The Welsh dairy Rachel’s recently commissioned another of those surveys looking into the nation’s cooking habits, this one scrutinising the influence of cookery television. If people’s answers are to be believed, some of the results may surprise you – according to the data gathered from the 2,000 participants, the average Brit cooks five nights out of seven, and spends around 49 minutes cooking each meal.
Notwithstanding the fact that this contradicts other recent studies, it also jars with one of the survey’s headlines – that 21% of participants were influenced by Jamie Oliver‘s 15-Minute Meals TV show (on endless repeated on More4). If we’re spending nigh-on an hour at a stove five nights a week, then this rather pulls the rug from under Jamie and his speedy suppers. Or does it? As was demonstrated before, a home cook isn’t realistically going to bish-bash-bosh these meals out in the allotted time. But Oliver’s puckish energy and genuinely handsome and approachable recipes may well encourage timid cooks into the kitchen.
The same can certainly be said of the Great British Bake Off, which was found to influence 19% of those surveyed. If the data is anything to go by, more than a quarter of us have baked our own bread in the past year, and almost a third have knocked up pastry from scratch. If the results seem a touch generous, few can dispute the extraordinary effect that Great Aunt Mary and Ol’ Blue Eyes Hollywood have had on our approach to cooking.
Which makes one a mite concerned about the bronze medal winner in this “most influential cooking show” survey. MasterChef influences how 17% of us cook, which is fine in theory but worrisome in practice. Jamie’s programmes and, perhaps to a lesser extent Great British Bake Off, champion the pleasure of simple home cooking and, particularly in the case of Jamie – though less so with a stopwatch running – present cooking as convivial, restful and unfettered. MasterChef does precisely the opposite. How many home-cooked dinners have come a cropper as a result of a foolhardy and under-prepared cook attempting a menu that belongs in a restaurant? I suspect more than have ended in glory.
Come Dine With Me, a show that supposedly influences 13% of us, comes with similar problems. If, on the one hand, it has inspired us to get our friends round for dinner more often, then hurrah for that. But if it sends the intrepid host into a tailspin for fear of receiving some sort of spurious score at the end of an evening of ill-judged smears and claggy chocolate fondants, then I’m not sure how good a thing that is. In both of these cases, the initial enthusiasm to cook must surely be replaced by the misconception that many of us still hold – that cooking is tough, competitive and traumatic.
What is most startling about the results overall is that people are influenced by the programmes they watch. I had always suspected cookery television to be rather like Grand Designs or Changing Rooms – entertaining, certainly; instructive, maybe; but then you would switch the telly off and forget about it. If this isn’t the case when it comes to cooking shows, then it would be good to see a few more programmes celebrating food’s beauty, simplicity, scope and delight, and fewer that involve two men in a studio shouting at each other.