Why the National Chef idea is a Joke

pict7163-lgMy 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.

Comments (40)

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  1. Paul Carline says:

    Excellent. Spot-on. My wife and I enjoy watching Masterchef but we know it has nothing to do with improving the health of Britain’s ordinary people, who are suffering from fastfooditis and a pseudo-scientific view that it’s all just “stuff” – that quality doesn’t matter. If TTIP is approved, Britain could be forced to import American chickens washed in chlorine. Scotland produces excellent quality foods, including many high-quality organic products. A government-backed and funded drive for even more organic farming and growing – including making land available at a reasonable price to new growers – would be a win-win option.

  2. Gordie says:

    I hope it is a Visit Scotland type post too. Makes sense this article.

    Not a fan of restaurants. We spend centuries in thrall to landowners and industrial employers scraping a living and after decades and centuries of struggle fighting to raise our living standards what do we do? With a few extra quid in our pockets we spend it aping our former overlords, the toffs by getting folk to be our cook’s, servers and cleaners.

    Progress? No my scene

  3. Darby O'Gill says:

    I can hardly believe this story. It certainly shows the priorities of the Scottish Government. I’m trying to put together a free recipe book to hand out at foodbanks using only affordable and nutrititous ingredients and our caring, sharing government are thinking of appointing a National Chef! Unbelievable.

    Contributions to The Gideon (Austerity Food) Bible are welcome. Full attribution of course

    1. Gashty McGonnard says:

      Please see my comment below. This article is an abhorrent piece of misdirection.

  4. Paul Codd says:

    Great article. From a fellow foodie, yes, we probably need to get a grip. I’d echo that chefs specialise in the eating experience, and while in order to fully satisfy, that often reflects a balanced and healthy diet, these are far from one and the same. Most people have no understanding of what real food is, and less idea about good nutrition. At best most people might drive past a field of some monoculture doused in industrial chemicals, but first hand experience of growing real food is few and far between.

    Encouraging and facilitating urban farming, allotments, window-box farming, aquaponics and especially school programmes that give kids muck under their nails, and organic free-range eggs in their belly are probably some of the best ways to give people the hands on learning about what real food is. Only then will they stop buying the factory processed agri-business products they currently think of as food. Although it requires a long term view, such a programme couldn’t possibly spend as much money as the savings it would generate in NHS expenses across a spectrum of conditions from obesity to cancer.

    1. John Page says:

      Well said!

  5. bigal says:

    Education?
    The last thing I want to witness is a selection of celebrities being employed in some unified effort to improve eating habits. Of course, one could argue that any improvement would make it a worthwhile venture.

  6. Gashty McGonnard says:

    What the **** was the point of this article???

    Yes, clearly, appointing a National Chef will do diddly-squat to reduce obesity or malnutrition. So What? You don’t appoint a Makar or Poet Laureate to increase the public’s ability to pen sonnets. You don’t appoint an Ambassador to Tuvalu to increase the public’s grasp of geography. You don’t call out the plumber to teach your weans to plumb!

    Has anybody (Rachel?) seen the press release from ScotGov, which I presume the Herald and Scotsman articles about this are based on? Does it actually say that the recipient of this UNPAID role will be expected to make tangible improvements to the nation’s dietary health? Or is this Bella just playing chinese whispers in the MSM echo chamber?

    There are many good reasons why having an honorary national chef is a great idea for a country whose tourism, hospitality, and food industries are important. So why has Bella chosen to run an article that puts a wholly negative spin on it?

    Yes, Scotland’s diet and health needs improving… but that’s a completely different issue. Really, wtf?

    1. Rachel says:

      Gashty the post is to promote healthy eating here as well. It’s not a Visit Scotland type role, sadly. And I have not put a wholly negative spin on it, merely pointed out why chefs are not the people to look to to help us change our eating habits

      1. Awizgonny says:

        “I have not put a wholly negative spin on it”

        Really? Where’s the positive spin?

      2. Gashty McGonnard says:

        Thanks for your reply Rachel. I may have been a bit too strident in my complaint yesterday… I was already having a difficult day when I read the article.

        If not chefs, who would you rather see as a public face of healthy eating? I reckon people are more interested in what chefs have to say about food what nutritionists, politicians or academics tell them.

  7. Big Jock says:

    Can’t see why it would be a bad thing. Especially as it’s an unpaid role. Not going to do us any harm and may improve Scotland’s culinary standing in the world!

  8. James_Mac says:

    Not sure the policy is all that important.

    It’s very difficult to know what to do with unhealthy eating. I find it is nearly impossible to buy a lunch without a sandwich, and fast-food tends to be very unhealthy. You could make a fortune selling healthy snacks, with natural sugars or no sugar at all.

