“The power of telly”

01 June 2018, 08:39 am
Fine Food by Charles Campion

Hands up everyone who knew what Rendang was before Rendang Gate hit the 2018 MasterChef series…

Greg Wallace and John Terode were faced with Zaleha Kadir Olpin’s interpretation of the classic Indonesian dish Rendang, and Greg declared it inedible because the skin wasn’t crisp. (He would have been wiser to point out that Rendang is a dish more usually made with beef, and one that needs to spend a long time in the oven – slow and
low). Overnight the Twitter-sphere latched on to this bandwagon. IKEA in Singapore launched their own version of rendang chicken wings and one internet source noted that the judges’ comments about the dish rankled because of the overtones of neo-colonialism. You would have to bet that Greg and John did not set out for the studio that morning with neocolonialism in mind.

The tentacles of “reality television” have a long reach, and over the years our response has changed. Between 1950 and 1955 Fanny and Johnny Craddock wrote articles for The Telegraph under the pen name Bon Viveur and the partnership went on to get impressive coverage on television. At the height of their fame the twosome could book the Albert Hall for cooking demos. But television was to be their downfall and it came in the shape of a 1976 programme called The Big Time. The structure would be familiar to viewers today (an amateur tries to cook as well a professional, ring any bells?).

Fanny’s nemesis was a Devon farmer’s wife called Gwen Troake and her prize was to cook for Edward Heath mentored by Fanny. Troake’s proposed menu was a seafood platter followed by roast duck and finished with coffee cream made with rum - as a nod to Heath’s nautical side – perversely in 2018 this menu sounds fair enough. But Fanny chose to give the Devon lady both barrels and the huge television audience flinched. Fanny had form for being pretty sharp and pretty snobbish but this time she excelled herself. “You could kill pigs with that menu. Do you have any friends in Devon, dear? Living?” Television is a very unforgiving medium and it didn’t forgive Fanny Craddock, who went from hero to zero in the blink of an eye.

All of which makes it ironic that today television presenters are never happier than when making the contestants sob – it’s so much more real. Good losers pause on their way out of the studio to say how much they have enjoyed their “journey” and how pleased they have been to get in to the last 16, or 8, or whatever.

Whether it is Lord Sugar, cake judges or celebs in the jungle, it’s the nasty side of things that bolsters the viewing figures. And that probably goes for the numerous talent shows where it seems that the less talent the contestants have the better viewing they make. All of which makes the instant demise of Fanny Craddock even more poignant; if she had been operating in this century she would have been revered for her acid tongue and impressive nastiness.

Setting aside a query of two – how do you kill pigs with a seafood platter and a coffee cream? Why should it matter to cooks whether they have friends in Devon? Fanny would have been perfectly at home in 2018, even if it is very unlikely that she would have known what a rendang was.

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