Ina Garten in Napa, Nigella in Despair

Recently I was watching Ina in a series of shows shot “en vacance”in California.What struck me was there was not really that much cooking going on. It was basically a narrative about Jeffrey and Ina with visits to various places. A baked goats cheese here, one of Jeffrey’s grilled pork chops there. Am I complaining? No! The story of these two is worth watching of itself. It could come across as Dickensian treacle , but it doesn’t. It is sure warm and fuzzy, but the little jokes (yes, I know it is scripted) are warming and thoroughly enjoyable. After watching I recalled the picture of Charles Saatchi at Scott’s seemingly with his hands around Nigella’s throat. These distressing images have been the stuff of newspaper blabber for a while now. According to the Evening Standard Nigella is planning to escape the spotlight by flying out to LA. I wish her well. This nasty incident is really none of anyone’s business and the media have indulged in a tasteless and prurient orgy of speculation which must have made the poor woman feel even worse.

Ina Garten and Husband

If you have never heard of Ina Garten, or her cherubic husband Jeffrey, you have a treat in store. Ina is the host of a US cookery series called Barefoot Contessa. The early versions of this show have a raw and sometimes clumsy naivety about them, never-mind. The output is from the same production company behind Nigella Lawson’s Kensington and Chelsea lifestyle and cookery opus. Kensington and Chelsea are replaced by the Hamptons, and the actors that usually play Nigella’s friend’s, are replaced by a dizzying array of *real life* eccentric florists (and lots of wonderful well heeled gentlemen in cashmere.) This is really part of the fun. Ina uses her own friends and her own husband, it is addictive. The set is Ina’s home complete with plenty of Le Creuset skillets and bonhomie. The show itself is constructed around an event, an anniversary or birthday, an friend’s imminent return from Provence and so on. The events are usually a “surprise” and can involve Ina slinking around in her BMW to various quality outlets in search of treats. Ina is also a stickler for design, and table decoration and frippery are part of the high camp and whimsy that spices up Barefoot Contessa.

If you don’t like Nigella Lawson there is something wrong with you. The same can be said of Ina and Jeffrey. Many people suggest that Ina is a snob, there are plenty of bitter online comments and naff little films on YouTube to illustrate this. Snob? No, this is quite wrong in my opinion. Her cookery is all about the gastronomic heritage of peasant France, with some unusual twists – chicken  bouillabaisse for example. Auguste Escoffier doesn’t feature in this line up. There is nothing pretentious about her style either, one gets the impression that she is having a lot of fun and that is why this celebrity chef is a star. She is just doing what she likes and having a good time, or am I just in love with her self taught homely and very successful cooking? I have tried quite a few of her recipes and they all work a treat! The same cannot be said for Jamie Oliver’s chaos driven “Fifteen Minute Meals”, currently back in the mummy’s mental breakdown at tea-time slot on Channel Four.

Ina is a person of substance of course, just like Nigella Lawson. Ina formerly worked as a White House nuclear policy analyst and her husband Jeffrey is a Yale professor. Just as Nigella exudes confidence and doesn’t put the viewer on edge (think Gordon Ramsey) so Ina is at ease with herself and charms effortlessly. Ina is more successful in my opinion, and, I have to say a slightly better cook than Nigella on her good days. Of course Nigella can also be a stellar performer as well, I am thinking now about her slow braised Asian beef and spiced salad, and now I am thinking about her schweinshaxe. Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa is currently showing on Food Network (alongside some truly dire output) and is well worth a look. Ina is also the author of numerous cookbooks, none of which I have read…yet. I will be reviewing these in the future. Ina’s own skills were born from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which is heartily recommended.

At her very best Ina has the personality and culinary ability to lull the viewer into a near soporific state of calm and tranquil pleasure. In my opinion Ina should be commissioned to make culinary travel shows, not like Barefoot Contessa in London though! Traveling round round a la 1980s classic Floyd on France would be a great idea! I wonder if TV producer David Pritchard (who is responsible for some of the very best that ever there was, ie Keith Floyd) has anything left to give? David Pritchard’s “Shooting The Cook” is a great read I might add. There are some that blame David Pritchard for the whole celebrity chef phenomenon, blame? Not at all. Pritchard also created the wonderful television celebrity, Rick Stein. A totally different personality to Keith Floyd of course, having “a kind of self-doubt, simplicity and honesty” according to Pritchard himself.  Keith Floyd is the father of them all though, we will continue our look at his offspring (whether they be the runts of the litter, or the pedigree champions) in the coming weeks. Enjoy Ina Garten and her well fed and personable husband, Jeffrey.

Sunday Brunch Channel Four

There are many great food and cookery shows on television these-days, Sunday Brunch (courtesy of Channel Four) is not one of them. The show is hosted by two guys that have a very particular style, Tim Lovejoy and Simon Rimmer. This is a show about “banter” and not batter. Banter is a difficult recipe to get right, it needs the following ingredients: a decent portion of self-confidence, a good measure of verbal dexterity and polish, and a pinch of wit. If you try to create banter with nervousness, monosyllabic earpiece prompted blurts (so Derren, I understand you have a parakeet)  and a complete lack of wit you get a big soggy mess. Striding through this cringe-making dough ball of a show are “celebrities” of varying degrees of desperation promoting themselves (their book, music etc) or, even worse, appearing as part of a contractual obligation to promote another show. Many of them, one can easily see, do not want to be there. Apart from the stodgy “banter” this is a show that attempts to be “chilled” and matey a la Jamie Oliver, it does not work. Commenting in The Sun, a Channel 4 producer claims:

“Simon and Tim have brilliant on-screen chemistry and their partnership will be at the heart of Sunday Brunch.” Tim and Simon themselves say  “We’re chuffed to be joining Channel 4. We have a great laugh working together.”

Of course BBC2 dropped them. Just like Channel Four has dropped a real gem this week, Time Team. This followed their failed attempt to introduce archeology celebs to the format, a move which ruined an excellent and well respected show. All is not doom and gloom, if you know where to look there is excellent programming featuring celebrity chefs you may not have heard of! More of that as we go along.