The Extraordinary Bad Taste of the Great British Menu

I’ve watched the latest series of The Great British Menu with a growing, open-mouthed horror. Not because of the litany of absurd dishes – burned food, ash and soil seems very popular this year – but because there’s some of the stupidest, most facetious plates of food being created in the name of celebrating the 70th anniversary of D-Day.

Every year the show has introduced a far-fetched conceit that is shoe-horned into programmes showing peole thinking about cooking, then cooking, then watching in lip-biting tension as Marcus Wareing asks them if their cooking is sufficiently English. Last year seemed to mark the nadir, when bewildered chefs were consistently asked if their food was funny.

This year they’re being asked if their food honours terrified Allied soldiers fighting their equally terrified German opponents. Which seems a bit like asking whether my teaching pays sufficient tribute to Norse gods – or whether the Roundheads would be impressed by my podcasts.

Leaving aside the notion of ‘celebrating’ D-Day – the line between commemoration, memorial and celebration seemingly blurred these days – how does one pay tribute to a bloody battle through the medium of food exactly? This year’s dishes have seen ammo crates, ration cards and shrapnel helmets employed to house plates of nosh. What japes. Why not go one step further?

“Adam has served his venison parcels in hollowed-out chemical grenades, with a side serving of gravy in a canister of Zyklon B.”

At what point does a pivotal moment in a war become beyond the pale? How about the liberation of Auschwitz? The detonation of Little Boy above Hiroshima? The carpet bombing of Dresden? The attack on Pearl Harbour? Presumably we wouldn’t deign to ‘celebrate’ these instances with a plate of saltmarsh lamb and samphire or a salted caramel creme brulee, nor serve a gigantic field mushroom rising above a flattened Japanese town constructed with burned edamame beans? Perhaps you think my rhetoric offensive – in which case ask yourself whether an entire programme predicated on exactly the same notion is offensive.

Is this an issue of time elapsed? I can imagine a silly programme where chefs from Lancashire and Yorkshire compete to see who can make the best regional dishes with a passing reference to the Wars of the Roses. But many WWII veterans are still alive. On that score would we serve a cocktail to ‘honour’ Vietnam vets called Agent Orange? Centre a throwaway food entertainment show around the Falklands conflict? First Iraq War? The Troubles? 9/11? Of course we wouldn’t.

So how has this one got the OK? Here’s how one foodie blog sees it:

This year’s theme is a whopper: the 70th anniversary of D Day. As such, chefs must create dishes that evoke the wartime spirit of the generation which fought for our freedom as well as honour the bravery shown throughout the Second World War.

Let’s parse this for a second. Food that accurately represents what dodging hot metal, designed to tear your body apart, is like? Food that accurately represents what it’s like to face down a Nazi war machine that exterminated six million Jews in concentration camps? Food that accurately represents what plunging a bayonet into the chest of enemy troops is like? Hmm.

There’s talk of one chef travelling to Normandy to the scene of the allied invasion; Frances Atkins retracing her father’s D Day experiences through her menu; and Emily Watkins drawing inspiration from her grandfather, a prisoner of war.

Asking someone about their experience of being a prisoner of war so you can cook some powdered-egg cake off the back of it? How can no-one see how blithely offensive this is? Here’s a tweet from the Twitter account of the same blog:

Would people who fought, killed and died on foreign battlefields care about the lack of dates on a dish created as a ‘celebration’ to their sacrifice 70 years later? My guess – and I recognise that I’m going out on a limb here – is that they would not.

Foodie types – those who commission these programmes and those who participate in them – seem to have come to the utterly mistaken conclusion that their work is in some way important. In show after show we’re showed meals that are supposed to be witty and humourous, produced by some of the most humourless, self-important and monomaniacal people who walk the earth. They have come to believe their own press – that putting a pork loin in a water bath is, in some way, worthy of praise.

It’s the only explanation for a programme where one chef asks another whether his potted shrimp dish ‘honours’ the combatants in a protracted series of battles in which 20,000 people lost their lives.

• Am I alone? Thankfully not. Here’s what Twitter makes of it.

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