Since the end of Masterchef last week (which i finally got around to watching my recorded edition at the weekend*) i’ve been thinking about food and cooking and cheffing.

One of the things that really annoys me about current batch of cookery programmes is that, for the most part, the business of cooking is made out to be something horrendously complicated. Cooking isn’t complicated. Cheffing (cooking to restaurant, michelin standards) may be complicated, and having seen some of the concoctions created in the kitchens of lofty restaurants such as the Savoy, i am willing to believe the descriptions of “30 processes” that need to be done to create a dish there. Cheffing (or whatever else term you want to call it) involves much more than creating a dish: there’s creating the dish to an economical standard (whatever the budget may be that applies to you), management of the kitchen, reproducing the same dish 30 times (sometimes more) a day, getting the dish done quickly – a diner isn’t going to wait around 3 hours to be presented with something no matter how good it is – and a whole host of other types of knowledge that needs to be learned in order to work as a chef in a good restaurant kitchen.

But all that is very different to what a cook needs. a cook is someone who may only need to reproduce the same dish 10 times, if they were doing a big dinner party. They will cook for those they love, or those they invite to their home: rarely is it on a paid basis, for those they do not know even slightly. A cook often cooks every day, for her family. A cook works to a very different budget level to that of a kitchen, and doesn’t have to meet the same stringent hygiene standards.  There are thousands of them, up and down the country, working each and every night to do that simplest of motives: feed their families. Whether its taking out the ubiquitous chicken nuggets and chips from the freezer, or preparing a meal of – say – spaghetti bolognaise from fresh ingredients, to the best of their ability and to the best cost that they can afford.. they strive to feed their families as best they can, within the limits of their skills and what they can afford.

A cook could, potentially, produce a single plate of food to rival a chef. There are many many cooks out there, who consistently produce good food, food that experiments, that they polish to perfection, new ideas about cooking.. and yet who will never be chefs. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. I do believe that cooks have a great deal to offer culinary knowledge, if chefs allowed them to do so.

The primary difference of course is that most cooks do not work with food on a professional basis. Cooks are amateurs: and yet some of the best amateurs in the world can rival the professionals. I’m willing to bet that the Masterchef semi-finalists, all of them, could rival many a professional chef.

so why is it that “cheffing” is held up as the pinnacle of cookery, that to know what you are speaking of, you must be a chef, or striving to be one? why must all good food look as though its of a michelin standard? you see it in the early intake of Masterchef contestants: the overwhelming urge to prettify the plate with a bit of herb. You saw it a few years ago when AWT referred to Delia as “the volvo of cookery”. That may well be true – i find Delia’s recipe’s very placid myself – but i will also admit that if i’m trying a new technique.. i follow a Delia recipe.

There is room out there, in the television schedules, for cooks. For celebrating good food and simple cooking techniques that cooks can do – even those on a tight budget. Spaghetti bolognaise may be much maligned (quite rightly, there are some truly gross versions out there) but, cooked properly, spag bol can be quite simply sublime.

my point? that the TV schedulers need to start recognising cooks, recognising the need to discuss simple food. Not the poncy, expensive stuff. Simple stuff that can help those on a budget cook. there is no way that we can deal with the current obesity crisis and the dependency on ready meals until people are shown how to cook that way.. how easy (and cheap) it is to make a syrup sponge, for example, as opposed to buying an overpriced tin of preservatives from the supermarkets, things like using lentils to stretch out mince – which is better for the body, as it reduces cholesterol – hopefully, the same amount of cholesterol you’ve just taken in via the meat, if not more!

until people are taught to appreciate simple food – from buying it, to cooking it, to eating it, we’re never going to sort out the culinary and health problems Britain now suffers from. And putting food – and the restaurant profession – up on an unreachable pedestal isn’t going to help either.


[* I have to say, as much as i wanted Hannah to win – i’ve been rooting for her since the semis, her heartfelt earnestness and eagerness to win, to be validated, and her lack of self-confidence really won me over – i think the right person won. I’ve also enjoyed this year’s competition *much* more than last years. Last year’s was marred by the controversy over the gentleman who won (whether he deserved to or not) and by infighting between the contestants – the show became more about the personalities than the food and it was let down by that. This year, happily, there was no such infighting, instead we were treated to lovely glimpses of strong friendships developing, not only (and particularly) between Hannah and Steven (the winner) – which has since been confirmed in their blogs – but also between all four of the semi-finalists, Hannah, Steven, Ben and David. i wish them all every success and i’ll be following their blogs.]