Critiquing the cooking shows like an armchair baker

Published 10:41 pm Thursday, January 15, 2015

“I’ll bet adding a bit of fennel or caraway seed to that would be marvelous,” I mused, as
Paul and I settled in with our wine and nibbles to watch another episode of ‘The Great
British Baking Show,’ currently airing on PBS.
Listen, it’s winter. There’s little else to do but think about food.
At any rate, it’s a lovely program that follows the same formula of eliminating less
successful contestants, but without the cutthroat rivalry or aggressive behavior seen on
other cooking shows, and best of all, takes place beneath a specially constructed white
marquee on the grounds of a 17th century mansion house.
This portable set is tremendously appealing to ‘shabby chic’ devotees like myself: pastel
colored appliances, strategically placed Union Jack bunting and pots of flowers decorate
the background. Judges Mary Berry, the doyenne of English baking, as well as the
intensely blue eyed, but rather strict, Paul Hollywood, often chat at a table set with a
traditional tea spread before them: cakes and scones and chintz tea cups with saucers,
discussing in this world of chaos and violence, what makes a perfect walnut and orange
bun or how difficult it is to utilize rye flour for a perfect loaf of bread.
It’s pure escapism and charming. The contestants are all wonderfully encouraging and
supportive of one another and there’s none of that ridiculous posing with arms defiantly
crossed with an arched eyebrow, as they are introduced. Just good natured, amateur
bakers from all walks of life who manage to get through the audition process in London
to become a part of this successful series.
And it’s just so inspiring, I tell Paul, marveling as one contestant presented rye and spelt
bread rolls with lemon, honey and poppy seeds.
“That’s great,” he replied, “you should get the recipe online and try it.”
“Oh, no,” I said, “I meant inspiring for you to try.”
“Why me?”
“Because I don’t cook.”
“I’m painfully aware of that, but as you find this so inspiring,” said Paul, carefully
balancing his martini at the edge of the end table, “why not try and take it up?”
“Because I don’t cook,” I countered. “But that’s my point,” he said, with some exasperation, “and it’s not that you can’t cook,
you won’t cook. You critique their recipes. You have a good sense of taste and flavors.
You even have a knack for suggesting ingredients I should change when I cook, that are
generally spot-on, but you refuse to even try to cook. It’s sheer laziness if you ask me.”
“It most certainly isn’t,” I retorted, stealing an almond from his ramekin. “What I do is no
different than when you watch football.”
“How do you figure that?” Paul said, perplexed to the point where he suspended the
program with the remote until this conversation was finished.
“You just watched the playoffs,” I pointed out, “sitting where I’m sitting now. You
critiqued the Panthers, you threw out suggestions for plays, you cheered when they
scored, you yelled at them when they made a mistake, yet you never got off the sofa. You
made no attempt to take up football yourself. Sheer laziness if you ask me.”
“That is ridiculous,” Paul sighed, rolling his eyes. “There’s a huge difference in watching
football and watching a cooking show.” Thinking he had the final word, he reached once
again for the remote.
“No there isn’t,” I said. “You’re nothing more than an armchair quarterback. And I’m an
armchair baker.”
“An armchair baker,” he mouthed, and shook his head.
Yes, an armchair baker. I nod approvingly as Mary Berry cracks open that rye and spelt
bread roll and agrees that it appears well baked, as the rye flour, naturally, would add lift
and softness. But the orange and cardamon bread knots? Lovely, for certain, but
aesthetically, the glaze ended slightly abruptly, instead of drizzling pleasingly down the
Well…bless her, I thought, smiling at the contestant, as she held her breath waiting for
approval. After all it’s the sort of thing an amateur, unlike myself, might miss, isn’t it?

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