Belfast Telegraph

Cookery shows about the food, Rachel Khoo, not the way chefs look

By Lisa Markwell

There's an Instagram account called youdidnoteatthat which, it says in its biog, "speaks the truth in this mixed-up world of too many macarons and ice cream cones used as props".

It's an anonymous aggregator of images from other people's accounts in which women pose with food. But they don't look like they actually eat the sugary, stodgy treats – hence the name.

You might argue that it's as invasive and cruel as laughing at overweight women. Who knows whether 'aprilovee' really did eat those nachos. Maybe 'sarahstage' didn't throw those doughnuts in the nearest bin, but actually tucked in. The account has caused something of a furore in the US, with as many people saying "about time" as saying "stop skinny-shaming". I think it's funny and shallow, but maybe that's just me.

I was reminded of it this week when I saw the television chef Rachel Khoo in the Radio Times complaining that only pretty female chefs get on television (this is the same Rachel Khoo who is never seen putting any food in her mouth and who is photographed with smokey eyes and poker-straight blow-dry, stirring a suspiciously clean saucepan).

Oh, Rachel! Saying: "I know I look a certain way and that's partly why I'm on TV – if I were really ugly and fat, I don't think I'd have had the same chance" is not, unlike your berry and almond tart, guaranteed to win you friends. Ugly is more a personality trait than a physical attribute these days.

Khoo singles out Channel 4 for particular criticism in its lack of female chefs, but Channel 4's current promo slot, titled Born Risky, shows just how inclusive and perception-challenging it is.

And as for fat, I have two problems with that. First, one person's fat is another person's normal. Unless we're talking morbidly obese. Second, I would no more trust a skinny chef than a dentist with yellow teeth.

Yes, if you work in a professional kitchen it is gruelling, and many chefs have exercise habits to match their furiously-driven personalities, but they don't hold back when it comes to enjoying food.

After the World's 50 Best restaurant awards last month, many chefs and the team from the number one place, Noma, went to infamous joint MeatLiquor till the early hours, gorging on Dead Hippie burgers and fries.

So I think what we're talking about here is the difference between a chef/cook and a presenter of a food programme. There may not be as many female chefs on TV, as Rachel says, but that's because there aren't as many female chefs full stop. But it's changing. And I'll bet the commissioning editors of every channel are wooing Florence Knight, major rising star, while Angela Hartnett and Clare Smyth already add their gravitas to Great British Menu and MasterChef, of course.

Chefs can look any damn way they please because they are selling their skill, pure and simple.

Everything about Tom Kerridge, or Angela Hartnett, says I love the preparation and eating of food. There has never been, and might never be, as brilliant a cookery programme as that hosted by Simon Hopkinson. His calm, clear instruction and obvious love of food done properly sang out. And he's not given to coy glances to camera with a dessert spoon.

I hesitate to mention the marvellous Two Fat Ladies, because it was a rubbish name, like the Hairy Bikers, but on both counts, enthusiasm and technique win over glamour and a groovy wardrobe.

Incidentally, it's Twitter Restaurant Week, and today is the day to proudly upload photographs of you actually eating your lunch or dinner, using the hashtag #restaurantselfies (shame they didn't call it #youDIDeatthat).

Rachel Khoo would not like it. But I do.

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