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April 15, 2010

The Delicious Miss Dahl: Melancholy and Bitchery

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The people are divided over The Delicious Miss Dahl. Criticism of its lovely host, Sophie Dahl, her show, and the BBC is being served in a merciless manner as is the British way (which can produce the most hilariously cutting jabs but in this case I'm highly sympathetic to the receiver). Foodies are slamming her methods and her recipes and the BBC's decision to focus on an ex-model amateur cook - she doesn't claim to be a skilled cook and in this week's episode even admits "I won't win any Michelin stars"- while others are accusing her of trying to outdo Nigella. Why? Because they're both hot and apparently that's not allowed to happen twice. Funny though, while she's being accused of using her siren ways the same people are blasting her for taking dainty bites of her cooked food and not going to town on a spoonful of rice pudding. Can you imagine what that would look like and the outrage that would ensue if she did? She's wise to avoid Nigella territory - there's room for only one lady TV chef who makes mouth whoopee to a spoonful of lemon curd.

But the most childish reaction was the sour grapes tantrum from Giles Coren, food critic and presenter of BBC2's The Supersizers Go (never seen it. He looks extremely constipated in the photo I saw so he might want to start adding prunes to his recipes for a good week and not make any plans to leave the house.)

According to the Daily Mail, in addition to calling the show "a sickening sham" among other expletive-laced insults, he spewed on Twitter: "She leans in takes one WEENY bite with her finger cocked in the air, and then you just KNOW she gobs it out off camera." Dude, did you really publicly accuse her of having an eating disorder? Beyond that, she's clearly expressed on the show and in her book how important food, cooking, and in her own words 'eating it' are to her and the ritual family meal times played in her childhood. To boldly imply that she can't manage to swallow even a bite of food she's prepared from her own recipe you've completely and utterly undermined her character as a person. You may think you know food, Mr. Coren, but as a man you are truly without taste. 

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And the rest of the brouhaha surrounds the revelation that the house, the kitchen where she cooks, is not hers. What? It's not? But I swore I saw Jamie Cullum's underpants tossed over that Cath Kidston upholstered chair! I always assume it's a set because where I'm from, across the pond, everything is contrived for effect. Okay, we all wanted it to be hers, how lovely would that be? And that's why it looked that way, because it's a set. It's a photographer's house that is rented out for shows and shoots. So those charming little recipe boxes with the handwritten titles aren't hers, nor are those perfectly propped counters, tops of cupboards (come on, dead giveway, who does that) and side tables. That romantic and dreamy garden out back? In our dreams indeed. But to become hostile over this point is just stupid and embarrassing.

And as for the popular assessment that Sophie Dahl is 'smug'? I don't read that at all. I think she's happy.

Here's the link to this week's episode 'Melancholy' which included two nice soup recipes: soul soothing chicken soup and Tom Kha (below):

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I love Sophie Dahl, usually. I really do. But this show is pretty awful. I just find it incredibly inauthentic. Sure, there's her lack of cookery skills (to me, this does beg the question why does she have a prime time cooking show) and watching her put a tablespoon of vanilla extract in something this week was a shock. I do a lot of baking, and I write a lot about cooking. She's winging it. I don't think enjoying food makes you a chef.

A couple of weeks ago, she made shepherds pie. Which she didn't try once. Because she's vegetarian. She has no knowledge that what she's cooking tastes good. I've tried to get on board with the show, because I like her, but she's losing credibility with me. She might enjoy food, but I don't think it's enough.

Thanks for your comment Sian. I can see your point. I love to cook but I'm no kitchen wizard so I wouldn't notice this stuff. I assume, but don't know for sure as I haven't seen anything from her on it, that the cookbook and the show are one-off projects. This probably began not as an ambitious endeavour to reinvent herself as a celebrity chef but a simple desire to share one of her loves along with her stories. And she's such an attractive package who wouldn't want to back/offer a cookbook and even a TV show? However, I can't see longevity for it as her scope is too limited with the comfort food/what she ate as a child, and as you say, her skills. I enjoy watching the show for the beauty of it but I have to say the criticism I've read has spoiled it a bit for me, kind of poked a hole in the dreaminess I am only too happy to buy into. I think the concept of the show is great if we look at it not so much as a cooking show but rather a nice time, though that may be an impossible task for someone who knows what they're doing, understandably. Maybe they can re-tool it for a second run as a tour of lovely tea shops - she does love her cakes! - sprinkled with Dorothy Parker quotes and pensive walks on the beach. Bless her, all of this scrutiny can't be much fun for someone who has no illusions about who she is and what she's doing. I'm curious to see what happens next.

I am super green with envy that we don't get this show in America!

The show is a similar style to Kirstie Alsopp's Homemade Home, but the difference with that was she had the knowledge to back it up. She also introduced other people and shops into the show and I think you're right - Sophie Dahl visiting tea shops would be interesting. Certainly more interesting than the format now.

Someone told me earlier this week that I didn't like her because she was pretty. A wonderfully misjudged statement; I've mainly been watching *because* she's pretty. It's hard to switch over. I was rooting for her in this show, I want her to be successful because she's so very likeable. And that's something I think Nigella struggles with, if you'll forgive the comparison. I think people compare because we need to find something relatable when we're faced with something new. I don't think comparisons are necessarily a bad thing.

I'd happily compare Giles Coren to a sleazy little weasel.

Sian - Ha! I enthusiastically and wholeheartedly concur.

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