Surprised Chef

First published in SMH 2001

The other day it was my husband’s turn to cook, which normally involves Liu’s Chinese Takeaway.  Not this time – he made soup.  I was out at the time, and he called to explain himself.  I enquired gently about whether it would be edible, and the conversation took an ugly turn, which I thought was strange.  To me, there’s no shame in not being able to cook as long as you can perform other household activities, like the laundry for instance.

Aristos Papandroukalis is clearly to blame for this relationship showdown.  Surprise Chef was on the telly at the time, and my husband in a moment of surprised inspiration, had rushed into the kitchen and started chucking things in the pot.

This is partly understandable.  Aristos Papandroukalis does tend to fill people with false confidence.  He bounds over to unsuspecting shoppers in the supermarket like an overgrown puppy and inspects the contents of their trolley.  Some items – like fetta and olive – send him into a frenzy of excitement.  He then follows his new friends home, who he just met at the supermarket and proceeds to cook them a three-course meal.  He pokes his camera into their fridge and rifles through their spice rack.  Aristos loves leftovers – at the sight of yesterday’s tuna casserole or an odd knob of roast meat he practically boils over with delight.  He gives his recipes catchy names like Kitchen Sink Frittata and Funny Face Eggs – with their cherry tomato nose and cheese hair.  He bubbles over with enthusiasm and loudness and seems to spill out of the television set and into the kitchen.  It’s a bit like watching orange cordial on speed.

Because he hails from the supermarket, Aristos Papandroukalis seems like an ordinary bloke kind of celebrity chef, which explains why he’s so popular with the 7.00pm timeslot.   But he’s just one of the many celebrity chefs dished up by every channel these days:  there’s Nigella, there’s Huey and Jamie.

But, despite their various style differences, they all say the same thing about cooking.  They say cooking is nurturing, it’s organic, it’s sophisticated, it’s creative, it’s multicultural, it contributes to community values and helps build world peace.  Codswallop, it’s just to stop you starving.

What they say can’t be right – surely, like jogging, not everyone is meant to cook.  Why can’t we just stick with stuff we know, like pre-setting the video recorder and getting to work on time.  Feeling that we need to cook in order to be considered a whole person is just another thing to feel inadequate about.  These celebrity chefs are collectively feeding our neuroses by fobbing us off with how easy it all is – the subtext being that you’d have to be a complete moron to stuff this recipe up.  Whereas those of us who live with people who can’t cook, know that Timmy’s BBQ Kitchen is far preferable to a botched up chicken country style hotpot any night of the week.

Why do we need to express our creativity through cooking anyway?  There are other ways – like talking to your potplants and giving your pc a name.  Yet do I see a Jamie, a Nigella, a Huey or an Aristos extolling the virtues of expressing your creativity in whatever way you feel?  Of course not – that’s not the stuff that sells books, videos, teatowels, kitchenware and theatre tickets.

It’s time to unite against TV chefs of the world, and choose to express our creativity and contribute to community values in whatever manner we see fit – it’s time to boycott Jamie Oliver’s Musical, and to not buy another glossy cookbook we’re never going to ready anyway.  It’s time to ditch the celebrity chef oven mits, and knife sets and instead get on with the rest of our lives in whatever manner we choose.

As for the soup – it was magnificent.  Aristos would be proud.  It was rich, nurturing and velvety, with a spicy underbelly of cumin and coriander to liven up our tastebuds.   And what’s more – he’s invited some people over for a dinner party next weekend – he’s going to cook panfried veal medallions with a baby beet jus, accompanied by sformato of vine leaves and a baked lemon and cardamon tart with sticky quince jelly.

Aristos Papandroukalis has a lot to answer for.

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