Cook

The whole phenomenon of television cookery is a little baffling; the one thing that isn’t transmitte

Too many cooks spoil the broth; unless it is cook broth.

Poor Gordon Ramsay: His super enlarged face looms from billboards all over town. His image dwarfs him - anyone meeting him from now on cannot help but be subconsciously disappointed that his head isn’t six feet wide. "He seems so small in real life", they’ll say.

Before the billboards impinged upon my eyes I’d only been dimly aware of Gordon Ramsay. He is a celebrity TV chef I believe, famous for swearing. A swearing cook; whatever next? The spitting cook? The shitting cook? Who’d want a meal that required swearing in it’s preparation? I’d like some love in my dinner not fuck.

The whole phenomenon of television cookery is a little baffling; the one thing that isn’t transmitted by TV is taste. A celebrity TV juggler would make sense; you could enjoy the juggling via TV almost as much as you would live - but food?

This is the era of televised cookery, glossy cookbooks - and endless ready meals. In a sense the TV chefs cook so we don’t have to.

I suggest a cookery show called “Unfamiliar Kitchen” in which contestants have a very short time to prepare a meal despite not knowing the whereabouts of any utensils or ingredients and being constantly pestered by the host : "Well what are you going to cook? When will it be ready?" etcetera.

Chefs always use 'the finest ingredients'. Isn’t that cheating? Shouldn’t a great chef be able to create a decent meal out of mediocre ingredients? Where do chefs get off anyway taking the credit for food; they didn’t make it after all - they only heated it up, chopped it and slapped it on a plate. Food behaves according to the simple equation I have devised below:

Food + Food = Food

What a chef creates on a plate is a collage, not art. Then again, writers rarely invent words, and painters seldom manufacture paint, so I’m wrong. Sorry.

The billboard adverts are for Gordon’s gin, and his name’s Gordon. How did they think that one up? Presumably it wasn’t Mr Ramsay that approached the gin makers, but the other way round. Will they pursue the idea and use other famous Gordons? Gordon Brown perhaps - show him sitting in Number 10 glugging from a bottle with the strap line "Why not? It worked for Churchill!".

What products could the other celebrity chefs entwine themselves with? Jamie Oliver could promote olive oil; Antony Worrall Thompson holidays on Merseyside; Gary Rhodes, Rhodesia; Delia Smith, ironmongery.

There are several different versions of the Gordon’s advert - the first I saw bore the strap line "the most offensive word in the English language is AVERAGE". Firstly, it isn’t. Secondly it is offensive to proclaim to the general public that the word average is offensive - the public about whom one can say with certainty it is overall average.

The next one I saw said "I choose my gin far more carefully than I choose my WORDS" which devalues the other adverts as well as itself. If you don’t choose your words with care why should we listen to you? The ad seems to imply Mr Ramsay himself has said this. I’ll wager he didn’t; in which case it is partially true in that in this case he didn’t choose his words at all. Did he choose his gin? Or did it choose him?

There’s another poster showing Marco Pierre White scowling with some sort of jelly in the foreground. The caption reads "To get to heaven you must go through hell" which is a novel revision of thousands of years of theological thought - in one sentence. Previously hell has been seen as a final destination - rot in hell we say - rather than a staging post on the way somewhere else. Presumably the advert wants to imply that to reach the heavenly jelly one must pass the hellish scowls of Monsieur White - but it doesn’t: the jelly is in the foreground so the advert actually implies that one must pass through the hell of jelly to reach the heaven of Monsieur White’s face.

I often cook myself - accidents happen when chopping onions at speed. I never use recipe books; I always cook the same thing: what’s left.

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Andy Burnham and Sadiq Khan are both slippery self-mythologisers – so why do we rate one more than the other?

Their obsessions with their childhoods have both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

Andy Burnham is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s widely seen as an unprincipled flip-flopper.

Sadiq Khan is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s the hugely popular mayor of London, the voice of those who’d be proud to think of themselves as the metropolitan liberal elite, and is even talked of as a possible future leader of the Labour party.

