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.