Why the National Chef idea is a Joke
My name is Rachel and I am a restaurant obsessive. While you may use your spare time in online lust pouring over motorbikes, cars, shoes or even dreaming of a better Scotland, I look at restaurant menus, Instagram feeds of chefs and restaurant goers, online reviews and Twitter feeds. If you are saving up all of your spare cash to go on holiday to Florida with your children, I am scrimping every penny for my next meal out and before I get there, I know the menu off by heart, I know how all the food looks on Instagram and I am probably following the chef online.
Such is my obsession with restaurants that I tend to only visit them with fellow sufferers. Going out with a ‘normal person’ (I.e. Almost all of the rest of the world) makes me nervous. Will they understand we can’t order the same thing? Will they want to share? Will they order soup and a well done steak and cause me to die of shame? Do I need to get a grip?
Invariably because of this most of my restaurant going friends are chefs, suppliers to chefs or fellow food writers. We understand how to order, we understand the silence that needs to descend on the first bite of a meal and how it then needs to be described, we think a twenty minute conversation about how no one eats lion, but a giraffe might be edible, is a normal decent dinner table conversation.
Yesterday we were greeted with the news that Scotland will be appointing an unpaid national chef if the SNP win the next election. The considered list is a who’s who of the top chefs with the best restaurants in Scotland. They are people who know more than anyone about high end food in this country. At the top of their game they probably spend 18 hours days in artificially lit rooms with some of the best produce this country can offer, making beautiful food that tastes amazing for people either rich enough or obsessed enough to pay the high prices that such a business model demands.
They all own restaurants whose menus I know off by heart, I know their restaurant’s Instagram feeds and I follow most of them online. If the national chef of Scotland is a promotional post, helping Scotland’s tourist industry sell itself as a food destination then any one of them will do a magnificent job. If it’s to get you and the rest of the nation to eat better, then the post is a total waste of time.
The only thing a chef like that has in common with a person like you, when it comes to cooking food, is that you both apply heat to something edible. I know amazing chefs whose restaurants I love who have not been inside a supermarket for food in nearly a decade. They work six days a week in a kitchen and, on the rare occasion they manage to cook something at home, take their supplies with them. Other chefs I know have domestic kitchens covered in dust as they eat out on their days off to know what is going on in the restaurant world around them. If they have families someone else does the day to day cooking, not them.
Scotland has an obesity epidemic and massive health issues due to bad diet, less of us are cooking, our portions are too big, we eat too many chips, we drink far too much alcohol. Chefs have no idea how to change this. We think they might do as we see the celebrity ones on Britsh telly with big campaigns generally lasting as long as the series does, but everything just gets worse despite all the hype and PR.
The recently set up Scottish Food Commision was given the Herculean task of meeting four times a year to discuss how to improve the nation’s health and eating habits. It is telling that while it is chaired by a chef, Shirley Spear of the 3 Chimneys in Skye, the rest of the panel are from a wide background of various disciplines, none of them being chefs. I imagine that Shirley’s business acumen and success at helping turn Skye into a food Mecca is of greater use on this panel than her ability, admirable as it is, to cook beautiful expensive food and put it on a plate.
If we want to become healthier we do need to change radically as a culture, ordinary people need to glory in going outdoors and being healthy rather than celebrate their ability to eat an entire cold munchie box with a hangover (I’ve only ever managed half) and chefs showing us how to cook or food writers berating supermarkets and ordering us all to cook proper food at home isn’t going to change that. If we really want to kick start a change in our food culture, then we need to ask the people recognisable to most Scots, we need to ask people who most of us know and listen to. The professionals we really need on board with this are our comedians.
If being healthy and taking care of ourselves could be turned into a laugh, we would do it. Frankie Boyle, Kevin Bridges, Elaine C Smith or Janey Godley have a far better chance of turning this country’s health issues round than any top ranking Scottish chef, for a start far more Scots know who they are than they do Scotland’s top four chefs.
Comedians are more likely to shop like you, cook like you, try and do a bit of exercise like you than someone spending 18 hours a day surrounded by aluminium surfaces and co workers in white jackets.
Maybe the unpaid post should be Scotland’s National Jester, a post charged with making us laugh at ourselves while making healthy funny.
The preaching and persuading hasn’t worked at all, maybe laughter would.