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I hate to throw a snag in your fancy food fetish, but ...


David Campbell

Forget the TV chefs, just fire up the barbie and pass the sauce.

IT'S the summer holidays and that means it's time to fire up the barbie and get stuck into the Australian staple diet of chops, sausages, steak, mushies and onion. And a shrimp, if you remember Paul Hogan. The only fancy stuff is lettuce.

One of the many varieties of Lactuca sativa can add some colour to the generally darker hues which dominate a healthy pile of meat. A bit of green contrasts nicely with the red of the tomato sauce. Notice I said ''a bit''. In barbecue parlance this constitutes one leaf, not a forest.

Real food doesn't need fancy stuff. Real food in the non-barbecue season is meat and three veg, and as one of the veg is a potato there's not too much room for anything else.

Food is fuel. That's it, end of story. We eat because we have to and it's a pleasurable activity when in good company. So why has the simple act of producing a meal been turned into high-octane drama worthy of the Shakespearean stage?

I'm referring, of course, to the multiplicity of TV cooking programs, nightly excursions into competitive speed-cooking in which a mixed salad of aspiring chefs battle it out with flashing knives and flaming pans.

Cooking programs are living proof of the old adage that our eyes are often too big for our stomachs. For years we've watched assorted food fanatics pirouetting around pristine kitchens and conjuring all manner of foodie delights from a seemingly endless array of unpronounceable ingredients.

Then there are magazines full of titillating recipes and magnificent photographs of exotic delicacies. So we spend hours fiddling with ingredients and end up with nothing more than a kitchen full of dirty pots and pans. Our feeble efforts look like crud and taste like sawdust.

What's going on? Something relatively straightforward has been tarted up, garnished with all manner of fancy fripperies and topped with lashings of whipped folderol. And chief among the fripperies is the humble herb.

Herbs represent one of the greatest hoaxes ever perpetrated on mankind. Simon and Garfunkel have a lot to answer for.

Herbs are supposed to add piquancy, whatever that is. Rubbish! Those chatty TV chefs chuck herbs into everything and do you know why? Because it gives them a chance to show off their fancy chopping skills, that's why. They get off on all that rapid-fire wrist-flexing with those big knives.

So what happens in homes across the nation now that countless numbers of amateurs are absorbing all this TV-inspired foodiebabble? We'll be invited to a little nosh-up with friends and find a starched tablecloth, fancy origami-folded napkins, and our host handing around a menu written in code. And then the muttering will start.

''What's a quenelle?'' ''Anyone heard of capocollo?'' ''What's passata di pomodoro?''

What you'll get will be a large, nicely warmed, oval plate. In the middle, if you look carefully, you'll find a small lump of meat wrapped in ham and stuffed with something gelatinous. Arranged aesthetically around it there'll be some green foliage, a couple of potato slices, some eggplant and a few chips. A brown sauce will have been ''drizzled'' around the plate in decorative swirls. You'll assume it's an appetiser, demolish it in a couple of minutes, and then sit around waiting in vain for the main course.

Because what you saw on the plate is not what you'd expected. After all, you'd been told you were getting a rabbit ballotine in porchetta stuffed with a chicken farce and accompanied by chervil, aubergine, and kipfler slices in verjuice, with a side dish of pommes frites.

And you'll sit there dreaming of a sizzling barbie.

David Campbell is a freelance writer.

HuffPost Australia

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