The Wrong Message from a Former Prophet

So, the headline above might be slightly hyperbolic, but the sentiment I’m trying to convey is very real and serious. Last night, UK TV cooking legend, Delia Smith’s new show Delia premiered on BBC2 and instead of garnering the rave reviews virtually every one of her previous series have, this one has been roundly panned, and foodies across the UK are outraged at what they see as Delia’s complete volte face.

You see, for years Delia has been at the forefront of those encouraging us to return to fresh, seasonally-available foods, locally-grown in traditional ways and prepared using time-honored British techniques and recipes – something many of us started to believe, and a mantra that johnny-cum-latelys like serial-lisper Jamie Oliver have made a career out of parroting. But, in her new show, it seems that she is advocating the use of ready-prepared, dried or frozen ingredients to make dishes that are barely cooked, take no time to make and, frankly, sound horrendous. After having built her career by encouraging, nay teaching, a nation to cook properly and traditionally with real ingredients, she’s throwing all that away and encouraging us to cook as little as possible and make meals from foods full of preservatives, artificial colorings and flavorings. Delia had always said that the actual cooking could be as pleasurable as the eating, but now she’s saying it’s just a waste of time. Why, Delia? Why?

The equivalent, for US readers, would be if Julia Child had suddenly decided to advocate making frozen dinners or meals out of a can. Regular readers will know that we’re typically very disparaging about TV cooks who encourage us to cook in this way – Rachel Ray and Sandra Lee, in particular – and in this instance we’re going to have to agree (without having seen the show, admittedly) that (assuming the reports are true) Delia has made a serious mis-step here. Let’s hope that the cooking-haters out there (e.g. the Rachel Ray/Sandra Lee lovers) don’t win on UK TV as they have on the Food Network.

It’s a philosophical issue: either you look at food as fuel, and therefore eating and cooking as necessary evils to be completed as quickly as possible and with the minimum of effort, or you look at food as an opportunity to make a necessity enjoyable and relaxing, and therefore eating and cooking as a “way of bringing pleasure to everyday life,” to quote Delia. Surely those who are on TV trying to get people excited about food should be in the latter camp, rather than encouraging us to rush through to the end of the meal so we can get on with our busy lives? What do you think?

Update – Friday, March 14
Unsurprisingly, Delia’s new half-baked styles are causing quite a stir in the UK right now, with some commenters praising her for having taken the snobbery out of cooking, and others saying that she might have removed the snobbery, but she’s replaced it with ready-made ingredients that make her meals taste like a dog’s dick. Today’s The Guardian, in the interests of fair and balanced journalism, with the help of five prominent UK food critics, did a taste test of five of Delia’s new recipes prepared by skilled Italian chef and London restaurateur Aldo Zili. Read their thoughts here – it’s not only quite amusing, but kind of alarming too.


14 thoughts on “The Wrong Message from a Former Prophet

  1. We’ve been discussing this hot topic in Julia’s food forum (a slice of cherry pie) and a majority of us think it’s absolutely horrendous! She’s encouraging others to use mince meat from a can; it’s disgusting. She should be advocating good home cooking- it doesn’t take that long to cook a dish. Honestly, I haven’t watched her show this week nor will I ever buy the book. Haven’t even skimmed through it. Enough said!

  2. Very interesting and many lament that the Food Network has also “sold out” to gain viewers who are novice cooks, no time to cook or attract new cooks.

    It’s a double-edged sword…Delia could be doing a person, family a favour by offering better eating choices than take-out/delivery every day or she might make someone rather lazy in cooking.

    If there’s a good quality short-cut out there, I’ll use it but I’m not about to go back to TV dinners either.

    I don’t think we should try & behave like Luddites, throwing away anything new in cookery. Take the the good and hopefully the bad will disappear.

    I leave you with a final thought…the 80’s was full of microwave cooking books and recipes…where are they now?

    Supply and demand will determine the date of Delia’s show and you ultimately have the final say…watch or don’t watch.

  3. I do agree w/ you Peter. I really just worry that we’re still sending the wrong message to people about cooking. Shortcuts are absolutely fine, but using processed food (ala most of the idiots on the food network) when making the real thing can be easy/quick/cheap is just ridiculous. I read on another blog that she used (GASP!!!) frozen mashed-freaking-potatoes from a bag!! THIS IS JUST PLAIN WRONG! Call me snobby, a purist, or an a-hole, but I just think the better messages we send out to people the better.
    I think the best example of the perfect “quick meal” show is Jacques Pepin’s “Fast Food My Way”. He rarely uses ANYTHING processed on his show. And every week he makes almost 4 courses in a 30 minute show. I understand that not everyone will have knife skills like Pepin or know how to do fancy tricks, but if it’s on a show to learn, then maybe more people will absorb it instead of always going w/ the quick fix.

