What Have You Done So Far in 2017 To Challenge Yourself? Yes Chef! and The Sportised Cooking TV Show Format
Both Jo and Jean love to cook and are interested in healthy eating, and a generally healthy lifestyle. As you can see from the combined biography under the About Us tab, we also both enjoy a challenge. Having both completed the London Marathon and Great North Run, Jean also completed the one mile Great North Swim at Lake Windermere in 2015. More on Open water swimming later in the year, as Jean has applied to join the historic Serpentine Swimming Club in London, though she is waiting for the weather to become more clement before taking the plunge.
Before then, Jean entered Yes Chef! Just before Christmas 2016 and has filmed the show this February, to be broadcast later in 2017. The format of the show is a competition whereby three ‘home cook’ contestants are tested and one selected to work with a professional chef who has won at least one Michelin star in a Friday final. At the Friday final each home cook and professional chef work as a team to compete against four other pairs and the outcome is judged by triple Michelin-starred chef Pierre Koffmann.
The 2017 show is the second edition, and hosted by Sheree Murphy the former Emmerdale star, who was anxiously trying out her own culinary skills in the famous Celebrity MasterChef kitchen. Both Joanna and Jean believe that eating well and understanding the food that you consume is the basis of good health. So why did Jean enter, and what did she take from the experience?
Competitive Cooking In Front of the Cameras
My biggest influence, in terms of cooking was my Mum, since she was one of a family of nine children, and learned a lot of her skills from her mother and father. Growing up, my family was also large, there were seven of us, including Mum and Dad, plus we lived on a farm, so there was the extended family of Grandma and Grandad, Uncles, Aunts and cousins. Not only did Mum cook from scratch for three square meals a day, but, being based on a 200 acre mixed arable and livestock farm, we would grow, pick and harvest the fruit and vegetables, milk the cows, feed the chickens and all the rest of it. So the provenance of food has always been important to me.
Similarly, I have always loved animals and became a vegetarian aged fifteen, as my job before school each morning was to feed the calves. Needless to say, my Grandad, who owned the farm, thought being a vegetarian was an odd choice. Although I am now pescatarian and find that this helps with my lean protein intake for sporting challenges, I am pretty relaxed about people’s food choices because it is such a personal matter of conscience.
My abiding memory, apart from how freezing cold potato picking was in the October half-terms, was that Mum would begin making the Christmas puddings and cakes just before Halloween and then would let the fruit mix mature until December. We’d make at least twelve Christmas puddings and Christmas Day itself was always about twenty people, or more, sitting around on that odd assortment of high and low chairs that only happens at that time of year, working their way through the feast provided by Mum over several hours. So cooking has always meant friends and family and hasn’t been competitive. Until now.
I guess I applied for Yes Chef! Because 1. I watch all the cookery shows 2. the format was a bit warmer and friendlier than the high pressure shows and 3. I think I am a reasonable home cook 4. cooking is an important life skill that should get more attention in school and these programmes help popularize ‘cooking from scratch’ even though viewers cant taste the food and 5. The format interests me professionally. Academics who write about sport have theorized that many television shows have become ‘sportised’. What they mean by this is that the jeopardy introduced to the format by turning everyday activities into competitions make them more compelling viewing. So on Yes Chef! there is the rivalry of competing against other ‘home cooks’ and then against other teams, the race of trying to complete your task against limited time and in front of cameras, catching your every mistake, the struggle to improvise with unseen ingredients, trying to match and exceed the skill of other contestants and the award of an eventual winner, with the benefits that this might bring after the competition. Just like the sporting contests I like to challenge myself with, this was both a physical challenge (it seemed to take 20 minutes to skin, peel, de-seed and chop one tomato), a challenge of skill, managing nerves and emotions under a totally new environment and reacting to new situations.
I really enjoyed the experience and if you are considering applying for a similar experience, I would encourage you to have a go because, regardless of the result, the process of seeing how these programmes are made is really engaging. I’ve done some media work for the BBC television and radio, Sky Arts, Channel Four and local radio but this was entirely different because I am usually asked to speak because of what I know, rather than what I can accomplish in a timed challenge. The camera crew, the professional chef and Sheree were also very supportive because if you can do your best under the circumstances, it will make a better show. Or the theory goes anyway! On reflection, I realized that when I cook it is at home, in my own environment with some of my favourite music and the prospect of good company with which to share the results-however they turn out. I am perhaps best to stick to my ‘army-style’ cooking of epic crumbles, generous curries and ‘come and join us’ barbecues. So Yes Chef! was definitely out of my comfort zone and one of my challenges for 2017. I do hope that the water in the Serpentine is balmy in July. Have you challenged yourself this year yet?