The long march of the British chef would appear to be at an end. Cooking and eating in Britain has reached an apotheosis of sorts, as Rebecca Meadreported in The New Yorker earlier this year. On television, in the newspapers, and on the radio chefs command more attention than the literary critics, the political columnists, even the passing Hollywood celebrity. Pubs, such as the Havelock and the Angelsea in West London, are now chiefly known for their food rather than for their beer (they’re referred to as “gastro-pubs”). As Mead writes, “For the past few years, global gourmands have been arguing that the restaurants in London are now better than the restaurants in Paris. There are even celebrity chefs. Food has become interesting. Recently, the gossip column of London’s Evening Standard, which is usually devoted to the tawdry comings and goings of minor nobles and pop stars, featured an item headlined ‘cheese shortage predicted for Christmas,’ in which a person described as ‘Britain’s only Master of Cheese’ warned that the country is facing ‘a cheese catastrophe.’ It was the lead story.” In addition, cookbooks swamp the tables of bookstores everywhere. What’s the inspiration for the food craze? Why do people organize their evenings around who happens to be cooking on television tonight? The answer, you might argue, is the notion of “gastro-porn,” which was excellently explained by Alexander Cockburnin an article first published by the New York Review of Books in 1977.
Now it cannot escape attention that there are curious parallels between manuals on sexual techniques and manuals on the preparation of food; the same studious emphasis on leisurely technique, the same apostrophes to the ultimate, heavenly delights. True gastro-porn heightens the excitement and also the sense of the unattainable by proffering colored photographs of various completed recipes. The gastro-pornhound can … moisten his lips over a color plate of fresh water crayfish au gratin à la Fernand Point. True, you cannot get fresh crayfish in the United States or indeed black truffles, three tablespoons of which, cut into julienne, are recommended by [one chef]. No matter. The delights offered in sexual pornography are equally unattainable.