Haunted By Cookery

I spend quite a bit of time on this blog writing about food: what I love about food; what I hate about food; what I have eaten; what I have cooked; ingredients; dishes; culture. As such it should be pretty clear by now that I do a lot of cooking in my day-to-day life. It’s not that my partner can’t cook or that she won’t cook; she’s an absolutely superb cook. She’s just not quite as obsessed with it as I am.

I very much doubt, for instance, that she has ever been plagued by a retinue of television celebrity chefs as she cooks, passing judgement on the things she is doing and how she is doing them. That is not the mental process of an entirely rational human being. However, for me, that is the normal train of thought going through my mind when I am cooking our evening meal. Most nights, too.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have Gordon Ramsey critiquing me when I am making a slice of toast, or Jamie Oliver picking apart the way I pour cereal in to a bowl. For one, I don’t think they care either way. It is never Nigella judging the way I butter a crumpet or Delia frowning at my peculiar method of turning eggs in a frying pan. All of that would be symptomatic of serious mental illness in my view.

I’m a big fan of MasterChef – especially the professional version. I love the ordinary version as a piece of good old fashioned entertainment, but the professional version is where the good stuff is going on. It is also where Monica Galletti, Marcus Wareing and formerly Michel Roux Jr (Mikey, in my deranged psyche, and only there) are judge, jury and gentler-than-you’d-expect executioner.

I suppose it started off as the thought of me being on some kind of competitive cookery show, where I am cooking at home and, unbeknownst to me, I am being monitored by a bunch of chefs from behind a bank of monitors. Much in the same way that Gregg Wallace and Chris Bavin do on “Eat Well For Less?”. The only problem is that there has been a malfunction with the microphones, and I can hear everything they are saying about me. Thankfully my mind didn’t make it awkward.

I can hear Marcus commenting on the way that I am either maximising flavour (“Good lad”) or throwing the good stuff in the bin (“What are you doing?!”). I can hear Monica playing devil’s advocate, but questioning where some of the dishes are going (“Has he even planned his plating?”)

Their doubt is my doubt, I can see that. I have apparently reached the point now where I have watched so much cookery being judged on TV that I have internalised their criticisms. I have taken them on as my own thought processes, like someone predicting the outcome of a televised competition. Which we, as a family, actually do. My five year old predicted the winner of Bake Off.

Their praise is my smugness, however. I tend to cook alone, and not even my partner can see fully in to my culinary thought process. I could just accept that I know what I am doing, and that I can whip up a good veggie stir fry, but the ego masturbation of ongoing commentary by the serried ranks of televisual gastronomy seems to give me the boost I need to carry on. Sadly they’re not always right.

That, I suppose, is the failing of such a mental construct: it is me reinforcing or questioning my own actions. It can never be anything more or less than that. For all Monica, Marcus and Mikey are all reassuring presences, they are images, based on my cumulative perceptions of them. They are all better at cooking than I am, and their advice would most likely be far beyond my capabilities.

Sometimes this commentary can get rather distracting. I understand that they are my own mental apparitions, and that I am in absolute control of them. To be otherwise would be really odd. It’s just that I also find them thoroughly entertaining. When I am taking something hot out of the microwave and afraid of burning my fingers I hear Marco Pierre White telling me that fingers are for burning.

There are some chefs who never crop up in my mental image. James Martin (not a chef) has never popped in for some friendly advice, for instance. Neither has Rick Stein, even though he is one of my favourite TV chefs. I know I mentioned Gordon Ramsey, Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson and Delia Smith, but they were purely examples I was using to colour my introductory thoughts on all of this.

However, the dead are not off limits. Since his death, Antony Bourdain has popped in to advise me on the cooking of his Coq Au Vin. Usually to advise using more butter, drinking more wine or doing the thing he wrote in the recipe with the onions. As you’d expect, I only followed a selection of his advice. Taking cooking tips from imaginary dead people can only get you so far in actual reality.

Regardless, I love to cook. I love to cook because I love to eat (although it is currently five past six in the morning, and I am on a train hurtling down the east coast of England, and the thought of the bacon sandwich and cup of coffee sitting next to me couldn’t be any less appealing. I bought them because I knew I would need to eat at some point, regardless of my lack of sleep). Eating is good.

I also admire hard work and dedication to an admirable cause. The cause of fine dining, although infinitely risible, is a worthy cause, and one which requires more dedication and devotion than I could convincingly muster. I like spending time with my family too much to spend my every waking hour in a restaurant kitchen. The people who have succeeded at that are my chosen celebrities.

I may be egomaniacal for imagining receiving advice from these heavyweights, but at least I am aiming high. When Mikey nods in approval that I am using a recipe from a book written by his uncle I am doing no more than patting myself on the head for trying something good. The way I am doing it is a bit weird, but aiming high in whatever you do can never be seen as a bad thing. Thanks Monica.