I've said elsewhere that about half of our festive cooking will rely on recipes from 'Delia Smith's Christmas'. Which means that I would have had her in mind this week even without reports on her post-palace pronouncements.
I remember her TV series of 'How to Cook' and its accompanying books and asking why on earth Delia needed to repeat exactly the same output of twenty-five years earlier. Of course, a new younger generation were in need of the sound basics which I and millions had taken on board when we were that new younger generation. No harm in repeating (rehashing sounds a bit derogatory) good basic recipes and tips for success in cooking. Now that the digital age is upon us it is certain that many have no habit other than resort to the internet for their guide and inspiration. And much sound and sensible stuff is readily available. What you seldom get online is the type of cookbook content which I will continue to buy – the one which is dripping with ‘proper, satisfying’ food writing. Instructional text is fine but publishers still seek out and find authors who surround their passion for food with a deeper understanding of the history, origins, colour and just plain magical stories and poetry which abound in the world of food… and have the literary skills to make those details so vibrant and alive. I won't dwell on the merits of food photography. I revel in that whether it be in analog or digital form. But it always comes second to my enjoyment of the written word as creative and tasty as the food it describes.
There is an increasing abundance of good writing available through electronic means but it will take a heck of a long time for publishers to be threatened into discarding their physical, book-bound medium. Let’s face it, we are still presenting text and illustrations in the same format as monks in a scriptorium did a thousand years ago!
So… Delia is wide of the mark in identifying the demise of the printed cookbook..
As for her crass, ill-informed and stupefying pronouncements on the state of UK restaurant offerings… ah, yes, I’ve given a few clues as to how I react to those.
I continue to buy into Delia’s reliable and sound advice on the elements needed to cook well at home. I have used and benefited from it for years. There are other approaches and styles of cooking. They are achievable in our own kitchens but many will only experience those if they pay for them to be cooked by a professional. And the offerings from the vast majority of current professionals is totally counter to the lazy descriptions which Delia has chosen to use. I truly do not understand why she decided to air what amount to ridiculous judgements on our vibrant restaurant scene. I do not exclude or forgive the few individuals and concerns who let down the side with scarcely a nod to substance and a silly slavishness to style. Many were able to get away with that twenty years ago. But today harsher commercial considerations demand an honesty which, whatever the style of cooking, almost always guarantees pleasure through flavour.
Delia might do better to mount a mild attack on the sort of presentation which piles a plate high with more of something which won't taste too great even at the first mouthful.
Having the incredible opportunity to work in a Michelin starred kitchen recently, I watched as plate after plate left the pass. Each one had all those “poncey and chefy” touches which Delia dismisses so readily. And each one was filled with the most stunning variety of perfect flavours, achievable only with consummate skill and touch, often using produce so fresh it had still been growing two hundred metres away earlier that day. The preparation which had gone into every mouthful relied on a concerted and united effort to bring excellence to the customer. An honest chef, whether Michelin starred or not, does not present with visual style unless it is backed up, matched and often exceeded by flavour.
I do not identify Delia’s words as those of someone heady with the award just bestowed upon her… or as the uttering of someone compromised by alcohol. There are no suggestions that her mental faculties are failing significantly. Which leaves me struggling to find any honourable reason for her willingness to undermine and denigrate the profession of which she is a part.
Shame on you, Delia, for betraying your fellows with unfounded and bitterly disappointing swipes and slashes (I didn't count the dots). I will think of you just a little less kindly this year... but I shall do so as I savour your Classic Christmas Cake recipe yet again.