Quick note about three consecutive foodie programmes on the box last night. [OK, it was Tuesday night, but it was 'last night' when I started this post. An old fashioned long lunch got in the way yesterday.] First off, we played Beaker to Heston's Honeydew as he dashed around strip clubs, cattle farms and kitchen laboratories in search of the perfect steak. Either they filmed this series in the order it's being shown or I'm just getting more used to his style to camera: either way, we've now had the third episode, and he's becoming ever more engaging and more successful in turning his nerdy enthusiasm into thoughtful, useful and sometimes even practical advice. It probably helped that a blowtorch was as extreme as it got last night (no industrial paint sprayers or vacuum cleaners this week) and that the overall ensemble was genuinely something you could try at home, assuming you've got the nerve to frazzle a fifty quid hunk of forerib. Has anyone had a go at pimping last week's black forest gateau? Good luck. As with the cake, the major failing last night was the complete lack of evidence that anyone has actually tasted the final product – and therefore verified its 'perfection'. Why not get the Baden Baden baker in to sample the gateau or the New York barbecue champ in to try the steak? A trick missed, I think.
Immediately afterwards came Cooking It on Channel 4, half an hour of Jan Tanaka trying to extract some sort of culinary talent from a hapless toast burner. This is a silly, programme, to be honest, taking Tanaka's view that even rank novices can produce restaurant quality food given the right coaching... and arriving at no conclusions about it whatsoever. Two or three weeks of being taught how to cook two or three dishes by rote and of course there's a good chance the guinea pigs can do it in competition conditions. It's these competition conditions, though, that really beggar belief. Do such cook-offs like this exist in the real world or were the other two contestants (experienced chefs, apparently) told they were auditioning for the next big cooking show? It all feels a little false, a desperate attempt to shoehorn a cooking programme into the Faking It format on which it's based. Talking of which, why didn't they do it properly and call it Baking It?
On, then, to the return of Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares, in which our intrepid hero trips around the country (in this case, in fact, an outpost in southern Spain) in search of toast burners who are trying to make a living out of it. This week's saps were a couple of Brits serving up a bewildering range of bizarre creations (the signature dish was prawns in chocolate sauce) to holiday makers and other expats. Cue lots of swearing and shouting, a rather pointless bull-fighting diversion and the inevitable final capitulation in which the silly menu was discarded in favour of something obviously more appropriate, the pot-washer was promoted to barbecue chef and the local residents from the donkey sanctuary symbolically returned complete with a vote of confidence.
It's difficult to tell how much of this little vignette is really true and how much is down to careful editing. It's also hard to know how much of Ramsay's bully-boy bluster is born of genuine frustration and disbelief and how much is designed simply to reinforce his carefully crafted on-screen persona. In this case, I suspect a healthy dollop of the former and only a little of the latter. Either way, and even with cynicism firmly onboard, it's compelling car-crash TV and it's good to have it back.