They say you should never press send when you have a drink in your other hand. Yet last April, just two minutes before the start of the last episode of the John le Carre’s The Night Manager, I did just that and started down a path to the other side.
The next day, while in London for the Pink Lady Food Photography Awards, I took an 061 call on a crowded bus. Remembering what I had done the previous evening I should have been full of trepidation. Yet after a 40 minute interview I was scheduled to head to Manchester. And not to photograph gorgeous food, hot chefs and sumptuous fine dining spaces. No. After years of hearing ‘you should do that….you’d be great’ etc I was heading to step in front of the cameras and cook myself.
Why exactly I did it had as much to do with my work as it did with vanity. For years I’ve seen chefs work to produce beautiful food for my lens. Sometimes I even got to eat it. I’ve always had immense respect for the skill and dedication required to acquire the knowledge and expertise to get to the top. My weekend meals at home couldn’t possibly come close could they? Of course they couldn’t but then I wasn’t going to pass up the chance to spend a day in a kitchen with a Michelin-starred chef was I? Or even cooking for Pierre Koffmann?
So in early May I found myself on the YesChef tv set at the Cheshire Cookery School in Altrincham. The format for the competition was each day from Monday to Thursday four home cooks meet four Michelin-Starred Chefs for three knock out rounds. That day’s winner goes forward with their chef to a Friday Final against the other three cooks and their mentor chefs to be judged by Pierre Koffmann.
But as much as I had a desire to examine my culinary abilities I had a work related agenda too. Having added video to my offering I wanted to take a look at how larger team based productions work. YesChef had taken over an eight person teaching space and completely re-rigged it for the show with false walls hiding supports for the extensive lighting setup. The four camera people were part of a much larger team where each person had a defined task which they carried out in a calm and collected manner.
On arrival we were fitted with a hidden mic and immediately put to work shooting the intro and smiley reaction shots. Between cooking sessions we were interviewed for feedback and questioned in a leading manner to extract upbeat ‘I so want to win because …’ statements. After a day on set you come to understand it’s not so easy in front of the lens either. Cooking well is one thing, staying on message is altogether another.
Who was my mentor chef? So how did I do? What did I cook? You’ll have to tune in to BBC 1 at 3.45pm on Thursday 29th and Friday 30th for those answers (but did you get that little clue there?).
Did I learn anything? Yes some gorgeous new dishes and techniques and a desire to push myself in the kitchen. But more importantly having seen the process for the other side I’ve come to understand and learned to avoid some of the pressures we put on our subjects and clients. YesChef that's food for thought.
Mark Greenaway on his Throne of Perceptions
Tony Singh's Tasty Alea dessert