Sunday, January 24, 2010

Pleasantly Surprised By Gordon

I don't normally watch television. And moreover, for the sake of my own sanity and blood pressure, I do not ever watch programmes made abroad about India as they all follow the well-worn loop: poverty; exotica; poverty; look an erstwhile royal; poverty, oh-wow-an-elephant; poverty again.

But when Gordon Ramsey's Great Escape ads started popping up on my facebook page (talk of advertising!) I was intrigued. After all, I like food and he is a famous chef.  But what clinched it for me was the relatively negative reviews the show got from the British press. With properly postcolonial reasoning, I decided that if much of the British press didn't like the show, there had to be something good about it.

So off I went to Channel 4 website to check out the three part series (apparently, there is a book of the same name but as I don't buy cookbooks, it doesn't really matter).

My reaction after watching all three episodes?

Well, he is brash. And he is foul-mouthed but not nearly as much as some of the Delhi taxi drivers I have encountered. And after all there is only so much offense the same recycled half-dozen four-letter expletives can cause, unlike the very graphic, very colourful Hindi or Punjabi di galis! One grows inured to them quite quickly.

Yes, he was a bit silly. Yes, he tasted food although he was eventually told off for it even on camera. Yes, he was the bumbling, slightly arrogant Englishman abroad, annoyed that people didn't speak English, or amused that they didn't speak it properly. Yes, this is part of the "gentler, kinder" Ramsey re-branding. But it all made for good television.

More importantly for me, was that there were genuine moments of loony happiness and Ramsey's ability to take pleasure in them was infectious!  Despite television's formatting, the enthusiasm and giddiness shone through: especially on his Nagaland and Kerala sections.

There were also oddly touching moments of vulnerability, and not only in the kitchen. It was kind of cute to watch Ramsey suck in his stomach, especially in profile.

And of course, hilarious to watch that Bollywood catch-that-train fantasy has permiated even British cooking shows. Yes, it was staged, and yes, he wasn't really missing the train but it was sweet to watch nevertheless.

Finally, full marks for going into Dharavi, explaining that it was where the abominable Slumdog Millionnaire was filmed and then not falling into the same trap! Ramsey cooked sambhar on the street with a famous Dharavi chef, played cricket and served food at the birthday party. Yes there was poverty but it was also a more "real" version of Dharavi than Boyle's one-sided take. Ramsey's team picked up on the Dharavi (and other slums) in India where there is joy, entreprenuership, pride in one's achievements, and aspirations alongside the hardships.

Just for that alone, Ramsey may have found a new fan!

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