Hannan: TV food shows wants stars, not chefs

Brian Hannan, chief executive of The Cookery School, Glasgow. Picture: John Devlin
Brian Hannan, chief executive of The Cookery School, Glasgow. Picture: John Devlin
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THE head of one of Scotland’s leading private cookery schools has claimed celebrity television chefs who have never worked in the tough world of busy restaurants are misleading viewers.

The influence of TV chefs is far-reaching, with programmes such as The Great British Bake Off – which reaches its much anticipated 2014 final this week – influencing 19 per cent of the population; Jamie Oliver’s 15-Minute Meals inspiring 21 per cent and MasterChef fuelling the ambition of 17 per cent of viewers, according to a survey.

But Brian Hannan, chief executive of The Cookery School in Glasgow, said: “Television is looking for stars. If you can talk the talk you’re on, even if you can’t walk the walk.

“Compare this to someone like a professional chef whose restaurant has 50 covers and cooks something like 150-200 meals a week for starters, main course and pudding. That’s around 7,000 meals a year.

“Viewers are told that a dish is easy when it is hard, or hard when it is easy, that certain dishes can be made very quickly or easily when in fact it is only produced on television by cutting corners.

“A lot of the information going out has never been questioned. We hear examples of this from students who’ve seen things on television or read it on the internet and just assume it is true and don’t think to question it.”

Mr Hannan, founder of the Scottish Chef Awards, added: “A classic example of misinformation is a recipe for a leg of lamb telling people to barbecue it for 20-30 minutes which is just bizarre when the standard technique is 20 minutes per pound. If you were made to serve that up for real people on a daily basis, you’d get it right.”

But former merchant navy man Nick Nairn, who became the youngest Scottish chef to win a Michelin star for his Braeval restaurant near Aberfoyle in 1991 despite no formal training, defended the popular cookery shows and chefs who appear in them.

The Scot – who has also appeared on a number of television programmes such as Ready Steady Cook and Wild Harvest, said: “The vast majority of television chefs have started out as very good chefs before becoming TV chefs and running restaurants. Brian Hannan doesn’t know these guys, I do.”

Michelin star chef Paul Kitching, whose 21212 restaurant in Edinburgh retained its star in the latest Michelin guide out last week, said the benefits of enthusing viewers to cook far outweighed any “mistakes” made by celebrity chefs.

“These programmes are compulsive viewing for ‘Mr and Mrs in the street’ and the more the likes of Jamie Oliver or Gordon Ramsay can teach us, the better,” he said.

“Whether chefs take the old-fashioned approach or are like Heston Blumenthal doing his own thing, it’s a celebration and just brilliant for the viewer. Everyone can learn something from it. That’s television.”

BBC’s Great British Bake Off, which stars bakers Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry, is watched by an average nine million viewers in the UK, making it one of the most viewed shows on the television.