    Love the ‘deep thoughts by Peter’ regarding the 80’s microwave fad! I’m so glad that’s over. Maybe you’re right… maybe in 10 years we’ll be back to watching more TV personalities like Jacques, Julia and the OLD Delia. Hey, I can only pray, right? – amy

  4. I don’t think it’s a total crime to use instant mash or whatever other pre-made food. There is a place for it and if we’re honest it’s just easier sometimes. What I don’t agree with is that she seems to be *advocating* their use, rather than putting things into perspective, that they should be used as occasional substitutes and not as a staple.

  5. Hi Nilmandra, thanks for stopping by. I agree that sometimes shortcuts are fine. However, everyone already knows that instant mash and stock cubes can be used instead of fresh potatoes and homemade stock, so why does Delia feel like she has to show us how to use them when her entire career has been built on advocating the use of real, fresh ingredients?

    It just really bothers me that Delia and other TV cooks (mostly on telly over here in America, luckily for you) who should be teaching us how to be better cooks by showing us how to do things properly, are giving up on that and, instead, are encouraging us all to be just as sloppy and rubbish in the kitchen as we already are.

  6. I totally agree with you Peter, as Amy kindly left a link to your post on my similar blog entry I thought I’d take a look. I like many time pressured cooks have to occasionally resort to some short cuts but one consideration I don’t think mentioned at all is that the ‘new’ sort of cooking (sorry I mean assembling) Delia is advocating will be considerably more expensive than doing it yourself. We all know that you can buy a zip lock bag of grated Cheddar from the supermarket, but we also know it won’t taste anyway near as good as a wedge of tangy farmhouse Cheddar and also, it will be more expensive. Someone/something has to be paid to do that grating. I did look at the new book yesterday really just to check I wasn’t being unfair. It is not a new cookbook but a shopping and assembling manual. It specifies what brand and where you should buy your can of minced beef/packet of breadcrumbs/ready chopped garlic but if the hapless cook reads that and thinks well if Delia says I can make a decent Shepherd’s Pie from a can of M&S mince (which she assures us is the best (…of a bad lot I might add)) I could get a similar but probably seriously substandard by using any old strange dog food looking can of minced beef and as you said probably with every horrible preservative and nasty Delia has always seemed to be against. I am still in shock at her about turn and how she got the fabulous Nigel Slater to back her up and only looked slightly scared at this brave new world. All very sad! This new book will not be joining by 500+ collection of cookbooks, it is not worthy of the name cookbook!

  7. It *is* a crime to use instant/canned most of the time! And it’s not healthy. I think so, anyways.

    I work full time and have a million things going on, but find time once a month or so to make a big pot of some stock or sauce and freeze it into single portions for later. I use canned tomatoes to make sauce, but at least I’m making my own sauce. 🙂

    People need to learn that real cooking is not just for professional chefs, and doesn’t need to take a lot of time. I think Gordon Ramsey is doing a good job of spearheading that movement (even if he takes flack for “getting women back in the kitchen”).

  8. We don’t watch TV to really keep up with all the current events of TV cooking shows, but this does seem catastrophic for the food world. What tragic event would cause Delia to have such a change in food philosophy?

  9. I actually commented on the Times article because this just drives me batty. My big problem with Delia is that she feels the need to trash the idea of fresh/slow food. It’s not enough to advocate the additive-laden crap we all know is available– she’s acting as though fresh, healthy food is some sort of unforgivable snobbery only the rich can afford.

    The truth is that it’s hard for ordinary people to afford good, fresh ingredients and find time to cook them– that’s why we need chefs and cookbooks to show us how to do it simply, and to advocate for urban farms, making fresh food available in poor areas, and other ways of helping people learn how to feed themselves. To just chuck the goal of eating well entirely is unforgivable from a chef. We don’t all need to be Julia Child, but if TV can help us find the resources to eat better food, it damn well should.

  10. All interesting stuff and she has certainly got the nation talking. Perhaps a rather clever and cunning move by Delia and team, to rocket Delia into the limelight again after being off our screens for about 5 years and also for younger people to become aware of her.
    Who knows!!
    It costs a lot of money to buy those individual products Delia wants us to buy – but I for one am not buying into it.
    I try not to buy anything unless it has an identity. Tinned lamb certainly makes my stomach churn.
    Using mashed potato in a chocolate cake is something I have come across before – but not the frozen stuff.
    Great post.

  11. Just came across this post of yours because it was mentioned on your top post as another post I might like…

    Anyway, you make very good points. I agree wholeheartedly. It’s sad that people think I am being snobby when I say I refuse to buy packaged foods in any way. Their loss.

  12. Thanks for the link to The Guardian article. The panel’s comments were hysterical! I love the Brits when they say things like “vile”, “revolting” and “squidgy”.

    I second the motion for Jacque’s “Fast Food My Way” as a great example of easy, quick cooking. That man is just amazing to watch. I sure hope he’s got good longevity genes in his family. I will really be bummed when he goes.

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