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FeaturesKeith Floyd - One for the pot

Keith Floyd – One for the pot

For a man who single-handedly turned cooking into entertainment Keith Floyd is remarkably modest about his influence on modern TV food programmes. He has published over 22 books in his career and presented 19 TV series, which are still being televised throughout 40 countries around the world. When I mention his incredible inspiration he modestly shrugs it off with the charisma that made his television programmes such captivating watching since he first took cooking out of the studio with Floyd on Fish in 1985.

His life-changing decision to become a cook came more or less by chance. “I had this remarkable experience when I was 16 or 17” he tells me. “I was working as a young cub reporter on a newspaper in Bristol and the editor decided to hire me as his kind of dog’s body – secretary would be too grand a word. And sometimes we had to go to meetings with politicians. I can’t remember who they were I was too young then. He took me one day to a then very famous restaurant in Bath called The Hole in the Wall. For the first time in my life, despite the wonderful food we had had at home which was ordinary food, there, suddenly, was French Country Terrines, Partridge Braised in White Wine, Coq au Van and all that kind of stuff. And I thought wow this is amazing!” This revelation at a time when a quiet revolution was taking place in English kitchens made a deep impression on the 17-year-old.

“I eventually decided to become a cook,” he says “and I got myself a job washing up in a hotel kitchen and started watching what people were doing and stuff like that. Then they promoted me to the veg and while I was preparing the veg I was watching what the grill chef was doing. And I cheated a lot because I would leave that job and go to the next one saying I was a grill chef because I was watching because I was interested. And I did every kind of job washing up, waiting, cooking, even in omelette bars, sandwich bars, in pubs, in restaurants. I put myself through an enforced apprenticeship for about four years. And all the time any spare money I had I was spending on cookery books and food.”

Keith Floyd grew up in Somerset and in his new book A Splash and a Dash he fondly remembers the joys of his mother’s cooking especially on a cold Wednesday in winter after a game of rugby. “…Wednesday was particularly special because when I, probably black-eyed, bloodied and bruised, cycled back to Wiveliscombe, I knew that supper would be faggots and peas dished up in a rich, rich gravy. My mother, Wynn was an amazing cook and except when she was baking her bread (which she continued to do until she was 85) or preparing her Christmas puddings and Christmas cakes in early autumn, she never weighed, measured, calculated, timed or bothered much about oven temperatures at all. She was an inspirational cook but moulded by financial circumstances that were not plentiful, and therefore the cottage garden and a degree of hunter-gathering were essential to her culinary plans.”

A Splash and a Dash is an effort to get away from slavishly following recipes designed to ensure that every item is scientifically calculated to produce a perfect dish each time. Keith wants us to enjoy our cooking and get involved in the whole process again. He has little time for the technical approach laughingly saying, “That’s the curse you see, those rules are invented by people called food editors – very powerful people who should be put down at birth. You see it on television programmes, these studio-based programmes. There’s some earnest young cook there cooking away saying ‘I’m doing Venison today’ and the blasted presenter of the programme says ‘well what if you haven’t got any venison what can you use instead’. And then these food editors say ‘yes but how long does it take in the oven’. Well, how long is a piece of string? I’ve got two ovens, one in my wife’s house in England which is electric and my other cooker is in my house in France which is gas, and I bet you if we set them at what we thought were identical temperatures and then put a thermometer into each of them there’d be a big difference. What I’m saying to people is ‘I think’ it goes into the oven for ‘about’ an hour and a half at ‘probably’ 200 degrees. People must get involved.”

Though his television career began after a chance meeting with a television producer in a Bristol Bistro he has little time for the slavery to marketing that drives much of today’s output. “You see, as bad as food editors for books, you’ve also got things called producers on television, and they decide what goes on. They think ‘help it’s Halloween let’s make the whole cooking programmes around pumpkins’. Bullshit! Let’s just carry on cooking as normal!”

He rarely watches cookery on television these days though when pushed he admits to liking Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. “My wife watches every cooking programme there is” he says, “and she did persuade me to watch Hugh, and I think he’s great. Of course, I don’t believe him at all, it’s television land but that doesn’t matter! He is, if you like, doing exactly what my parents did and my grandparents did and he’s full-on and very very proper.”

As well as writing A Splash and Dash, a godsend to those wanting to experiment in the kitchen, Keith has also recently published Keith Floyd’s Thai Food which neatly coincides with the opening his new restaurant in Phuket, Thailand on December 1st. He is also opening a new cookery theatre next year which is already getting booked up. He will be demonstrating varieties of his culinary world; including French Provincial Cooking; Fish and Shellfish; Back to British; and Mediterranean Cooking. He is taking this cookery theatre very seriously and has done a lot of research on other celebrity cookery schools. He says, “With a lot of these cookery schools, very seldom are the named chefs actually there. They set them up and put in good cooks who act as teachers. But in my cookery school, I will be there for every single lesson. There won’t be that many, but I will be there fully hands-on. I’ll be there from the time they arrive to the time they stagger out the door. I’m not going into this lightly, it’s going to be the best I can assure you.”

At 62 and predictably ignoring doctors orders to slow down Keith is keeping very busy. Apart from his other adventures he has a one-man show ‘Floyd Uncorked!’ – the life of a bon-viveur.

A Splash and a Dash is published by Cassell Illustrated, ISBN: 1844034461 and Keith Floyd’s Thai Food is published by HarperCollins ISBN: 0007213492.

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