Whilst perusing the iPlayer last night I happened upon The Delicious Miss Dahl. And delicious she is. This terribly attractive, other-world girl cooks for our viewing pleasure using an assortment of kitchen utensils that all look like they’ve been collated from her family kitchen and kept for many years (old spoons, mis-matched forks, a well-used chopping board). She speaks in a delightfully well-spoken British accent, throwing in phrases like “when I was modelling,” “when I was living in New York,” “when I was living in India…” And despite this, she feels completely ‘normal’. Not in the insulting way (“oh dear, would you look at that dreadful group of filthy normals?”), but in the way that one feels like your friend Sophie is giving you a few helpful pointers. One can almost feel oneself saying (with a little laugh) “oh no Sophie, when I used to model I found exactly the same to be true!”
Out of focus shots show us bits of what may, or may not be, her house: stairs with deliberately missing carpet (where the bare boards are exposed between two escorting lines of paint). Odd things on her shelves in the kitchen she picked up on her travels. Those big French jam jars with the rubber seals.
And yet, while one is sitting with Sophie and she’s merrily, charmingly telling stories about her Granny, or a holiday on a boat in France (featuring another, squid-catching Granny), she’s just made tartare sauce! Nobody makes sauce! Sauces come in jars, some in nice glass jars, claiming to have been hand-finished by Linda. Sophie just made her own. To hell with that Oliver person (who Clarkson called a “pillow biter”), the Delightful Devious Deceptive Dahl is my new culinary guide!
She comes from an established line of TV chefs, of course. Starting with Delia Smith, where there was just solid, plain cooking (presumably aimed initially at girls who had grown up with unemployed ‘mothers’ who were challenged by a can of beans). Useful things that people needed to know, but nothing to really capture the imagination or really titillate. But it was the seventies, or eighties, which were from what I’ve read very similar. Moving forwards we have the evil culinary temptress of Nigella Lawson, who somehow manages to pack more sex into cooking that can be found if you use a Googler to specifically look for it. Catching up to the present day, the educated, expecting audience is treated to Miss Dahl, who sneaks in complex and inspiring culinary ideas with just a cute smattering of sex appeal to keep those of her followers who like that sort of thing keenly focussed (and some shots of a large ring to belay those thoughts; who uses their hands whilst cooking with a ring on?).
And talking of her hands, they get into everything. Butter is flattened, chickens lifted, fish cakes formed. The mismatched kitchen is in full force here, and as her fish cakes develop a “fault line” she happily says “it is what it is,” soothing those nervous audience members who have got their tiny brains fixated that all culinary items must be in perfect towers.
Indeed talking of tiny minds, she dedicates a whole episode to the joys and importance of comfort eating, and how to really do it right (for those who haven’t learnt this important skill). Bubble and squeak, cardamom rice pudding, soul-soothing chicken soup, tom kha soup and of course, perfect chocolate sauce. None of this nonsense about “I’m miserable so I must eat schmolz.” The girl even takes us to Borough Market, to help her target audience feel really at home.
To distract the audience further, she has a little literary break every so often, with Résumé, by Dorothy Parker, for example. Tasteful shots of London (sometimes with a seventies filter firmly in place) show her showing us how to enjoy our literature with our food.
In short, by dialing the iPlayer to the Delectable Dahl’s degustation one gets a quality BBC half-hour with a beautiful woman, who elevates one’s appetite, one’s spirit, and indeed one’s soul (should one have such a thing). Even if she makes the heinous mistake of saying cake making is a science (it’s an art, as if anyone needs telling).