Sunday 8 April 2012

Honorary Connoisseur : Keith Floyd.

Now here’s something. In a world in which Masterchef claims that “cooking doesn’t get much tougher than this” (what, tougher than four people in a nice fitted kitchen mucking about with a bit of coulis and then watching while Greg Wallace and John Torode pick it to bits. Very tough. How about doing the same down the Rusholme Curry Mile on a Friday night at 10.30pm?) there was one bloke for who that phrase rang true properly. Step forward Keith Floyd – posthumously an honorary connoisseur. The Original Masterchef.

A proper cooking maverick, this fella knew his stuff and he learned it the hard way too. He wasn’t a brilliant businessman, losing pretty much all his money and many of the restaurants he set up and ran. He never had anything approaching a Michelin star (don’t think he even had Michelin tyres on his Jag come to think of it…). He was simply a brilliant cook and entertainer and could magic up a fabulous dish in the most unusual of places (but not the Rusholme Curry Mile).
He got his big break on the telly at the age of forty in 1984 with a regional cookery slot on BBC Southwest. Twelve months later he was prime-time BBC Two and had hit the big time with his enormous personality and wine glass in hand, earning enough money to not just
send parcels to USA but to actually go there on holiday too. He loved the North of England, had a real soft spot for it and very often referred to himself as being from “The Soft South”. Have a look at this clip of him in action – cooking a Roman Pork Stew on Hadrian’s Wall. In a blowing gale and pouring rain of course:

He more or less started the trend for television cooks to go outdoors and create whatever dish it was they were doing. He was the best at it. Not only do you get to see him sloshing the wine and food round and leathering his cameraman and director for being stupid – but you also get a genuine history lesson too. Who knew the cabbage was a Roman invention and not a British one? (Stop snoring at the back there, pay attention…there’ll be questions asked at the end of class…). Also, it didn’t matter if what he cooked didn’t turn out quite right at the end either – he wasn’t afraid to show it. In that clip, you’ve got the eminent professor and Floyd himself throwing the remains of the overcooked stew over their shoulders and saying “I think we’ve got to ask, why did they withdraw?” He Introduced A Few New Chefs Too…

We all make mistakes – sadly we’ve got Floydy to thank for Gary Rhodes being beamed into our homes (and in this clip sounding suspiciously posher than he did when he got his own TV show a few years later). It’s only a small blip though, and this is a genuinely good clip – the older guy, not a proper qualified chef, putting the younger guy at ease (sort of) and cooking some proper British food in the process. Gary’s spikes never did get their own show though. Pity.

He always admitted the programmes hadn’t been that intensively researched, usually the crew just went to the local pub wherever they were staying and got chatting to the locals about food – often ending up being invited back to folks houses to cook. That’s why in a sense his shows worked so well and he was so natural – he wasn’t trying to interview someone famous, he was just chatting to someone about good food, having a drink and enjoying himself. The shows had a genuine love about them. In this clip he’s wangled his way into a lovely older lady’s house to make Groaty Dick (Oi, you at the back…what have you been told about laughing?) which he then finds out needs to be cooked for sixteen hours. Allegedly they played snap and tiddlywinks while it was happening. Hmm. Floyd Cooks With Ostriches

Yeah. There isn’t much else to say about this. I don’t think anyone else could get away with cooking Ostrich meat with Ostriches pecking him to death in the background. That’s what he does though (you know how cannibals say human flesh tastes like chicken? Wonder if Ostriches say the same thing? We’ll never know now. Floyd should have asked). Just another reason to admire him really. A True One Off.

When he died in 2009 there was a mile long queue of Chefs lined up to pay tribute to him. Even the ones he’d slagged off. That’s a pretty amazing thing to have happen to you. Remarkably, despite all the wine, beer and scotch he swilled during his all too short lifetime apparently his liver was in A1 nick. That’s something to hold onto next time the Casual Connoisseurs are pub crawling somewhere – “swill another one down, it never did Floydy any harm…”. Ironic that the last person to interview him for a very personal piece on his life was another maverick in his own field, Keith Allen. “Keith On Keith” was broadcast the night Floyd died – just as he settled down to watch it. What a way to go. “I’ll just sit and watch this programme all about me!” Boom. Out go the lights. Elvis died on the toilet, Rod Hull died adjusting his aeriel (not a euphemism) and Keith Floyd died watching himself. At least he went Imogen Read.

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