Last week, the BBC started broadcasting a series called The Great British Food Revival, featuring various cooking-related celebrities ‘championing’ foodstuffs that are in danger of becoming forgotten. First up was Michel Roux Jr, a man previously described on this blog as “the most watchable chef on television”, talking about bread. None of the arguments he made were difficult to agree with – mass produced white loaves are, after all, strange gluey representations of bread that possess nothing like the real quality of a fresh, homemade example.
Where the programme fell down – and where the normally mercurial and expansive MRJ started to appear merely human compared to his inspirational best – was in the unwillingness to recognise that certain realities mean the proliferation of artisan bakers on “every street corner” is never going to be a reality outside of the most affluent parts of London (and maybe some other cities).
Tellingly, even a man representing the mass-produced bread industry didn’t try and defend the quality of the product. “For better or worse, British bread is the cheapest in Europe,” he said (which is no sort of defence for anything), having already made the startling observation that, “the British consumer is the British consumer.” As veiled insults go, that was a good one – ‘they don’t mind eating crap, so that’s what we make for them’.
This angered MRJ, evidenced by him sounding slightly deflated and maintaining a stern expression that little bit longer than normal, so he went to the kitchen set up for the series and promptly made a fresh white loaf. It did look good, and led to the gratifying sight of a Michelin-starred chef eating plain old bread and butter on national television. That should cheer us, the serfs, even if nothing else does.
Everybody else MRJ met throughout the course of the half hour turned out to be as “PASSIONATE” as Michel, which was clearly good for him but got a bit tiresome for the viewer to hear after a while. The final interviewee was a man who set himself up selling fresh bread a year or so ago and doesn’t seem to have lost money from the enterprise yet. As he set about baking a fresh batch of loaves, all to be sold at £3.50 a piece, MRJ cooed that “the time and effort is worth every penny” in comparison to a mass produced loaf.
There was no doubting the art and craft going into the baking process, and it was nice to know the guy sells out every day, but there is no way I could afford to pay that much for every loaf I eat, and that is certainly true for many other people. The reasoning behind the programme was laudable, but watching a man driving a brand new Land Rover and lecturing that we should deliberately increase our shopping bills in order to send a message that we want better, seemed more than a little at odds with the economic realities most of us have to deal with.
Not that I’m completely against ‘supporting my local baker’. I don’t normally shop there, but starting this week I’ll try and visit Gregg’s more often…