Food for thought and deep pockets
Reading about the launch of Bangkok's first-ever Michelin Guide, I felt a little guilty having just consumed my own gourmet dish of baked beans on toast. A generous topping of grated parmesan cheese hardly lifted it into a creation that would win the approval of a Michelin bon vivant. Anyway, congratulations to all the restaurants that get a mention, even though I can't afford them. I wonder if any of them do a chip butty or mushy peas?
The key point about the Michelin Guide is that its reviewers are strictly anonymous, so they cannot be influenced by the restaurateurs with backhanders. That in itself is a breakthrough for Thailand. It was also encouraging to see there was nod of appreciation for Thai street food with Jay Fai being awarded a star, but don't expect friendly street food prices at that establishment.
We seem to be bombarded with celebrity chef shows these days. I must admit they don't particularly appeal to me, although Gordon Ramsey's Kitchen Nightmares can be quite entertaining in an uncomfortable sort of way.
I have an uneasy feeling that the best chefs are not the ones you see on television, but those that are a slaving away anonymously in restaurant kitchens. Also while watching these shows there is the inescapable feeling that you could be making better use of your time … like going down the pub.
As far as celebrity chefs go, I'll settle for Saiyuud (Poo) Diwong from Klong Toey, whose Cooking With Poo book has become a best-seller. She even appeared on Jamie Oliver's Food Tube, rustling up a tasty-looking masaman curry. It inevitably prompted a number of "Jamie Cooks With Poo" headlines in the British tabloids.
One chef show I did appreciate was Far Flung Floyd featuring Keith Floyd who opened a restaurant at the Burasari resort in Phuket. Floyd, who sadly died in 2009, was a marvellous storyteller and had a very natural style of presentation, making you feel right at home. And he always had a glass of wine handy.
The first-ever TV celebrity chef was Philip Harben, and if you remember him you are even wrinklier than me. His cookery show first appeared on BBC TV in 1946 and in those austere post-war years he concentrated on cheap ingredients available with ration books. The show went out live and on one occasion he cracked open an egg which was vital for the recipe. Unfortunately the egg was bad and with no back-up egg the recipe was abandoned while Harben and his film crew collapsed in laughter.
The most prominent celebrity chef when I was growing up in the late '50s was an eccentric lady, Fanny Cradock. I wasn't particularly enthralled but recall she was rather domineering and would boss around her husband Johnnie. She wore thick make-up and was invariably dressed in an elaborate evening gown, which seemed a rather strange outfit for someone supposedly sweating over a stove.
Fanny loved giving her dishes French names, and everyone became familiar with pommes frites and petit pois. Her programmes were live and on one occasion she accidentally dropped on the floor a chicken she was preparing.
She picked up the chicken and sniffed: "Remember you are alone in the kitchen -- no one will know."
After a while Fanny's popularity waned, mainly because of her supercilious attitude. The Independent called her "the foodie you loved to loathe". She was eventually axed in 1976 when in a show featuring amateur chefs she humiliated a Devonshire housewife who was left in tears.
During her heyday, Cradock was brilliantly spoofed by actress Betty Marsden on a BBC radio show, Beyond Our Ken (later, Round the Horne). To give a taste of the humour, Marsden's other roles included Daphne Whitethigh, Lady Counterblast, Buttercup Gruntfuttock and the magnificent Dame Celia Molestrangler. Sorry, nostalgia creeping in again.
The truly outstanding celebrity chef has to be the puppet from the Muppets, known simply as the "Swedish chef". Like a magician whose tricks always go wrong, the Swedish chef's recipes were a guaranteed disaster.
Among his most famous dishes was "Salad a la Boom-Boom" in which he shreds the vegetables by throwing them up in the air and shooting at them with an antique pistol, the remains of the veggies landing on his head.
He also didn't have much luck with an Italian dish when the spaghetti suddenly came to life, leapt off the plate and proceeded to strangle him. Actually I sometimes have that problem with spaghetti.
The last supper
Cooking columns and recipes are particularly vulnerable to newspaper misprints, which can have an unfortunate effect on readers' stomachs.
Coconut pie fans in Newport got a little more than they bargained for when they used the recipe in the local newspaper, which prompted the following correction: "The recipe for French coconut pie incorrectly suggested it called for a pint of vodka."
One apology I particularly like appeared in a London newspaper, which read: "In our recipe for banana trifle last week we inadvertently omitted the bananas."
There was also an unfortunate case in the Reedsburgh Post cookery column when two items were accidentally merged into one. It read: "Blend sugar, flour and salt. Add eggs and milk. Stir frequently. Mix well and serve chilled. Funeral services will be held on Thursday afternoon at two o'clock."
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Bangkok Post columnist
A long time popular Bangkok Post columnist. In 1994 he won the Ayumongkol Literary Award. For many years he was Sports Editor at the Bangkok Post.
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