Written by William Dobson
An open letter to TV cooks (especially Rick Stein – I love you):
I love The Hairy Bikers. There is something incredibly comforting about their awful jokes and their northern joviality. It’s like watching an epicurean version of The Chuckle Brothers. However, they are also very good cooks, passionate advocates of local British food and strike that perfect balance between gastronomy and accessibility to those watching at home.
So, as the weekend drew to a close and I scoured the Sky + for something to watch, I was pleasantly surprised to see that I’d recorded an episode of The Hairy Bikers Ride Again. However, I was less than pleased to find out that this time off they’d ridden to the ‘exotic’ land of Morocco.
It annoyed me somewhat. Not that they had travelled to Morocco per se. But that they seemed to have followed the footsteps of just about every other TV chef alive and travelled to Morocco. I first went there when I was 13 and, of all the countries I’ve been to, particularly in the Middle East, it has to be one of the least memorable on a culinary note. In fact, my only culinary memory of any note has been being violently ill everytime I’ve been there.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a tajine as much as the next person. Indeed, it’s a dish I’ll often chose to cook if having a dinner party for a reasonable sized group. It’s an easy one pot dish which is unusual enough to dupe people into thinking that you’ve gone to a great deal of effort when, in actual fact, you haven’t. Not only that but, if cooked well, it’s also delicious and healthy.
But while I do enjoy a tajine once in a while, my issue is that Moroccan cuisine seems to have gained a reputation as being one of the culinary delights of the known world on the basis of this one, albeit diverse, versatile and undoubtedly tasty dish. I just don’t know why chef after chef after chef has to go there to report back what we already know. Tajines are very tasty, Moroccans love cumin, if you’re going there pack some Immodium.
Ultimately, travelling chefs seem to resort to making up their own dishes which they claim are ‘traditional’. Si and Dave, I’m sure your flat bread stuffed with fillet steak was delectable; I just don’t know how many Berbers living in the Atlas Mountains cook with that particular cut of beef on a regular basis.
So here’s a challenge for Messrs Meyers and King, Rick Stein (my one true love), Jamie, Keith Floyd if he hadn’t drunk himself into an early grave (not Gordon Ramsay – he’s a dick), or whoever the next big celebrity chef may be: how about going somewhere in the Middle East that hasn’t been done countless times before. Moreover, how about going somewhere where their cuisine stretches to more than something akin to the Middle East’s answer to the Cornish pasty.
It is my dream, when things have calmed down there, to see Rick Stein, replete with customary pink Ralph Lauren shirt, delighting himself with the freshly baked bread at Al Khawali on Straight Street in Damascus, quoting from T.E. Lawrence while eating mezze and garlicy grilled chicken at the little restaurant overlooking Crac de Chevaliers, and tucking into Lahm bil Kraz (meatballs in a cherry sauce) beneath the indomitable and magnificent citadel in Aleppo. In the meantime, how about journeying to Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey or even Yemen and spreading the word about these wonderful cuisines? Surely that’s not too much to ask?
P.s. A note to Anthony ‘Wozza’ Worrall-Thompson – probably best if you sit this one out. They don’t look to kindly upon petty thievery in that part of the world! Although, surely the most embarrassing thing about the whole episode was a ‘chef’ being caught shopping at Tesco…