Saturday, September 19, 2009

In Memorium: Keith Floyd, British Television Cook

Posted by Alison Gorman (aka Irish Alison)

By the time I discovered Keith Floyd it was sometime past his heyday on British television. Every Saturday morning I would get up early to watch the BBC weekend cookery show ‘Saturday Kitchen’, and it was there that I had my first Floyd encounter. In the midst of smiley presenters and oh-so-pleasant guest chefs would come an episode of one of Keith’s shows from the BBC vaults. He would appear on screen, rakish and charming, a glass of wine in one hand, gesticulating wildly with the other, issuing orders and commands to his longsuffering cameraman Clive. His shows were just as famous for their often surreal nature as for the food prepared; memorable moments include him cooking in the middle of a field on a South African ostrich farm, cooking an ostrich egg omelette, surrounded by ostriches. As the birds get more curious the piece descends into chaos; the ostriches overrun the field, the food and utensils are on the ground, the camera has been abandoned, and Floyd is off in the distance, looking fairly unperturbed and sipping a glass of wine, the obligatory glass one of the few constants in his television career.

Although he certainly made for great television, his importance to modern British cooking shouldn’t be underestimated; he introduced the nation to world cuisine, taught them that French food could be cooked at home, that Asian food was exciting and accessible, that garlic wasn’t anything to be afraid of. If Delia was responsible for imparting technique, then Keith offered passion. There was no editing in his shows; when a French housewife berated his food he translated her criticisms faithfully, looking heartily amused at her obvious disgust with his cooking skills. He would happily tell his audience that the BBC wouldn’t pay for expensive ingredients, so he would buy them from his own pocket. He flirted shamelessly, he drank voraciously, he swore occasionally. In an age when much of television cookery seems homogenised and predictable, Keith was a breath of fresh air. He played a large part in making it more acceptable for men to be interested in food and cooking in Britain; and indeed on one of his visits to the store Jamie Oliver cited him as his favourite tv chef.

Keith Floyd was probably the least professional chef on Saturday Kitchen every week, and always the one you’d want to have a drink with. On Monday 14th September, at the age of 65, he suffered a heart attack and died in Dorset, England. It is reported he enjoyed a last meal of oysters and partridge, along with several glasses of champagne. He will be missed by many, and it would be a shame to watch his passing without raising a glass to one of Britain’s true kitchen pioneers.

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