Katy Guest: Never suck on a poached pig's bum

It’s tripe to suggest TV chefs help us to cook
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The Independent Online

I once took my parents to a trendy restaurant in south-central London that was famous for its espousal of nose-to-tail eating. Foodies were raving about its avant-garde use of tripe, and I'd heard that it kept some decent real ales.

After perching on minibar stools and scrutinising the menu, Mum and Dad had a little chat using only their eyes and then asked if we could eat somewhere else.

"Our parents made us eat this stuff when we were young and poor," they explained. "Now we can afford proper food and nobody can make us eat offal again."

When I went back to the restaurant weeks later with a fashionable friend, I was reminded once again that my mother is always right.

I remember that evening each time a new restaurant opens that attempts to rebrand cheap offal as an expensive delicacy, and whenever a famous chef thrusts something's entrails on a dubious public. I last saw it happen on Gordon Ramsay's The F Word, when the likeable Tom Parker Bowles decided to munch his way through a whole pig.

I can't imagine that the young Parker Bowleses were ever made to sit at the table until they had finished their faggots, and the enterprise seemed to him to be a marvellous novelty. Even so, I wished he hadn't butched it out with a pig's anus, complete with a trace reminder of the anus's primary purpose.

Because of this, I greeted with suspicion the news that Parker Bowles doesn't think much of the British way of cooking. Speaking ahead of his appearance at this weekend's Independent Woodstock Literary Festival, he called British foodies "a nation of voyeurs". We watch celebrity chefs "but we don't always learn from them," he complained. But I did learn from his appearance on late-night Channel 4: I learned never to suck on a poached pig's bum.

As fun as it would be to mock Parker Bowles, though, he does have a point about this country and eating. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is one of the most popular chefs on British television, and yet still people refuse to notice that some food is made of dead things.

Last week, parents at Lydd Primary School in Kent reacted with horror when a lamb that had been reared to teach children about meat production was taken to slaughter... to produce meat. One outraged mother accused the headmistress of "murder". Maybe the meat that her family usually eats grows on trees.

Parker Bowles made a passionate plea for the return of cookery lessons in schools. Well, we're certainly not going to learn anything from most TV chefs. We watch Jamie Oliver for his raffish humour and the beautiful love affair between him and his gardener Brian now that The Fast Show's Ted and Ralph are no longer on our screens; not for handy tips on what to cook in our own personal outdoor pizza ovens. We tuned in to Keith Floyd to be reassured about our own drinking; not to learn how to gut a fish while horizontal. We watch Nigella ... but I don't know why.

The only telly cook who is any real practical use in the kitchen is Delia Smith, but she spoiled it all in her last series by trying to keep up with the newcomers. You can achieve a world- class choux or you can be A Personality, it seems; not both.

Parker Bowles is right: watching poncey cookery shows while eating a takeaway is a fun act of defiance, but only when you know you could cook if you wanted to.

All the same, I don't share his optimism. His new book, Full English, is a loveable ramble through the nation's cuisine, and well worth the price of the paperback. But if it turns its readers into capable chefs I will eat his recipe for pigs' bits.