Susie Rushton: You can't reheat a soufflé – unless you're running a TV cookery contest

Notebook: Contemporary television cookery tends to have what might be termed a less-than-authentic flavour


I can't count the number of mistakes I've made in the kitchen in the last month. There have been baked eggs with yolks as hard as squash balls, a shepherd's pie that erupted like Etna in the oven, the expensive "medium rare" steaks that cut brown and tough with our knives... and yet all of these technically faulty dishes were eaten and enjoyed. Culinary failure isn't really as bad as other kinds of error: there's always next time, and it's only food.

Of course, I'm cooking away from the glare of TV cameras, so I can afford to be sanguine. No doubt young Tom the Plasterer, the bearded Sean Penn lookalike who is a favourite to win the current series of MasterChef, was horrified when his pineapple-and-chilli soufflé failed to rise (or flopped in the waiting, perhaps?). In the episode on 1 February, we saw him present the judges with an unrisen dessert, dejected. Yet in the next shot – check it on iPlayer – a perfectly risen soufflé appeared in its place and was judged "stunning" by a lip-smacking Gregg Wallace.

In one sense we should not be too surprised if producers step in to artificially enhance the appearance of a pudding. Contemporary television cookery tends to have what might be termed a less-than-authentic flavour. Simple food-styling trickery is obviously rife. More insidious are the entirely fictional scenarios viewers are expected to swallow. Think of Nigella's dinner party guests, Jamie's bonhomie (when his actions as a campaigner suggest otherwise), or Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's community spirit, which doesn't appear to extend to a great familiarity with his own River Cottage canteen restaurant, to go by the amazed expressions of staff when he arrived to film one Christmas episode. Then there's Raymond Blanc's accent (no Frenchmen say "ooh la-la"). There isn't a culinary moment on screen that hasn't been improved with careful editing.

If it weren't made perfect in the post-production, these shows would be brain-boilingly dull: man fries piece of chicken, burns it, tries again. Or would they? I caught an old clip of Keith Floyd recently and was amazed to remember what warts-and-all telly cookery looks like: horrible food that the chef himself ridicules, then tips in the bin with a flourish, his unconcealed fury with a film crew whose demands make timing a dish almost impossible, the sweat and the free-flowing vino. MasterChef's "soufflé scandal" might seem more dire because the format of the show is a competition, and having the chance to substitute a ruined dish feels like foul play. But elsewhere in the world of TV food I think we would also enjoy seeing a few more flopped cakes, broken biscuits and frayed tempers. Fifteen years ago Floyd understood that viewers wanted to be entertained, not shown only the most perfect moments from a chef's table. We are a more discerning audience these days, one able to appreciate the skill of Michel Roux Jr or Heston – but there's still little as entertaining as a bumptious young wannabe cook seeing his soufflé collapse.

Clooney's lullabies

It is hard to sympathise with celebrities who complain about unrelenting schedules. But show me an actor who has problems sleeping at night and I'm on their side. This is George Clooney, who has given an interview to The Hollywood Reporter confessing that he sometimes drinks too much, can't fall asleep without the TV on and usually wakes five times each night. Admitting to being wakeful at night isn't part of our picture of the life of a Hollywood superstar.

Come bedtime, aren't celebrities all worn out from the on-tap attentions of lovely members of the opposite sex? Don't bales of cash make a bed very soft?

Staring into the dark each night at 1am, 3am and 5am, I tell myself that wakefulness is a symptom of an enquiring mind. But I'd be just as willing to try counting the dollars earned from my last movie.

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