Cooking? Now it’s the new rock ‘n’ roll
He’s sitting on a gleaming motorbike and he’s about to embark on a UK tour that will see him play to thousands of people a night.
There’ll be groupies at the stage door and he’ll come off the stage each night thinking he’s a million dollars. LED lights will illuminate the auditorium, there’ll be an adrenalin rush as though he’s just ridden a roller coaster and social media will explode as people rush to tell him he’s the best thing since sliced bread.
The question for you, dear reader, is this: Are we talking about Ozzy Osbourne or are we talking about a man with a whisk. James Martin is the person holding the latter, of course. For cooking is very much the new rock‘n’roll. And these days it’s chefs who pack out concert halls and arenas – we present the NEC’s BBC Good Food Guide as our prima facie evidence – as fans flock to see them make oeufs en cocotte, or something equally delicious.
The nation’s love of the kitchen and all that goes on in it is hasn’t been an overnight phenomenon. It’s crept up on us gradually, stealing ever-more TV hours.
For a while, our TV screens were dominated by makeover shows as landscape architects and common or garden gardeners became huge stars. Who’d have thought Charlie Dimmock, Diarmuid Gavin and amiable roughneck Tommy Walsh would become household names? And then it was the turn of interior designers and builders. Step forward Sarah Beeny, Nick Knowles and Lawrence Llewelyn-Bowen, among others.
Now, however, our screens are chock full of cooks, bakers, restaurateurs and more. It seems the only shows creative commissioners plumb for are those that: A) search for new here-today-gone-tomorrow entertainers; B) put celebrities through their paces by making them dance, eat witchetty grubs or hang out in Essex, or: C) cook, bake, fry, poach or make a mighty fine mess of a simple strawberry cheesecake.
Some do both, of course, with Celebrity MasterChef being a prime example of a show that humiliates and redeems half-forgotten faces through the simple act of making cheese and onion pie. There are tiaras, tantrums and tears as eggs are beaten, flour is spilled and water is splashed in some new fangled kitchen.
So what is it about our obsession with food? Isn’t opening a packet of Cornish Cruncher Cheddar enough for us? Can’t we get our kicks by spending an evening in with a decent Nigella book and perfecting her love buns. Oh, and before the double entendre brigade at the back starts to scoff, love buns are Nigella’s name for Valentine’s Day Cupcakes and were featured in her 2004 book Feast.
Chefs and rock‘n’roll stars have much in common. They both tend to work nights (gigs and dinner service), spend far too long in windowless rooms (dressing rooms and kitchens), love the approval of their fans (audiences and customers) and have personalities that can variously be described as ‘creative’, ‘live wire’ and ‘mad as a box of frogs’. They’re adrenalised, live on the edge and think throwing a guitar/pot across the stage/kitchen is perfectly normal.
Dig a little deeper and it’s easy to see why chefs are the acme of rock‘n’roll. They have no social life, rarely see a bed before 1am and have a penchant for fast cars that makes Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor look like mere learners.
Sometimes the lines between chefs and rock’n’roll stars become increasingly blurred. Jamie Oliver, for instance, was a failed musician who used to play in a rock band and ride a scooter before he hung up his drumsticks so that he could hang out with prime ministers, cook beer battered onion rings and open a string of restaurants.
Afropunk star Kelis dropped her career as an R’n’B star in order to start a new career as a cook. Coming up with a new dish became an exercise in creativity no different to writing a new song. Perhaps when she was recording her 2003 album Tasty she knew what lay ahead of her. And when she enjoyed huge success with the hit single Milkshake and posed provocatively atop a life-sized dessert she wasn’t engaging in an exercise in euphemism but was in fact singing about a vanilla and ice cream drink.
The chef-rock star thing works both ways. Taylor Swift throws baking parties; Sheryl Crow co-wrote a cookbook with her personal chef; Chuck White, while the ultra machismo rocker Ted Nugent aced it with a cookbook called Kill It and Grill It. Coolio wrote Cookin’ With Coolio; Dolly Parton penned Dolly’s Dixie Fixin’s; Paul, Mary and Stella McCartney created The Meat Free Monday Cookbook while Boy George created the Karma Cookbook, which explained the best thing to do with chickpeas and an onion. Bless.
There’s no disputing the rock’n’roll prowess of Marco Pierre White, Gordon Ramsay and Sweet Baby James (Martin). As Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler might have sung: Wok This Way.