It has seemed of late, that when a celebrity has reached ego satiety from tv, film or tabloid, they will do one of two things. They will either enter Celebrity Masterchef, or they will write a cookbook. If it’s the former, then I will sigh in a slightly superior manner and take the opportunity to loathe Gregg Wallace a little more, but if it’s the latter, there will normally be anything from a slight hiss to a positive spit of rage.
Because who do these people think they are?
Take Sophie Dahl. Actually born Sophie Holloway, she opted to take her maternal surname (cannot imagine why), and has so far published two cookbooks with accompanying tv series. She’s a contributing editor for Waitrose Kitchen. I can’t argue with the fact that she can write (given her pedigree it’s hardly surprising), but can she cook? Uhhhm, no. Not really. Oh, you cry, but she went to Ballymaloe! And? Thousands of people have been to Ballymaloe, but that doesn’t make them equipped to teach the nation how to eat. It seemed to me that the main content of her first book was the flouncy introductions to her recipes, urging you to eat them by candlelight, your head resting on your beloved’s chest as soft piano music tinkled in the background. Did she mention she’s married to Jamie Cullum? And once your head is full of romantic notions of eating dimly lit prawn curry on top of a short jazz musician, are you actually going to notice the recipe is only really flavoured with curry powder? Obviously not, as some bright spark commissioned a second book.
And Gwyneth Paltrow. Just because she named her child after a fruit, it doesn’t mean we all want to eat her macrobiotic muffins. Stick to acting Gwynnie, it’s a rare gift for an American to produce a convincing British accent. Fay Ripley attracted my ire when she announced that she wanted to write a book to teach people how to feed their families. Well, that’s a lovely sentiment Fay, but why you? Do you have any authority on cooking? No? Oh, Cold Feet? Well, carry on then.
The latest offering to irritate me afresh is Gok Wan. The simpering lifestyle coach is about to appear in his own Channel 4 tv series about Chinese cookery, with a sparkly book to match. His credentials? Alright, they’re better than some, his father owned a Chinese restaurant. But looking through his book, there are almost as many pictures of him gurning with noodles, gurning with rice, gurning with potstickers as there are recipes. And do I really want someone with such a complex history with food telling me what to cook? I’m not sure I do.
Now, you may rubbish me for having extreme professional jealousy, and to a certain extent you’d be right. It’s unbelievably frustrating watching talentless celebrities doing utterly predictable things with chicken, when it’s taken a lot of training and hard work to make me think I have any form of authority about cookery. It seems that because cooking is something that most people do, they feel entitled to share their opinions on it, and if they’re famous, this can mean globally. But it takes real skill to write a successful recipe, which most don’t have, and the upshot is a raft of failed dinners and disappointed consumers who were sucked in by the ‘Look, just look! You too could have my life if only you buy this book!’ of it all.
And before you judge any further, I have absolutely no jealousy towards the truly wonderful food writers and chefs that we’re also fortunate enough to have advising us – Nigel Slater, Diana Henry, Lucas Hollweg, Simon Hopkinson being just a few of my favourites. These people know their stuff, and you can trust their judgement implicitly because they’re not just in it to satisfy some whim for recognition in a different field to their norm.
So the next time Sophie Dahl looks like convincing you to eat something under the boughs of a blossom tree, or Gwyneth makes you think sugar is evil, or Gok Wan so much as opens his mouth, steel yourself, turn away and look to a respectable cookbook. Or, you know, you could always check out one of my recipes…