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Opinion

Lucy Sweet: ‘There is great comfort to be had in watching other people cook’

If I love watching cookery shows so much, why am I so average in the kitchen?

Who can be arsed to cook? After years of being kettled at home, working out what to have for dinner every day is a bleak and uninspiring process, which usually involves throwing a potato at the oven from three metres away. 

Of course, there are solutions available for those with the cash. A Hello Fresh box with 82 components that promises to become Mexican chipotle chicken, or a sweaty Mc-Don-alds delivered by an exhausted guy on a bike who hates your guts. But mostly it’s just you and a bag of salad that went off last Thursday. 

The bottom line is that I’m a very average home chef. In terms of culinary skill, I would say I’m slightly better than Denise from The Royle Family, but not that much better. I would love to be able to create wonders from leftovers, or know my way around a slow-roasted pork belly, but I find it all frustrating, boring and difficult. Put it this way, I can make dinner, but I do it with an anguished, puckered face like Therese Coffey doing karaoke, and afterwards I need a week off. 

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However, my lack of prowess in the kitchen doesn’t stop me from being both a highly discerning connoisseur and a ruthless critic of food programmes. As I sit there in my bra and pants guzzling Heinz ravioli in front of Food Network, I sound like Jay Rayner complaining about the amuse bouches at the George Cinq. 

If someone’s mirror glaze turns into a sludge on Bake Off, then you can bet I will have something to say about it. And as I crack open yet another packet of Flipz chocolate coated pretzels (£1 at the Co-op) and settle down to watch Masterchef: The Professionals, you can probably hear me wisely muttering that the secret to great cooking is that you can never use enough butter. Oh yes, as long as I don’t have to actually go in a kitchen and make anything edible, I’m practically Anthony Bourdain.

But there’s also great comfort to be had in watching other people cook. These days I find myself inexplicably drawn to dusty old episodes of Nigel Slater’s Simple Suppers, which is so middle class it’s almost depraved. If Nigel needs some culinary inspiration he does not go in search of a Pot Noodle. No, he has a walled garden wherein he grows his own mulberries, radishes and cavolo nero, which he effortlessly incorporates into supper (he is too posh to say dinner).

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Nigel would never have a lump of ancient Cathedral City in the fridge which has developed hair and become sentient. He buys pecorino wrapped in wax paper from Borough Market and nibbles it with quince. And when he really can’t be bothered to cook, he’ll just quickly spatchcock a capon and roast it with fresh herbs and an unwaxed lemon. I would love to live in this world, but sadly I live in the real one, five minutes up the road from a massive Asda.

When I turn on the TV though, with a tray on my lap (or, more accurately, a bag of crisps), it doesn’t really matter who is doing the cooking, as long as it’s not me. Ainsley Harriott, the Barefoot Contessa, Gino D’Campo… I’ll even tolerate Rick Stein awkwardly smarming his way around a fish market in Portugal if it means he’s going to make something delicious at the end of it. Basically these people have the power to elevate my crap dinners to new heights. When I’m watching the experts making something magic, I can happily pretend that anything I’m eating is haute cuisine – even if it’s a leathery baked potato that tastes like an insole. 

@lucytweet1

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