This week I have been pondering what started it all for me. What was it that really got me into my kitchen and fuelled my intrigue? Why did I start cooking and what drives me to continue? I am going to talk about these things in this article and see if i can retrace my steps a little bit to see what made me really develop my greedy streak.
I believe it all started when I was around 8 and in junior school, I used to watch ready steady cook and things like that but not really understand anything that was going on, I just used to think Ainsley Harriot was funny! I also watched a TV show with Gary Rhodes on CBBC (the name escapes me) where they used to make all manner of strange and freaky dishes with a few children taking part in the process. I always wanted to go on that show. So the interest was there from a young age but I didn’t really get up and want to try anything further than cupcakes from a DIY kit until I started watching the early shows from Jamie Oliver. Jamie’s boyish enthusiasm and fresh take on cooking opened my eyes to a new world of possibility in the kitchen and really gave me a will to get in there and do it myself. This led to a few over cooked pasta dishes and a new found reliance on smoke alarms, but it was all an essential part of the learning curve in my (culinary) formative years. I came through this period not really taking much in, but the genuine passion for it was starting to seep through and grow within me. You should have seen my face when I cooked my first fry up for my Nan when she stayed over one weekend; it was like I was singing for Simon Cowell. The judgement meant the world to me it really did. Part of me feels the same to this day when I get somebody to try something new I have made.
This brings me to between the ages of 14 and 16 where I was becoming aware of the effect of herbs in dishes. Our new and increasing reliance on the internet and search engines at the time meant learning became easier; I was starting to understand what I was seeing on the TV now and able to translate those things to the plate. I was able to understand the importance of timing and the scientific aspect of how cooking effects ingredients too, which provided a better platform with which to increase my actual skills and the techniques I was using. By this time Jamie was starting to move into the whole food revolution stage of his career and concentrating on really making a difference in young peoples eating habits, which was admirable but not as interesting for me at that time. So I started branching out a bit and watching shows and reading books by other chefs I wasn’t as aware of at the time like the Hairy bikers, Rick stein, Gennaro Contaldo and Antonio Carluccio, who all became some of my more favoured influences. These new takes on cooking introduced me to other aspects of the gastronomic journey like baking, making fresh pasta, filleting fish and working with fresh shellfish to name a few.
I believe in the 20th century the modern budding cook is, like me, mainly influenced by what they see on their television. This is good in one way as it makes cooking more accessible and less out of reach for some people who believe it is impossible to even comprehend reading the recipe for a lovely homemade burger or a simple pasta dish. This brings me to thinking about what inspired the TV chefs we already know and love? The media had less coverage of the food side of things up until the last decade or so. So was it just their parents cooking that they talk about during their shows and in their books or were they inspired, like me, by the available media at the time? Or was it, even though there were less food orientated presenters on TV, the high quality of the small amount of them that were on the box, a good example would be the late, great, Keith Floyd. Only they will know what really started them cooking of course, But Keith Floyd cannot be ignored as one of British television’s major totems for the foodie revolution we see on our screens today. He was and always will be the godfather of UK TV chefs.
Nowadays people are inevitably shaped in lots of ways by what they see on their TV, and as I have said it played a major part in getting me to where I am today with my adoration for food. So I could say I owe a lot to the television for giving me these seemingly one to one sessions with such phenomenal chefs and their books for providing me with an insight into their notebooks. Today I admire a huge amount of people that send my creative juices flowing into over drive, most notably the lasting impression a certain Valentine Warner has had on not only the way that I cook but the way that I look at food. Val has that spark for food just as Jamie did the first time I saw him but conveys a much deeper understanding of where the food comes from, he is a modern chef who embraces old practices like hunting your own rabbits and fishing for your own fish, that some people see as pointless due to the convenience of their supermarket. I can honestly say I share his enthusiasm to be part of the whole process, to catch, create and enjoy. He is credited with giving me a much better understanding of this and really inspiring me to push on and get my hands dirty. Along with Val, the hairy bikers, Gennaro and all of those amazing people continue to inspire me every day, but not just through their shows and books but the work they do to create them. The boundaries they push and the amazing, beautiful food they create with their individual styles serve to inspire us all.
To conclude I think I have made it clear how important the good old TV cooking show was in my early years of cooking but I can honestly say the thing that drives me on today is quite simple. Its the people who live and breathe it. The people who go out every day to bring people the best of the best, the writers, the unknown home cooks, the chefs, the farmers and the butchers. I have a vast amount of respect for every part of the system that manages to come together, so we can have such a fantastic range of things to choose from on a daily basis. I hope that the present line-up of TV chefs, bloggers, magazine article writers, cafe owners and street food vendors can inspire the next wave of great professionals beyond what is available today as the standard just keeps getting better with every passing year.
So that’s it really, a touch on what really inspires me and a hope that others, no matter how it comes about, fall in love with food just like I did.