Behind the scenes of ‘Cooking the books’

Behind the scenes of ‘Cooking the books’

Towards the end of last year I was contacted by Talkback, the TV production company. They had seen my blog and wanted to invite me to appear on a forthcoming TV food show they were making called ‘Cooking the Books’, which was due to run on consecutive evenings on Channel 5.

First of all I was amazed once again by the power of a blog to attract people from around the world who either want to say they like what you do, or else ask you to collaborate on a project. For example, two different airline magazines got in touch last year asking if they could use some of my photos in a magazine article they were writing about Italian food!

Anyway, I was intrigued because they wanted me to bring along one or two dishes that I had prepared myself, based on any recipe book I liked. This actually was a bit of a challenge for me because although I read lots of recipe books I nearly always have to drastically change the recipes I find to make them work in the way I want to. Does anyone else find themselves doing that?

My solution was to take two of my favourite dishes, traditional lasagne bolognese, along with my apple cake with lemon zest and vanilla. The book I took with me is the ‘bible’ of Italian cuisine, namely The Silver Spoon, which has recently been translated into English. If you want to learn how Italians make Italian food, rather than people who have merely travelled there (sorry Jamie…), then this is the book you need to have.

The Silver Spoon

The Silver Spoon

The idea behind the show is that any member of the public could turn up and bring along a dish they’ve made. This is then tasted and judged by a panel of guests. In theory the winner of this contest goes on to discuss their dish and the book it was inspired by on camera.

The reality, as with most things on TV it would appear, was somewhat different. When I got there it was clear that another lady had been pre-selected to do this role. I guess this makes sense because you would need to have the book there to show that as well, so it would have to be decided beforehand wouldn’t it?

However, there was another role that needed to be fulfilled by a member of the audience, and for that they choose me. The end of the programme features a ‘cook-off’ between two celebrity chefs who each cook a dish from their own book.

For my show this was between Sophie Grigson, who was making a broad bean, dill and saffron pilaff from her book Vegetables, and Reza Mahammad, who made a minced lamb and lentil pilau from his book Rice, Spice and all things nice .

Reza is a flamboyant character to say the least and his dish very much reflected this. Sophie, however, was a bubbly but also maternal character. I really enjoyed her dish because of its straightforward simplicity that enhanced the natural flavours of each ingredient. So for me there was only one winner and I chose Sophie’s dish, giving my reasons live on camera. This was a bit unnerving I have to admit!

Overall, it was enlightening to see how much attention to detail is paid to every aspect of filming. Shots were sometimes taken again and again until everyone was happy, and there was a lot of pressure to get things right.

Consequently the focus of the day was purely on presentation rather than the quality of the food, but perhaps I was a bit naive to expect otherwise?

Its certainly very different from my kitchen!

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