  9. Stoker says:

    Great article, thank you, and quite clever combining 2 topics to put a serious message across.
    Two topics that most humans on the planet can’t do without, food and laughter. I agree 100% with your message. In a similar vein i’ve always believed that a quality cartoonist can get a serious point across far better than any written piece or at the very least will succeed in getting the message out to far more people than a writer. Quality cartoonists really are worth their weight in gold as are good comics.

    OT: Folks, a new tool for the cause has entered the stage, have a look:
    ( http://wingsoverscotland.com/books-on-the-ground/#comments )

  10. Cal MacRory says:

    Ikids in school, go through 10 to 12 years of education, what under pins the need for that education is what they will spend their lives doing post school.

    Lying somewhere between roughly and precisely, kids will be aware that what they put it study wise will determine what they get out, i.e. dole, doctor, painter, footballer, chef, game keeper, teacher or bus driver, etc. Other influences will inform or not inform, wisely or unwisely kids awareness, parent(s), relatives, mentors, media and peers, etc.

    What kids put into their bodies by way of food, drink, smoke or powder are another factors that will influence what they achieve. My old grey cells remind me I was told not to drink and smoke, but other evils such as food or drugs much less so. Times change, their are multiple factors why kids are fatter than they used to be, calling them obese does not make them slimmer.

    Building nutritional education into schools curriculum seems completely logical, in parallel there is a need to educate sme parent(s), otherwise thie cycle and life chances of those at risk will comtinue as the stattics would point to.

    That the SNP are going to drive nutritional wellbeing as a priority is to be welcomed, I see this dovetailing with with named guardians, if an eight year old is approaching twelve stone society should not stand by and watch silently!

    Prevention rather than cure!

  11. Tony Orr says:

    “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?”
    I think we might be related 🙂

  12. Kenny says:

    How about these for a way to get “ordinary folk” into cooking a bit better?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v7gmXnSNQQE
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1gwYcVCA8Aw

    😀

  13. Black Rab says:

    Yes, you need to get a grip on reality. Your article is one of a food obsessive, not one concerned about decent or healthy nutrition. Total rubbish.

  14. Tony Rozga says:

    Why on earth was this article published on here?

      1. Tony Rozga says:

        Because it has criticised the appointment by offering up ‘comedians’ as a better alternative to engaging the nations eating habits. Are we seriously going to discuss the nation following the habits or humour of celebrities regarding food? And I didn’t find the article itself humourous, which would have been totally different if it had been.
        If we want a nation to eat healthy then let’s get closer to food and it’s production. Perhaps a discussion on how the scottish food industry is skewed negatively by our agri-biz loving NFU subsidy hunters. Or how our massively unequal pattern of landownership has driven us all to the supermarkets.

        1. So you think that was a serious suggestion?

        2. As someone who has written and campaigned o these subjects for a decade I’m quite up for that Tony. In fact in today’s SNP manifesto there were some interesting promises in this area.

          This was one article that was maybe more light-hearted than some others that we often publish. I’m just not sure that your response wasn’t a bit over the top?

          1. Tony Rozga says:

            Yeah ok, my response was a bit serious looking back at it and I didn’t appreciate the light hearted nature of the article.

  15. John Page says:

    I am bemused at the negativity shown to this short, challenging and amusing piece.
    Is it because it dares to challenge an idea put forward by the SNP?
    Surely we are not in the situation where SNP Gooooood, Everyone Else Baaaaaaaad? Or have I missed something else?
    “Why on earth was this article published on here?”…….because that is what Bella does and why I make a modest contribution to it out of my pension every month. If you don’t like Bella, you don’t have to read it and you certainly don’t have to post churlish and unkind comments.
    John

    1. Thanks John. It is quite a strange phenomena. ‘I hate Bella and everything about it – but I come here every day to say how much I hate it!’

      1. JamesMac says:

        Trust me, they’ll stop coming eventually. Continually being called idiots in Torrance style rants has never worked out for the Herald. You then have to turn to shock and awe to get readers back, then teenagers in bikinis.

    2. Tony Rozga says:

      Wait a minute John, you can’t claim that a challenging article deserves it’s space. Then tell people not to respond/challenge the article and ultimately bugger off from Bella.

      1. John Page says:

        But you didn’t “respond”: you and others just issued rude one line put downs.
        Love to see considered comments/articles about local food supply chains.

        1. Gashty McGonnard says:

          John, nobody’s complaining about the bulk of what’s in this article. I’m quite happy to read about the joys of haute cuisine, or the need for better nutritional education, or the relative merits of chefs and comics as ambassadors of healthy eating. This piece WAS well written and amusing, overall. I come to this site regularly, because it publishes thought-provoking opinions that I don’t always agree with… and I’m neither an SNP member or an SNPx2 drone.

          But the article DOES build up a straw man and bayonet it. It presumes that ScotGov/SNP believe that appointing a national chef will somehow fix Scotland’s diet, and then it ridicules that notion. If ScotGov/SNP actually did think that, then they’d clearly be daft and deserving of ridicule: but there’s no evidence given that they actually do think that.

