The phenomenon of the TV Chef has grown massively over the last few years. T he concept of cooking on TV has evolved from the sanitised demonstration-to-camera by the likes of Julia Child to the gritty fly-on-the-wall “reality” of Gordon Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen. Ramsay has captured the imagination of TV audiences with his combative bravura, strict quality standards and belligerent attitudes. He can often be seen having a meltdown over the subtle nuances of cooking that we mere mortals would overlook – a sauce is too thin, the pasta overcooked, the chicken too cold or the meat underdone. The air turns blue, and those on the receiving end of one of his verbal tirades cower in shame and disgrace. However, he maintains that the most important thing in any food business is “the customer is king!”
All of which brings me to dinner time in my house. When it comes to serving food at home, can there be any more difficult customers than children? Enter my own two food critics – Freddie six and Jonny four. On the menu tonight is an old favourite, Spaghetti Bolognese. Now, it is traditional when presenting this dish that the meat-and-tomato sauce is laid, or “rested” (in modern culinary parlance), on top of a bed of spaghetti pasta with a light dusting of parmesan cheese sprinkled on top. Ever thus it has been presented and so it was on this day in question. Freddie is a great eater and immediately tucks in. I’m guaranteed three Freddie Stars here – these are similar to Michelin Stars but harder to come by. Jonny, on the other hand… is a little more… how shall I put it… fussy!
“Is everything OK Sir?” I enquire. “I DON’T WANT IT LIKE THAT,” he cries. “I said put the pasta on the side!!” I was chastened. I tried to remonstrate that Sir had made no such order, and that Sir had just asked for Spaghetti Bolognese, making no reference to the arrangement of the food on the plate, and that Sir had eaten it in this format on many occasions past. “I DON’T WANT IT. TAKE IT AWAY”. Gordon Ramsay has nothing on the demanding requirements of this little fellow I can tell you. I tell Sir not to be so naughty and to eat his dinner and that if Sir continues with this unreasonable behaviour I might have to put Sir on time-out. Sir tries a different tack. “Please, Daddy, pleeeease. I really don’t want it like that.” Politeness with tears is a classic diversionary tactic. It worked. As the customer is always right, and, possibly more importantly – anything for an easy life – I move the meat off to the side. The offer of parmesan cheese is accepted and yet this too is cause for concern. I sprinkle the cheese liberally over the contents of the plate. “ONLY ON THE PASTA, DADDY, NOT THERE!” Jonny disdainfully points his little finger in the vague direction of the meat. “IT’S ALL WRONG!” Such is his passion for good food that the tears are rolling down his cheeks, his head collapses into his hands. The only thing to be deposited into his mouth is his thumb.
Now, presentation may be one thing for a Master Chef but the taste experience is something else altogether. As Jonny eventually surveys his meal it would appear I have made yet another fatal error. He spies the individual components – the spaghetti, the meat in tomato sauce, and… hang on… what’s this? Sweetcorn? In an effort to ensure my children get their daily vegetable intake I have included sweetcorn as a special ingredient. As Freddie happily harrumphs down mouthfuls of food, Jonny makes it abundantly clear that this addition is totally unacceptable. And so it is that, with the patience and diligence of a 19th Century gold-panner, each kernel of corn is sifted, scrutinized and separated. These golden nuggets are far from being tidbits of delight but rather great big lumps of despair. With a quizzical eye he determines the authenticity of each piece and removes it from the rest of the food. It is the culinary equivalent of fools’ gold. Once the meal is completed and the table vacated I note the small mound of corn neatly piled at the side of his bowl – a testimony to his determination to let naught pass his lips other than that which he most desires. It would have been easier just to take the sweetcorn from the can and put it straight into the bin.
As a footnote, I really hope this devotion to high standards in the presentation and quality of food drive Jonny on to be a top chef and own a chain of restaurants. Why? Because one day, I will go into his restaurant and order Spaghetti Bolognese! I think it was Captain Ahab who said, “Revenge is a dish best served cold”.