fundamental things in cooking." he added. "I really don't believe that the majority of people cannot boil an egg.

"A programme showing people how to boil water should not be going out at 8.30pm, and should not be targeted at adults. It is insulting to their intelligence."

Delia disagrees. The cookbook that accompanies her latest television series comes wrapped in a white jacket - sporting nothing more than a bowl of eggs and a white feather. Inside she explains her fear that in this "era of plenty", when we have access to everything we could possibly want in terms of ingredients and convenience, we are in danger of losing touch with the basics and the simplicity of good food - of "how to cook, and how to experience the sheer joy and pleasure of eating good food every single day."

Hence the detailed instruction on how to boil an egg.

Whether or not it was intended as a radical statement, she has unwittingly exposed the weakness and potential hazards in British eating and cooking habits. This is why Delia as the most uncontentious of cookery writers has succeeded in eliciting such a strong reaction. It has come not only from Gary Rhodes, but others in the business, and the general public is divided over whether Delia has simply lost it altogether or whether this is her most profound move to date.

When the Good Food Foundation commissioned MORI to research the attitudes of young people with regard to food earlier this year, the results revealed what had been sus- pected for some time. They highlighted a worrying lack of interest in, and opportunities for, food education and the application of food skills.

Of those who say they "cook", 36 per cent nominated sandwiches as their "cookery" skills, 31 per cent toast, 20 per cent cereals, and 19 per cent cake mixes from a packet. While 9 per cent cook eggs, 11 per cent cook chips and 7 per cent cook pizza.

Cookery as such is not included in the National Curriculum, and while many schools do teach cookery, this is arbitrary and often outside normal school hours. This means some children will not only fail to be taught to cook at school, but if neither parent cooks there is every possibility they will reach the age of 18 without being able to boil an egg, let alone know where an egg comes from or how it is produced.

When Gary Rhodes goes on screen, he knocks up a chicken liver parfait, jellied bacon with parsley, confit of duck, and potato ravioli with mushrooms and Stilton. Apart from the perceived instruction, it's not food that is designed to be cooked in a home kitchen in the first place.

One of the greatest dangers to the nation's cookery skills is the notion that we should be producing the same kind of food at home that is prepared in restaurants. Having worked as a chef, my priorities as a mother are dictated by time, ingredients, and trying to ensure my children have as healthy a diet as possible. The kind of food normally produced in restaurants, even when it has been tweaked for the home kitchen, doesn't get a look in.

Gary Rhodes seems to be confused about this. He should admit that his television programmes are principally about entertainment. If he believes he is in the business of teaching people how to cook at home, he is deluded.

The great majority of popular cookery televisions shows today fall under the format made successful by Bazal Productions which produces Ready, Steady, Cook and Can't Cook, Won't Cook, attracting up to five million viewers. These are designed to combine entertainment with practical information, but even their creator, Peter Bazalgette, admits to their limitations.

"Television plays a tremendously powerful role in enthusing people, but it doesn't actually teach them; it's not a medium for detail, it's linear and therefore you still need to consult a book," he says.

He describes himself as a "powerful supporter" of Delia's new programme in conjunction with the book as a means of learning to cook.

Mr Bazalgette also believes that in the future, the "great majority of the population won't need to cook; the food industry will provide for them." The trend is in that direction, with pounds 638m worth of frozen ready meals and pounds 578m worth of chilled ready meals sold annually.

Before the days of such accessible convenience, the nightly meal was never elaborate, and fell broadly into the "meat and two veg" cliche, but it was still far healthier and more delicious than anything out of a freezer.

One of the problems today is the high expectations of the modern parent who, already pressurised, is expected to knock up Soba Noodles with marinated beef one night, Crepes Parmentier with homemade Garvadlax the next, and Squid Ink Risotto the day after. The sheer range of cookery skills and knowledge required is unrealistic. Is it any wonder people turn to convenience meals?

"Can't boil an egg" is usually said as a joke to imply that you don't know the first thing about cooking. Delia Smith realises that if it is hasn't actually come to pass for the nation, it isn't far off.

Alternatively, you could live off the "Rhodes to Home" range of frozen ready meals,produced in partnerships with Hazlewood Foods whose profits last year were pounds 42m.

And perhaps the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Last week 15,000 people bought Delia's book - 30 times as many as Gary Rhodes's.

So How Good Are You In The Kitchen? A Nation Speaks

PHIL JONES

Age 45

Quality consultant

"I can poach an egg, and I have attempted white sauce a couple of times. I can make gravy but I have to say I usually use Bisto.

I cook every day at home - I'm the main cook in the house. I like cooking Italian and French as well as doing roast dinners and stirfries. I find the Christmas turkey the most difficult thing to do.

I think people who have to cook from recipes probably can't cook very well. It's best if you can do it instinctively. I think a lot of people don't bother. Having said that the most useful cookbook I have at home is very basic.

GARY BAKER

Age 28

Dustman

I love cooking but can I poach an egg? Er no. Nor white sauce or gravy either but I'd probably give it a try.

I cook about once a week - toast, boiled eggs - but my favourite thing to do is chips, proper ones made out of potatoes not out of the freezer, but that can take a long time to chop all those potatoes up.

I think cooking is a bit of a lost art in this country. You just don't see people cooking roast beef and Yorkshire pudding anymore do you? No one really wants more to spend more time or make the effort.

IRENE DAVISON

Age 47

Housewife

Of course I can; poached eggs are simple, white sauce is milk, flour and butter. I can make gravy from the meat juices.

I do cook, but to do something special I have to be in the mood. I love making roast dinners. When I'm not doing that do I do try to stick to healthy pasta dishes and things like that.

I think the book sounds terribly expensive but if it is as basic as that it might be worth it. I'm not sure the younger generation has a clue about how to do the simplest things.

GEOFF LINENBERGER

Age 19

Student

Yes I can poach an egg and gravy's no problem either but I'm not really sure what white sauce is

Most people just don't try. I think it's pretty easy. If I was cooking something I knew well like lasagne then I wouldn't use a recipe book but for more complex things I'd look at a book.

Most people just don't try. I think it's pretty easy. If I was cooking something I knew well like lasagne then I wouldn't use a recipe book but for more complex things I'd look at a book.

WENDY BOYD

Age 27

Architect

Yes I can cook all three things although I'd be tempted to use Bisto for gravy.

I cook quite a lot - mainly French and Italian foods. A lot of the time I don't follow recipe books - I just make it up as I go along. I cook for my boyfriend, although I allow him to make the toast.

I think people can cook to a far higher standard they let on. But they keep quiet even if they are perfectly able to cook, just so that they don't have to.

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