          Do you honestly believe that this article would have been published – here, this week, in this form – if it didn’t have some kind of an ‘SNP-bad’ or ‘SNP-not-left-enough’ spin? Bella Caledonia can have whatever conscious or subconscious editorial policy it wants… but readers are likely to notice, and comment on it BTL.

          1. Gashty the announcement states: “Scotland is set to appoint its first national chef with a remit of improving the dietary health of Scots”.

            Have you read my account of the SNP manifesto? I can only say that it is fair and balanced – critical but positive.

            WE do come from a left wing perspective, this is true. This hasn’t changed since day one in 2007. We don’t apologise for this nor is it going to change.

        2. Tony Rozga says:

          No john, I did respond, asking why it got on here? But it has now been clearly pointed out to me that the article was not serious.

          1. Gashty McGonnard says:

            OK, Bella Caledonia Editor, fair dos. I’m away to eat my words.

  16. tartanfever says:

    If I took the cooking advice of ‘celebrity chefs’ my health would go down the swanny in a matter of months.

    Just because they are chefs does not mean they are nutritionists, who I would argue would do a far better job of sorting out a balanced diet than the ‘get-on-tv’ crew.

    Food is not just about great tasting, inspiring, exclusive dishes – which is what chef’s recipe’s are all about. It’s also about physical fuel, the stuff that doesn’t taste so great but is necessary to aid a body’s well being. That seems to me to be the mindset that needs changing – not everything taste’s great but for your own health it should be eaten.

  17. A strachan says:

    Why the national chef is a joke.

    Why the named person is a joke.

    Why taxing Scots more to live in the same UK is a joke.

    Why claiming you are anti austerity and make people pay more taxes is a joke.

    Why making it a national police force is a joke.

    I’m sorry, I voted snp for the first time ever last year, I won’t be again

    The looney left agenda is doing them no favours in my camp I’m afraid, just doesn’t float my boat.

    1. Gashty McGonnard says:

      LOL

  18. barakabe says:

    I can only identify with this food-fixation via my own ritualized obsession with cinema & art-house film in particular; such ritualized behavior can offer us a sense of meaning by way of singular identification with one activity. Personally I’ve always been an advocate of Gandhi’s dictum of ‘eat to live not live to eat’, so I do find such food-mania somewhat bewildering- why for example does so-called good food become equated with high-culture? Why is it that people with no interest in Literature, Art or cultural ideas at all, yet someone with a passing interest in gastronomy, even the most philistine businessman ( who has the cash to eat in fancy eateries) is viewed as ‘cultured’? I’ve never understood this about bourgeois culture. Culture is not an oral fixation. Is it civilized for example for modern human beings to be discussing eating giraffes and lions? The UN for example recently urged for a move toward dairy-free diets: http://ucfoodobserver.com/2015/06/04/report-un-urges-global-move-to-meat-and-dairy-free-diet/
    Will we hear anything in the mainstream press about this? Not likely. And where does all this ‘great Scottish produce’ come from- shooting estates? ‘Culture’ now just seems to have been reduced a lowest common denominator of finance, food & sports ( or specifically football)- what is happening to society? Is it just a sign that we are all ascribe to the vulgarized utilitarian value system of the bourgeois now? Health issues surrounding food are symptomatic or a side-effect of deeper problems of multiple forms of deprivation & certainly not whether you shop in Lidl’s or Waitrose or your local organic produce supplier. Food is a superficial part of life or at least it should be in a society that has advanced to a higher stage of human development. If we spent as much time as we do obsessing over food as we did on human development we would much more enlightened than we are. This food-fixation with ‘good-food’ for me is just another form of the cultural philistinism of the “sitting-room culture” that so facinated the great Spanish filmmaker of the Bourgeois mentality Luis Bunuel- best displayed in his classic film The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972).

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-20836616

  19. Cate Devine says:

    The list of potential national chefs in my Herald story was pure speculation on the paper’s part. Nobody has yet been appointed, as I hope was made clear in the story. There are so many great young people cooking with passion that I did name – and could name more.

  20. Alf Baird says:

    Government is always setting up committees for “meeting four times a year to discuss” whatever and its always a total waste of time. (I’m currently a member of one!)

    The author is absolutely correct about the importance of the Scottish sense of humour; we would most definitely be home and dry with independence by now if we’d taken Kevin Bridges’ advice and opted nonchalantly for oor ane Scottish £Smackeroonie instead of Salmond pleading unsuccessfully to share ‘Osborne’s’ English £poond! “Stuff their English £poond”, that’s what we’d have said – “We’ve got oor ane Scottish £Smackeroonie”!

  21. Coinneach Albannach says:

    What we really need to make us fit is an Indyref. I lost 5 Kg and was as fit as a butcher’s dog by the end.

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