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TV review: Happy days of vintage TV chefs

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    TV review: Happy days of vintage TV chefs - 18-Jun-2008
    After a decade of increasingly intensive TV food - Jamie, Nigella, Gordon, Rick, Peta et al - there's a lovely antidote on Monday night, on Sky's Food channel.

    Long before sex was routinely linked with cookery, before anyone even thought of revolutionising school dinners, and at a time when using foul language on the telly or, heaven forfend, in the kitchen would have been unthinkable, there were the original celebrity chefs: Julia Child and Graham Kerr.

    In their heyday, people were still getting used to the idea of television, and had never even thought of olive oil, clarified butter or wine with dinner.

    These two cooks brought a sort of can-do glamour to ordinary households - and most decadently, you didn't have to have any intention of cooking their food to enjoy the shows.

    Watching Nigella's sultry efficiency in her gleaming kitchen, or Jamie's athletic chopping up and slinging about of food can be distinctly unrestful.

    You always feel challenged or reproached in some way. Whereas with gushing Graham, and matronly Julia, the experience was undemanding and reassuring, but often inspiring as well.

    Food TV reticulates vintage programmes from the pair, either well worth a half hour's pause before the late news.

    Julia, you can watch purely for the emphatic way she says butter - "b-wu-ttah!" - which now seems grandly subversive, since in this country it's becoming the saturated fat that dare not speak its name.

    She bustles about her kitchen like a bossy chook, her voice a deep, rich cluck, her figure nourished by a lifetime of very good food indeed.

    She has what would nowadays be regarded as a terrible television manner and low performance skills. But she is the real deal, and that's what shines through. She is one of the great pioneers of adventurous modern cooking, and to watch Julia is to watch history.

    Graham is more akin to the modern showbiz chef. He seemed a bit much in his day, twinkling and gushing, his mouth constantly a moue of rapture, whatever morsel he inserted in it, his cheekbones reaching for the sky. He said you could feel his food in your metatarsals.

    I didn't know what metatarsals were, but I was always happy to take his word for it.

    You also get a nice frisson of national pride watching him, for Kerr's Galloping Gourmet franchise of TV and cookbooks went global - but only after he had been discovered here, by the infant local telly folk.

    And sometimes, as with this Monday, Food TV splices in an episode of our other old cooking heroes, Hudson and Halls.

    The impact of these sparkling, bickering chefs on still-conservative late-70s-to-mid-80s New Zealand was immense. It wasn't just the food, though that was daringly exotic.

    It was that they were both openly gay. We simply weren't used to seeing openly gay people on the telly. Certainly not to taking them seriously. The nearest we'd got was the obligatory camp character in the odd British comedy.

    But these two, though they sent themselves up at times in a gently camp fashion, weren't on for comic relief. They were on because they could cook, and had the personality to demonstrate their techniques with elan. The humour was almost incidental.

    David Halls would play up the camp thing a little, shrieking and venturing the odd double-entendre – he was virtuoso on "my nuts" this week - while an unseen studio audience rippled with laughter. But the food was such fun.

    This week they tackled offal - "ooh, my kidneys!" - and a revolutionary experience it must have been for audiences of the day, after the traditional New Zealand way with offal: lamb's fry fried to desiccation, and armpit-smelling steak and kidney pie, with kidneys like rubber bullets.

    Sliced thinly and fried in butter and oil, the three offal dishes were daringly pink in the middle, served with - a gorgeous retro touch - fried toast triangles and a wedding-cake piping of mashed potatoes around the edge of the plate.

    And with it, "a light red" - the ubiquitous old Queen Adelaide shiraz, label artfully turned toward the camera.

    Housewives of the day didn't know whether to be more shocked and delighted with the campness, or with the fact that Halls would flick spare rice on to the floor and cheat by whacking things naughtily into the microwave while the fastidious Hudson wasn't looking.

    It's possible that the most enjoyable thing about watching these old shows is that they were made before we all became so food- conscious.

    The presumption was that we wouldn't be cooking and eating these special, rich dishes every day, but just occasionally - the sane and rational defence Wellington chef Martin Bosley always puts up against the Food Police.

    In those days, the Food Police didn't exist. The cooking was social, celebratory and wholesome. And no one wrote spiteful women's magazine articles about Julia's weight or Graham's cholesterol. Those really were innocent, happy days.
    Ref: - Dominion Post

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