8 Minute Read | by Gino De Blasio
He was “the first, true, original rock ‘n’ roll television cook. Before him all was staid, orderly, scripted and largely confined to the studio.”
Matthew Fort didn’t hold back in his appreciation of Floyd in 2009. Writing in the Guardian after news had broken about Floyd’s cancer diagnosis, Fort, and others, were quick to point out the impact the illustrious TV chef had on food and pop culture.
It was a true testimony of the TV chef that only a matter of weeks later, aged just 65 he passed from a heart attack leaving a legacy many have tried to achieve but never quite had in their grasp. As Jamie Oliver put it; “Keith was not just one of the best, he was the best television chef. An incredible man who lived life to the full and an inspiration to me and to so many others.”
Floyd, as Fort wrote, “(thanks to Keith) food on television went Technicolor. It had life. Anything was possible – exotic locations, unscripted howlers, wild adventures, humour, drink, and casual nonchalance in the cooking department.”
TV chefs had been dished to us in the forms of Elizabeth David and Julia Childs, both classically trained, both very prepared, and both, aware that we all fuck up in the kitchen. Child, more aware than most, cooking an entire chicken with giblets inside, is still a pop culture nuance of a TV finest. Those that followed left a trail of stale, scripted and orderly cooking shows that had as much character a millennial pop band drinking green tea between sets. If we were meant to be enthused by the spectacle, we would remain scratching our heads trying to figure out, how?
We didn’t need eating challenges, deep sea oyster diving or a panel of chefs declaring if our food was designed for a drunken walk through an amusement fair. All we needed was Floyd, his cameraman, a jaguar and a bottle of beaujolais to know, when the camera hit record, expect fireworks. The unscripted nature of Floyd made his TV shows a theatre of dreams, he was the man that filled the screen and couldn’t give a flying toss who his guests were; it didn’t matter, he was the star attraction. And we got our TV License (1) money’s worth. Spontaneous, flamboyant, aggressive and the true meaning of being a lad (2) without the nauseating experience of flashing genitalia and treating your loved one to a “cheeky nando’s”(3), Floyd personified the art of flamboyance in a time when the country was screaming for something different.
He filmed outside, mainly with a portable stove and in the most random of places. Clive, his much maligned and yet loyal cameraman must have had no end of praise for the chef when picking some locations which required the mountaineering skills of a goat and the patience of sober monk. He wasn’t the first to film on location though for a British audience, that was Madhur Jaffrey in 1982 with her BBC Indian Cookery series followed by Ken Hom in 1984; as well as Raymond Blanc and Anton Mosimann; none of whom though did it as much from the gut as the late Floyd.
In what remains a piece of TV gold, Floyd’s argument with an old lady in Pays Basque whilst he prepares a piperade (4) is something that the modern day chef would see as career ending, to Floyd, career showreel. Ensuing critique throughout preparation, constant interruptions and a sense that his soul was being banished to basque hell, the usually high energy chef was left nonchalantly flippant at his guest; his finishing line is Floyd personified. “Apparently, she doesn’t want to taste it because the way I cooked it was so off putting that she knows it is going to be awful … There’s not enough salt, not enough pepper … In brief, it’s absolute rubbish.”
Our TV chefs have to watch their language, they can’t drink on screen and when they do, they’re called out on it.
loads, shit loads of food apps. Check your suitably named application store on your mobile device and you have more food apps than Trekkies at a 1980s Star Trek convention. Some even carry stranger names. And yet today, whilst we have more food shows than ever, more TV chefs than you can shake your spiralizers at, we have turned from the flamboyant, the risky, the exciting to a sterile food learning environment. Our TV chefs have to watch their language, they can’t drink on screen and when they do, they’re called out on it. We have cookbooks the size of encyclopaedias, with photography as stunning as the Paris catwalk, but so complicated looking that we dread cooking even a basic pasta dish. It’s therefore no wonder that we have turned to our mobile phones; Keith would have been flummoxed.
Choosing a mobile app is simple. Go to the app store, type in food, find a recipe app and press download. Pretend you’ve read the terms and conditions, pretend you’ve understood them and within seconds, or if you live in a suburban city centre with a crap internet connection, minutes; you have what you think is the best solution to keeping your meals as exciting as a dodgy chapter from 50 Shades of Grey.
Our screens are subjectively small so we struggle to see what the next item for preparation is; we’re subjected to technological constraints that by even writing ‘technological constraints’ makes you realise that the passion of cooking is missing and we’re also creatures of habit; 80% of the food we eat, is 20% of the food repertoire we have. If you’re looking for inspiration from a food app, then you may be looking in the wrong place.Whilst the app world likes to think that it is as sexy as Christian Grey (5) it’s anything but.
What Keith Floyd did so brilliantly was make you sit up, take note and realise that food should challenge, scare and exhilarate, all at the same time. He captured the imagination of the brits, daring them be more adventurous in the kitchen, drink whilst cooking (to the point of using it as a feasible excuse for any insurance claim), and not have to worry if it didn’t look perfect.
The mobile app has transformed many things, it’s made us more organised, can help us learn a language it can even book our travel tickets; but what it can’t do is make us experience that gut wrenching moment where the art, culture and nuance of food preparation hinges on being that little bit more brave, that little bit more daring.
“Here’s to the crazy one’s” Steve Jobs famously once said. Keith Floyd certainly was, it’s just a shame we don’t have an app that quite does justice to the madness in food lessons he proudly gave us.
1) A TV License is the UK’s finest way to con you to pay for TV. No, it’s not Netflix or HBO, this is state TV that demands you pay a quantity of money to then watch other channels, which aren’t state owned. Even Dick Turpin wore a mask.
2) Being a “lad” a common parlance in the county of Essex. A lad is a male who specialises in creating and distributing exquisite banter. Though most lads are youngish (late teens and early twenties) age is not a defining characteristic and you will find both young lads and old lads.
3) “Nandos” is a British restaurant chain where you can get a respectable amount of spicy chicken and chips (fries) for a moderate price, suitable for sharing among a small group of friends.
4) Piperade is a typical Basque dish prepared with onion, green peppers, and tomatoes sautéd and flavoured with red Espelette pepper. The colours coincidentally reflect the colours of the Basque flag.
5) The main protagonist from Fifty Shades of Grey story. Interpreted in film by an Irish super model, Jamie Dornan, he was tasked with taking his top off adding to the script integrity from the novel by E. L. James.