Jan 182010
Gordon Ramsay

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Another late one – this from the 30/12/2009.

Sometimes it seems as if celebrity chefs have managed to hijack more of our television airwaves than any other genre in TV history, and Christmas week it’s worse than ever. Cooking programmes are great… but wall-to-wall recipes and a surfeit of inflated egos is enough to turn anybody’s stomach. With some, like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, I appreciate the food and the ethos and philosophy behind it, but could probably do without the lame one-liners.

Others like Jamie Oliver come up with great recipes that really are easy to cook at home, if you can endure the cheeky-chappy facade. Actually, as I type this I have a Jamie Oliver Christmas jerk ham joint in the oven. Yum!

Even with Gordon Ramsey, who is perhaps the most egotistical of the bunch, you have to appreciate his consummate skill in the kitchen, and his unequivocal passion for great food, despite his caustic language and bullying, autocratic style.

TV chefs span the gamut, from the sublime to the truly ridiculous. The week before Christmas, for example, I was unfortunate enough to land on "The Hairy Bikers" while channel flicking… they were cooking up the twelve-days-of-Christmas, which sounds like a pretty solid concept for a festive cooking show, until you realise that this is "The Hairy Bikers", and that they’re insisting on spicing things up by punctuating the actual cooking with assorted seasonal pranks. This included cavorting across the stage in leotards with the cast of Lord of the Dance. It was enough to make anyone lose their appetite.

They’re all at it… Nigela, Jamie, Rachel, Hugh, Gordon, and the ludicrously experimental Heston to name but a few. Mr Blumenthal might run one of the world’s best restaurants, but it’s very much a case of "don’t try this at home kids" when it comes to his food.

That said, at least celebrity chefs are showing you how to cook Christmassy things… which is at somewhat relevant, and potentially worthwhile. Much worse are the concoctions some bright spark at a TV production department came up with.

Melding the popular genres of cooking, reality television and celebrity voyeurism must have seemed like a good idea on paper, but Celebrity Come Dine With Me can only be described as car-crash-telly at it’s very worst… or perhaps best, depending on your viewpoint. The weirdest thing about these shows is how difficult it is to turn over when you happen to land on one of them. There’s something perversely compelling about watching other people make complete idiots out of themselves. Somehow it makes you feel better about life.

Food, of course, is a fundamental part of any Irish Christmas, and it’s no different in our house. We have a ludicrously large ham, the extravagant little embellishments that elevate Christmas Dinner above the average Sunday roast, and lots of little luxury items that wouldn’t normally be lurking in the fridge. But the most important thing about food at Christmas, or at any other time of the year for that matter, apart from the fundamental necessity of sustenance, is its ability to bring people together.

Eating together is a crucial part of family life — one that’s being constantly eroded as people struggle to balance incredibly demanding work schedules with the needs of themselves and their children. Christmas is perhaps the one time of year when eating together as a family remains inviolable.

In the end despite all the commercialism, the gifts and the excitement, the real magic of Christmas is in spending quality time with the people you love. Sitting around the table together is a significant part of that process, and something that’s well worth carrying forward into the new year.

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