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Unloved

Hot stuff in the kitchen

We are a race of time-poor junk food eaters who are generally too tired to cook. So cookery programmes were designed to stimulate our jaded palates with arousing images of impossibly proportioned food. New to BBC 1, The Good Cook is a particularly well made work of gastro-erotica, which takes the genre to new levels.

Of course, this over-sexualisation of meat and veg is probably psychologically damaging. As I watch The Good Cook, salivating over soft-focus mushrooms, plump voluptuous tomatoes and glistening cuts of meat, it's quite easy to forget that real food doesn't actually look like this.

As gently funky music plays and the camera pans, zooms, soft-focuses and circles 360 degrees around dripping eggs, slow-motion gravy waterfalls and fresh, juice-engorged tomatoes, I can't help but wonder: Are cookery programmes giving our children a distorted idea of what the shopping is supposed to look like?

And won't somebody think of the vegetables? If I was an Aldi-bought mushroom crushed unloved at the bottom of a not-recently-cleaned fridge, I'd feel under enormous pressure to conform to presenter Simon Hopkinson's unreasonably high food-beauty standards. "You don't want to be with me!" I'd say, if I was such a body-dysmorphic fungus in a stale marriage. "You want to be with those fresher, curvier mushrooms on that cookery programme!"

Hopkinson himself is a calmly passionate restaurateur and author. He's a bit more unassuming than other celebrity chefs and hovers around the periphery of the red hot food action (wisely, he's not the type of fellow of whom you'd say: "Look at Hopkinson, he's magnificent!"). So instead of shots of the host, we get illustrations, graphics, and handwritten notes materialising in a ghostly fashion beside the never-ending stream of gastronomical excess.

There are also lovingly shot close-ups of kitchen furnishings, an old potato-peeler (once Hopkinson's father's) and a record player (sadly not playing 1970s slap-bass licks). These retro elements are interesting because they're counterpointed with the show's very modern innovation: onscreen QR codes which can be scanned by smartphones (they cannot be scanned by holding a rotary dial landline to the screen. I tried). This way the viewers at home can download the recipes directly.

And, hubba-hubba, what recipes they are: baked pappardelle with pancetta and porcini, scallops beurre blanc, salad nicoise, coq au vin and sticky toffee pudding. By the time Hopkinson and the camera man have introduced me to each concoction, I'm so sensuously confused that I'm not sure if I want to eat them or ask for their hand in marriage.

If I were to marry all five meals I'd be like polygamist Mormon businessman Bill Henrickson (Bill Paxman) in HBO drama Big Love (although, strange as fundamentalist Mormon practices are, I don't think they're allowed to marry food). The old polygamy seems to be working out pretty well for Bill. Now into a second series, he and his three wives are continuing to keep their family arrangements secret, to negotiate the fractious politics of their sect, and to come to terms with the recent shooting of their patriarch, one of Bill's father-in-laws.

In last night's episode Bill tries to convince his increasingly insecure first wife Barb (Jeanne Tripplehorn) that the family should get into the gambling industry, second wife Nikki (Chloe Sevigny) attempts to reconnect with her estranged mother, and youngest wife Margie (Ginnifer Goodwin) meets an old flame and learns about manipulating family dynamics. Like The Sopranos, Big Love is a drama which finds its insights about family in the weirder fringes of American society. Also like The Sopranos, it rings true because it never imposes the moral values of the viewers onto its characters. The only thing it's missing really is slow motion footage of food.

The Good Cook HHHII

Big Love HHHHI


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