The first series having passed me by completely, it was with greedy anticipation that I snuggled down last night to catch the first episode of Raymond Blanc’s Kitchen Secrets. To a confirmed food porn addict like myself, if we see Jamie Oliver’s humble, honest fare as something akin to the cavorting of a ruddy-cheeked farm girl, then the luscious, decadent and complicated dishes promised by Raymond’s adverts are the equivalent of whips, chains and latex. I locked the door and made doubly sure I had a box of tissues to hand – for the drool, you understand.
With the possibility in mind that this was going to be the highlight of my televisiual week, now that Big Fat Gypsy Weddings has ceased to be, you can imagine my surprise to find that Raymond’s show appeared to have been possessed by the departed spirit of said traveller documentary. As Raymond enthuses about a jus or the succulency of a scallop, the soundtrack of jaunty accordians trips and skips along in a disconcertingly familiar way, so that you half expect a teenager in a blancmange of pink net to stumble past in the background.
In addition, the programme’s makers seem to have shunned the traditional narrator of food programmes, the cook himself, in favour of a lady with a nice voice who tells us what he is doing. Her tone of reverential yet indulgent intrigue is eerily similar to that of BFGW, and it creates a very bizarre effect when attached to the doings of a celebrity chef. ‘Raymond sweats a crushed clove of garlic and a finely chopped onion’ is at once oddly patronising and unnaturally distant; the narrator is neither addressing the viewer with direct instructions (like a cooking show), nor providing information or insight beyond that which is clear for the viewer to see (like a documentary). Elsewhere, ‘Raymond arranges the grilled vegetables’ and ‘Raymond uses a blender’. It’s all very odd. Not quite as odd, however, as the narrator’s attempts to revel in the luxury of the food, trying to put as much sex into the words ‘hand-dived scallops’ as possible, and accidentally making this viewer feel a bit queasy in the process. On any show where the presenter needs to imbue their words with passion it simply has to be the presenter themselves. A faceless, unknown narrator coming over all Nigella is seriously sick-making.
In terms of what pearls of wisdom can actually be gleaned from Blanc’s years of experience at the top of his trade, sadly this first show gave us very few. The Moules Mariniere looked delicious and is certainly one to try at home, but Blanc and his narrator gave very few real hints as to the preparation of fresh mussels other than vague advice to remove the beard and throw away cracked ones. There is then a swift and badly filmed demonstration of the cutting up of a squid, followed by quite a basic recipe for a salad. The next dish of scallops looked great, and you do get a good look at him frying them, which is useful to anyone nervous about cooking shellfish, but I know very few people who will make such a complicated starter, involving three different styles of cauliflower, an infused oil and the scallops themselves. Sadly ‘Raymond’s finale’ of lobster, that seems to have the narrator quivering with excitement, is basically incomprehensible, not to mention impossible in a domestic kitchen.
The comedy music, the unsettling narrator and the fact that Raymond never quite looks into the camera combine to make this a strange hybrid of a cooking show and documentary, and fails to do either particularly well. Add to the mix the scenes in which Blanc has A Great Time with his staff and it seems to show a desperation on behalf of the programme-makers to make him seem intoxicatingly passionate and Really Fun to boot. One comes away with the feeling that this is nothing more than an extended PR exercise for brand Blanc – maybe there’s nothing so wrong with a ruddy-cheeked farm girl after all.