Oh, and also they were both born in 1970. So that’s a thing they have in common, too.

Why it is this approach to politics should have worked so much better for the mayor of London than the would-be mayor of Manchester is something I’ve been trying to work out for a while. There are definite parallels between Burnham’s attempts to present himself as a normal northern bloke who likes normal things like football, and Sadiq’s endless reminders that he’s a sarf London geezer whose dad drove a bus. They’ve both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

And yes, Burnham apparent tendency to switch sides, on everything from NHS privatisation to the 2015 welfare vote to the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, has given him a reputation for slipperiness. But Sadiq’s core campaign pledge was to freeze London transport fares; everyone said it was nonsense, and true to form it was, and you’d be hard pressed to find an observer who thought this an atypical lapse on the mayor’s part. (Khan, too, has switched sides on the matter of Jeremy Corbyn.)

 And yet, he seems to get away with this, in a way that Burnham doesn’t. His low-level duplicity is factored in, and it’s hard to judge him for it because, well, it’s just what he’s like, isn’t it? For a long time, the Tory leadership’s line on London’s last mayor was “Boris is Boris”, meaning, look, we don’t trust him either, but what you gonna do? Well: Sadiq is Sadiq.

Even the names we refer to them by suggest that one of these two guys is viewed very differently from the other. I’ve instinctively slipped into referring to the mayor of London by his first name: he’s always Sadiq, not Khan, just as his predecessors were Boris and Ken. But, despite Eoin Clarke’s brief attempt to promote his 2015 leadership campaign with a twitter feed called “Labour Andy”, Burnham is still Burnham: formal, not familiar. 

I’ve a few theories to explain all this, though I’ve no idea which is correct. For a while I’ve assumed it’s about sincerity. When Sadiq Khan mentions his dad’s bus for the 257th time in a day, he does it with a wink to the audience, making a crack about the fact he won’t stop going on about it. That way, the message gets through to the punters at home who are only half listening, but the bored lobby hacks who’ve heard this routine two dozen times before feel they’re in the joke.

Burnham, it seems to me, lacks this lightness of touch: when he won’t stop banging on about the fact he grew up in the north, it feels uncomfortably like he means it. And to take yourself seriously in politics is sometimes to invite others to make jokes at your expense.

Then again, perhaps the problem is that Burnham isn’t quite sincere enough. Sadiq Khan genuinely is the son of a bus-driving immigrant: he may keep going on about it, but it is at least true. Burnham’s “just a northern lad” narrative is true, too, but excludes some crucial facts: that he went to Cambridge, and was working in Parliament aged 24. Perhaps that shouldn’t change how we interpret his story; but I fear, nonetheless, it does.

Maybe that’s not it, though: maybe I’m just another London media snob. Because Burnham did grow up at the disadvantaged end of the country, a region where, for too many people, chasing opportunities means leaving. The idea London is a city where the son of a bus driver can become mayor flatters our metropolitan self-image; the idea that a northerner who wants to build a career in politics has to head south at the earliest opportunity does the opposite. 

So if we roll our eyes when Burnham talks about the north, perhaps that reflects badly on us, not him: the opposite of northern chippiness is southern snobbery.

There’s one last possibility for why we may rate Sadiq Khan more highly than Andy Burnham: Sadiq Khan won. We can titter a little at the jokes and the fibs but he is, nonetheless, mayor of London. Andy Burnham is just the bloke who lost two Labour leadership campaigns.

At least – for now. In six weeks time, he’s highly likely to the first mayor of Greater Manchester. Slipperiness is not the worst quality in a mayor; and so much of the job will be about banging the drum for the city, and the region, that Burnham’s tendency to wear his northernness on his sleeve will be a positive boon.

Sadiq Khan’s stature has grown because the fact he became London’s mayor seems to say something, about the kind of city London is and the kind we want it to be. Perhaps, after May, Andy Burnham can do the same for the north – and the north can do the same for Andy Burnham.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.