Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Delia, no

What has the world come to? Delia just recommended that I use frozen mashed potatoes.

It's not an exaggeration to say that Delia Smith is part of British culture, and nearly every house in the country must contain one of her cookbooks. Many, many people learned how to cook from her, one of the original TV chefs, as Britain came out of the food dark-ages in the 70s onward. She's not known for her cutting-edge style, and there is absolutely no ponciness in her recipes; she is, however, prescriptive and reliable with recipes that work. She has a lot of respect in Britain, enough to get away with drunken rambling at football matches:

So it would be an understatement to say that I watched her much-heralded return to our screens with horror. Her new approach is "how to cheat at cooking", where she thinks that she is showing us how to produce "real" food with the supermarkets doing all the hard work for us. In reality, she is encouraging people to assemble pre-made (and expensive, no doubt) ingredients to pass off as cooking. Her book even recommends specific brands: Aunt Bessie's frozen mashed potato and M&S tinned lamb mice are two examples from the first show. The food did not look appetising, and it was really, really weird to see this legend of cooking kicking the term "recipe" in the balls. She recommended buying pre-grated cheese! How could a home cook even consider paying the high premium for something that takes 30 seconds to do yourself? I'll admit that I'm lazy, but really Delia? Seriously?

To say that there is a Delia backlash going on is an understatement, and I'm afraid I have to join in. Check out the reviews of the accompanying book on Amazon for a flavour (the reviews are either die0hard Delia fans or harsh critics). The mashed potatoes seem to be infamous already. I know it's not a new idea: an American TV "chef", Sandra Lee, has been pulling this shit for years. The point is that Delia is in a position to show us how to cut corners whilst "keeping it real", but she seems to have taken the easy way out and pandered to the lazy by making them think what they are doing is cooking. I eat the occasional ready-meal, but I don't kid myself about what it is.

So you've messed up, Delia. I'll watch the rest (or at least more episodes) of your show, in the faint hope that the first one is unrepresentative of your new approach, but I'm not holding out hope. The sad thing is that there was an excellent template for what she should have done just last year. Nigella Lawson came up with Nigella Express, a programme and book that showed how to cook good food in short amounts of time. There were pre-made ingredients, but they were used judiciously in nice recipes that you genuinely want to eat. That book is welcome in my house; in fact I have it and have cooked a number of excellent dishes from it already. I can't say the same for Delia's newest.


Blogger Jenny said...

Besides being incredibly lazy, I believe pre-grated cheese does not taste as good as if you grate it yourself.

3:28 am  

Post a Comment

<< Home