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.

Photo: Getty
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After Richmond Park, Labour MPs are haunted by a familiar ghost

Labour MPs in big cities fear the Liberal Democrats, while in the north, they fear Ukip. 

The Liberal Democrats’ victory in Richmond Park has Conservatives nervous, and rightly so. Not only did Sarah Olney take the votes of soft Conservatives who backed a Remain vote on 23 June, she also benefited from tactical voting from Labour voters.

Although Richmond Park is the fifth most pro-Remain constituency won by a Conservative at the 2015 election, the more significant number – for the Liberal Democrats at least – is 15: that’s the number of Tory-held seats they could win if they reduced the Labour vote by the same amount they managed in Richmond Park.

The Tories have two Brexit headaches, electorally speaking. The first is the direct loss of voters who backed David Cameron in 2015 and a Remain vote in 2016 to the Liberal Democrats. The second is that Brexit appears to have made Liberal Democrat candidates palatable to Labour voters who backed the party as the anti-Conservative option in seats where Labour is generally weak from 1992 to 2010, but stayed at home or voted Labour in 2015.

Although local council by-elections are not as dramatic as parliamentary ones, they offer clues as to how national elections may play out, and it’s worth noting that Richmond Park wasn’t the only place where the Liberal Democrats saw a dramatic surge in the party’s fortunes. They also made a dramatic gain in Chichester, which voted to leave.

(That’s the other factor to remember in the “Leave/Remain” divide. In Liberal-Conservative battlegrounds where the majority of voters opted to leave, the third-placed Labour and Green vote tends to be heavily pro-Remain.)

But it’s not just Conservatives with the Liberal Democrats in second who have cause to be nervous.  Labour MPs outside of England's big cities have long been nervous that Ukip will do to them what the SNP did to their Scottish colleagues in 2015. That Ukip is now in second place in many seats that Labour once considered safe only adds to the sense of unease.

In a lot of seats, the closeness of Ukip is overstated. As one MP, who has the Conservatives in second place observed, “All that’s happened is you used to have five or six no-hopers, and all of that vote has gone to Ukip, so colleagues are nervous”. That’s true, to an extent. But it’s worth noting that the same thing could be said for the Liberal Democrats in Conservative seats in 1992. All they had done was to coagulate most of the “anyone but the Conservative” vote under their banner. In 1997, they took Conservative votes – and with it, picked up 28 formerly Tory seats.

Also nervous are the party’s London MPs, albeit for different reasons. They fear that Remain voters will desert them for the Liberal Democrats. (It’s worth noting that Catherine West, who sits for the most pro-Remain seat in the country, has already told constituents that she will vote against Article 50, as has David Lammy, another North London MP.)

A particular cause for alarm is that most of the party’s high command – Jeremy Corbyn, Emily Thornberry, Diane Abbott, and Keir Starmer – all sit for seats that were heavily pro-Remain. Thornberry, in particular, has the particularly dangerous combination of a seat that voted Remain in June but has flirted with the Liberal Democrats in the past, with the shadow foreign secretary finishing just 484 votes ahead of Bridget Fox, the Liberal Democrat candidate, in 2005.

Are they right to be worried? That the referendum allowed the Liberal Democrats to reconfigure the politics of Richmond Park adds credence to a YouGov poll that showed a pro-Brexit Labour party finishing third behind a pro-second referendum Liberal Democrat party, should Labour go into the next election backing Brexit and the Liberal Democrats opt to oppose it.

The difficulty for Labour is the calculation for the Liberal Democrats is easy. They are an unabashedly pro-European party, from their activists to their MPs, and the 22 per cent of voters who back a referendum re-run are a significantly larger group than the eight per cent of the vote that Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats got in 2015.

The calculus is more fraught for Labour. In terms of the straight Conservative battle, their best hope is to put the referendum question to bed and focus on issues which don’t divide their coalition in two, as immigration does. But for separate reasons, neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats will be keen to let them.

At every point, the referendum question poses difficulties for Labour. Even when neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats take seats from them directly, they can hurt them badly, allowing the Conservatives to come through the middle.

The big problem is that the stance that makes sense in terms of maintaining party unity is to try to run on a ticket of moving past the referendum and focussing on the party’s core issues of social justice, better public services and redistribution.

But the trouble with that approach is that it’s alarmingly similar to the one favoured by Kezia Dugdale and Scottish Labour in 2016, who tried to make the election about public services, not the constitution. They came third, behind a Conservative party that ran on an explicitly pro-Union platform. The possibility of an English sequel should not be ruled out.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.