Australia is soon to be in the midst of summer. From December to February we embark on a ritualistic and welcomed love affair with the sun and the beach and, for some, the nearest air conditioned shopping “therapy” outlet we can find.
We also regard this season as the perfect time to sharpen our knives, fondle fresh herbs, and look for the biggest steaks we can find. But we no longer act alone. There is something new, something on our shoulders, encouraging and beckoning. Both indoors and out, Aussies in particular have embraced a cooking culture like no other.
Over a number of years we have been slowly drip fed food programs from all over the world and it appears we have taken to them, like a dog to a chop. In fact, depending on who you speak to, Australians have a growing tendency to harbour a midrange to extreme obsession with cooking programs, as if they were the only thing on television (hmmm..are they?). Once the domain of cable TV only, and some might say due to it, the consumption of cooking shows, both locally grown and imported, has skyrocketed.
Celebrity chefs have a lot to do with this. We seem to take a lot of comfort in the fact that these people who have built their lives around food come here and tell us that not only are we diverse and adventurous in our culinary exploration, but we are surround by best produce, meat, and seafood in the world.
As chance has it, a few events featuring both Australian and international chefs have caught my attention. With the hopes of seeing demonstrations of prowess with large knives, not to mention the chance of a free feed, I went along to see what all the fuss was about.
Let me be clear, there were a lot of people lining up to see these chefs, and I mean A LOT. I decided early that I was going to have to use my elbows to get a better position where required.
A few had the same idea. So elbow to elbow I took the opportunity to ask a few fellow devotees a few questions. Before I could say “you’re standing on my foot”, I overheard a pair of young urbans query the organiser.
“What’s going on here?” (as if you couldn’t tell)
“Rick Stein is appearing and doing a cooking demonstration,” was the reply.
“Oh really, I didn’t know. Can we sit down?” he asked.
He was clearly disappointed when told the seating was allocated to those of us more in the know and clearly willing to stand in a (very) long line for some time.
I’m not sure if his disappointment was a genuine liking of this particular chef, or whether he was just hungry. He looked hungry. I stepped aside and let him out of the crowd, curious at the fact that a young man, probably not even twenty years old, would have the slightest interest in this very well-seasoned (excuse the pun) professional cook.
I made a point of looking around at the demographic. It really surprised me just how popular theses programs are in this country. From twenty-somethings to people in their mid-sixties, all walks of life and nationalities had lined up in anticipation to have a well-known TV chef telling of those things we probably already know. All this stemming from a television show, guiding us toward the prefect combination of flavours, food, and entertainment.
We definitely make no apologies for our love of these cooking programs. The one negative in all of this may be that every second person now thinks of themselves as a “foodie”, filled with an abundance of useless information about identifying the best weeds to pick from the side of the road, or how long it should take to boil down the carcass of a beefy animal to ensure a teaspoon of sauce, essential to the final dish.
“I blame my husband for this,” said one woman. “He started it, and now I’m the one hooked.” She continued, referring to our conversation on the large amount of programming aimed at educating the Australian public about global foods and cooking techniques.
“He’s not even here, he’d rather be at the pub.”
Is it the cult of personality? Probably not. More likely it is simply just this country’s love of a real life experience. Maybe the chefs seem more three dimensional, their work more tangible, their lives and stories told more accessible when they make public appearances.
Whatever it is, TV chefs are rock stars in Australia.