Delia Smith, Grilled

Poor Delia Smith. The British TV chef who’s best known for teaching the UK the basics of cooking must have been inspired by the success of American chefs who cut corners by making semi-homemade food or doctoring cake mixes.

Her latest BBC television show is How to Cheat at Cooking, and everybody hates her for it. The recipes in the show and the accompanying book use ingredients like frozen mash (that’s frozen mashed potatoes on this side of the pond) and tinned mince (ground meat in a can, near as I can figure) to shortcut traditional recipes, and British foodies are crying foul.

In an attempt to get to the bottom of the controversy, the Guardian pulled together a panel of experts, including a school dinner cook, a few chefs, and assorted food writers, to taste test some of the recipes. This wasn’t an easy task, since Smith’s show has created a run on items like prepared potato rostis (“we had to get the McCain potato rostis for the Shortcut Omelette Savoyard couriered—couriered!—from McCain in Scarborough”) and frozen mushroom risotto. But the larger problem was the way the recipes actually tasted:

‘This,’ remarks Giles [Coren, columnist and restaurant critic] kindly, ‘is like having a pig piss in your throat. It tastes of freezer and plastic. I don’t understand. If you can’t cook and you can’t afford to go out, eat a cheese sandwich.

Still, Smith does have her defenders. Not everybody, notes Nicholas Clee in Britain’s New Statesman, has time to cook from scratch, and stock cubes, canned beans, pregrated cheese, and precut vegetables can help the time-pressed eat somewhat healthy meals.

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