Saturday 9 August 2008

"Ten Minutes to Table...." the latest food-media silliness to appear on a computer screen somewhere near you. But, don't worry - I wouldn't rush...

Telegraph TV - a new one on me, too - has apparently just started a series of programmes based on cooking something (only one thing, though, or at most one course) entirely from scratch in the space of ten minutes. Having looked at it, I can't even work myself up into a rant over it - frankly, it's just too feeble an idea to warrant the effort - but I don't think it should be allowed to pass without comment. Not least because it so clearly 'borrows' from Dr Pomiane's splendid 'Cooking in Ten Minutes', but doesn't have the grace to acknowledge the fact.....even to the extent that it starts, as he did, by calling for water to be boiled before you do anything else, on the basis that it's sure to be relevant for something you're going to do!

The programme format is that Xanthe Clay - she of the daft idea that you should always serve at dinner whatever wine your guests have brought, however inappropriate it might be for the menu - spends 10 minutes once a week before the camera, cooking something within that space of time, under the jaundiced gaze of Loyd Grossman (he of the irritable vowel syndrome - and a claim to being one of the culinary great and good, the basis for which has always escaped me).

And the point of all of this is what, exactly?

When Pomiane was concentrating on Ten Minutes, he was specifically addressing the constraint of having only an hour for lunch, and the need within that time to be able to produce and consume 'proper' food, as well as to have time afterwards for coffee, a cigarette and a conversation - all before having to head off back to his lab. (Some readers have even deduced that his 'conversation' included slightly more than that, and his dedication of the book to 'Madame X, asking for ten minutes of her kind attention' was actually shorthand for more appetites being satisfied at lunchtime than the purely culinary...)

Anyway, my point is, he was talking about lunch, and the reality of a demanding timetable. Xanthe - bless her - is talking about the evening...and the whole thing is a nonsense. Why would you be restricted to 'Ten' minutes in the evening? If that really is all the time you have, then open a decent bottle of claret, and tuck into a meltingly wonderful vacherin and a packet of Bath Olivers! If, as is more likely, you have more time, then the ten minute parameter is irrelevant, and instead you should follow Pierre Franey and the sixty minute gourmet approach that he so intelligently pioneered in the New York Times back in the eighties. And if you do indeed have more time, but you don't want to spend more than ten minutes of it on the agonizingly unpleasant process of cooking, because you dislike the whole thing so much, then why not do all of us a favour - yourself included - and simply order in Pizza.

The premise for this TV programme is fatuous. If you are in the least bit interested in cooking and food, and aren't on your way out to the theatre or somewhere similar, then you won't begrudge the thirty or forty minutes needed to produce two perfectly cooked courses (three in this household, as the Technical Department is convinced that less then three courses for dinner heralds the beginnning of the end of civilisation as we know it). And why would you? A glass of something chilled on the go, and Radio 4 chuntering away in the background as you work - what better way to wind down at the end of a day in the office, and as the precursor to a perfectly civilised dinner? Leaving aside the bland dreariness of the one dish I saw featured on "Ten minutes to table" - trout fillets accompanied by buttered Cucumber, and some potatoes which had been smeared with bottled Horseradish sauce - Xanthe's approach has you rushing needlessly around like a headless chicken, with only part of dinner ready at the end of it.


If you don't enjoy cooking, then reducing it to ten minutes of sweaty, stress-filled hell won't endear the process to you any more than otherwise, and if you do enjoy it, then you'll be happy to devote a sensible amount of time to doing it. Truth be told, I suspect Xanthe's time constraint is more a reflection of the size of the budget they have for cameramen than anything to do with making dinner.

Anyway, on the basis that even silliness should be equal-opportunity, here's the link- but don't say I didn't warn you!

Tonight's Dinner:

Tomato and Blue Cheese Tarts (as an amuse gueule) - less than five minutes

Ravioli with Parsley & Ricotta Stuffing, in Cream Sauce. - approx twenty minutes, start to finish, with elapsed time.

Boned Chicked, roast with Dill & Lemon Butter; Potatoes roast with Sage & Rosemary. - approx twenty minutes, ditto.

Meringue nests, with Raspberries and Passion Fruit Cream, on Strawberry coulis. - approx twenty minutes, ditto.


Anonymous said...

Well, what a lot of nonsense. If you don't care enough about the people for whom you cook, your own health or food in general then as you say, order in. If, however, you have the ingredients why be so time constrained? Cooking, for me, is a relaxed and relaxing time, I don't want to be rushing about at the end of it just to keep to a self imposed deadline.

Love your comments about Loyd Grossman, 'irritable vowel syndrome' was a hoot and I've no idea how he came to be termed 'chef' either.

Unknown said...

You speak straight to my heart! the only logical conclusion I have come to is such programmes are aimed at people who may have cooking aspirations but do not actually cook themselves AND cannot commit to watching a cookery programme for longer than 10min. What I find most infuriating is the damage they do to perfectly good ingredients by not thinking through the recipes. Not to mention that I am not entirely convinced it works. Or rather, it may work if you have already spent 20min chopping, weighing and laying out all the paraphernalia - or you have a brigade at your disposal.

Whilst fully appreciating Pomian's mindset especially in its historical context, I am not interested in cooking in 10 min (in its modern interpretation). In my non-professional capacity, it takes me time to even consider what would make my dish vaguely balanced. Further, it takes time for the ingredients to blend, the tastes to mellow, for the final result to be harmonious and pleasing. If there is no time for that... I just have a salad.

And of course, nothing compares to the immense pleasure of inviting a friend over and taking the time to determine the menu based on availability, mood, intentions, the personality of the invitee. Going through my very own ritual of following the steps for each recipe, all of which often take a couple of days to come together. First the stocks and chutneys then the marinating, the prepping... Some people do yoga, others jog and others achieve a comparable state of nirvana by chopping, filleting and slow roasting.

Please forgive the outburst but it has been building up over years of despairing in the sight of quick/express/dinner party/pointless guides.


Pomiane said...

'Irritable Vowel Syndrome' - it is good, isn't it? I wish I could claim it as mine, but in fact I heard somebody else use it of LG several years ago, and thought it quite perfect.

And re Tina's comment: absolutely! These days, cooking is something that people choose to do for pleasure, and if they don't want to, then there are all sorts of alternatives (from microwaves to Caviar House). The premise for the programme is at best quite inept.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm. I haven't seen the show, and I probably won't. But there is a place for things that can be done in ten minutes.

It is true that anyone who knows how to cook will happily spend more than ten minutes on it. But there are times like arriving home with tired and grumpy family when having a few clues about how to knock out a decent starter in about 7 minutes is a useful skill.

That said, I don't think it makes for much of what programming executives and advertisers think of as a cooking show. Because an integral part of that "gotta be ready NOW" cooking is that you are at someone else's house, and the first thre minutes are spent figuring out what is in the fridge and cupboard in the first place (rather than drawing up advertiser-friendly lists of things you can find at the right shops...)

(Tonight's menu hereabouts was definitely ten-miute style. Go for a beer in Getafe, Madrid. It comes with tapas, so have a few to ensure you're well fed. One every ten minutes, if you can drink that fast).