Thursday, 27 March 2008

A Cook's Tour Of Spain

When I heard that Channel4 was screening a new series called "A Cook's Tour Of Spain", I pricked up my ears. Well, I would do of course. Channel4 has produced some good quality food programmes in recent years along with the tat and Spanish cooking is what I do for a living as a professional chef in Barcelona.

"I say, mate, got any acorns?"When I checked out the Channel4 website I was less impressed. The series, I discovered, was to feature Thomasina Miers, winner of MasterChef 2005 and subsequent star of the much-panned "hunter-gatherer" series The Wild Gourmets, in which she and Tarzan-impersonator Guy Grieve went scouring the British countryside for escaped deer and magic mushrooms. A positive review by Andrew of The Foodie List gave me some encouragement, until I remembered how irritating I had previously found the "Jamie-esque" lisp and nervous giggle of the star presenter, now re-branded as "Tommi". So when I gained access to Episode 1 over the Easter weekend as a result of some geeky manipulation by my dad, I settled down to watch it without high hopes.

To my surprise it turned out to be a very knowledgeable and interesting programme. Never mind Violet Elizabeth and William Brown - although in fairness to Tommi, her male bimbo chaperone did make her look good - the content was simply fantastic. And to the best of my judgement, technically correct. So many British food programmes in the past have imposed distant imperial views on the food of other nations, but here's a series that leaves you in no doubt that it has got up close and personal with its subject - in some cases literally under the skin of Spanish produce! Full of passion and humour, this is a series that takes the viewer closer to fantastic, simple, regional food than ever before.

I've never hidden my personal lack of interest in cooking regional rustic food on a professional basis, but like most people I really enjoy eating it and I have no doubt that to cook great global food you need to understand the regional cultural roots that underpin the produce and processes you are working with. The importance of getting close to your food and the people who produce it and not being blinded by the sanitisation of food by the big supermarkets - that perennial theme of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall - is a sentiment with which I totally concur. And you don't get any closer to real people with real passion for their produce than visiting the towns and villages of Spain in this series.

I've edited 20 minutes from episode 1 in two 10-minute uploads as a taster for anyone who missed the screenings and those unable to access the series via 4OD. I didn't include scenes of matanza (ritual pig slaughter) because I didn't want this to become the focus of comment. But the woman sticking her finger in the fresh blood and checking it for seasoning should give you a flavour. Sit back and enjoy!




Tonight's episode takes us to Castile-La Mancha - land of cheese, saffron, marzipan... and Don Quixote! I can't wait. Next week I plan to post my own Cook's Tour Of Spain - a compact guide to the regional cuisines of each of the 17 autonomous communities that make up modern Spain.

10 comments:

David Hall said...

Hi Trig

Great review. I agree with you, thought it was a top show but braced myself for the things that irritated me about her other series. What I like about her is she seems really natural mucking in with the locals and seems to have genuine passion for her subject. Looking forward to tonights.

Cheers
David

Mike said...

I'm getting this vision of Guy Grieve and Don Quixote engaged in a pig-back jousting session for the hand of a damsel in distress with a lisp. It's all too much for me. I need some ham and marzipan.

Richard said...

I quite enjoyed the show as well - though I really didn't see the point in Guy Grieve at all...

I particularly enjoyed Tommi "helping" the old lady turn the tortilla and spilling it all over the grass - then wondering if she perhaps should share some of the blame (try all of it??)
What did come through was a passion for the food - from the producers as well as the presenters - that we perhaps lack in this country...

aforkfulofspaghetti said...

I think what makes Tommi different is that she is not a product of telly in the way that, say, Jamie is. She had already written on food before winning Masterchef; had already travelled widely and learned vast amounts, particularly about South American food; and has generally gone quietly about her business ever since, steadily building her knowledge and reputation. I think she makes a great presenter - particularly on this programme, given that she speaks the language. She can get so much more out of the locals than most celeb chefs. Her enthusiasm seems perfectly natural and heartfelt. As for the food - I just sit there and salivate through the whole programme...!

Pete said...

I have to say I watched the first one out of interest because we're going to Andalusia in a couple of weeks but I'm afraid I find both presenters a bit too jolly hockey sticks annoying to make it through a whole episode. I gave it another go this week but the same thing happened. Oh well, I guess it can't be to everyone's tastes.

Helen said...

I felt exactly the same Trig. That 'Wild Gourmet' programme was rubbish but the cooks tour of Spain was excellent, I really enjoyed it. I also thought 'Tommi' was much more likeable and seemed more genuinely passionate. It helped that she is fluent in Spanish because the programme flowed easily.

toad said...

Hi Trig,
I've been following your blog for a while now, especially as we're keen on the cooking both in Barcelona in general and Comerc 24 in particular (although we can't always afford it when we visit!. Tommi's prog is good if you don't knoew much about spanish food-we settled down to watch with some nice manchega and some Joselito ham. What was annoying was how 'absolutey yummy' her own cooking was-that paella looked distinctly ropey to me. The best foodie tele at the mo has to be Great British menu. That's got lots of ideas to develop, see if your old man can get geeky on that for you....
Cheers
Toad

Trig said...

I agree, Toad. I've seen the home cooking bits now and they aren't all that impressive. I'm going to publish something on Spanish regional cuisine next week and I'm sure I'll get some flak from people who know more about it than me. But I've done my best. The qualifying episodes of GBM were mailed to me this morning.

eatlikeagirl.com said...

Nice review. I also shared your reservations, I really disliked the Wild Gourmets and thuoght that this would be more of the same, but it is very enjoyable. Nice to hear that it's authentic too!

Niamh

Phil said...

Well I thought the show was an interesting idea but then she wasn't actually cooking Spanish food really and her foodie facts were all over the place.

She made massive sweeping statements when she didn't have much idea what she was doing. She claimed that paella was from Andalucia, which is patently wrong it's from Valencia. So many errors in this programme had me shouting at the telly.

It really makes me wonder whether I can trust such things from countries I know less about...


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