In Bourdain's "A Cooks Tour", he is none too complimentary about Ainsley Harriott, cringingly describing him as "..a grown black man doing shtick, capering and coddling an audience of bison-sized white women who, were Harriott not on TV, would probably call the cops if he wandered into their neighbourhoods."
After having watched a few epsiodes of "Ainsley's Barbecue Bible" on, of all places, Astro 552 (the education channel), I can only say this:
It's like watching the world's most horrendous train wreck. There's luggage everywhere, bodies strewn, a cacophony of chaos..but you can't pull your friggin' self away!
I swear, not even Stroobants painful pronounciation of 'Soup too-lang" or Martin Yan's dead ringer for that ching-chong caricature called Hop Sing on "Bonanza" have I cringed so many times.
It's not that his recipes suck. They look do-able, and he takes ever loving concern to point out that should you not be able to find that wild, exotic ingredient at your local Sainsburys; you can substitute something else..like MSG, I suppose
But the floppy hat kills me, the mincing and the Merrilee Parker squeals. I used to watch "Food Planet" and nearly die in ecstasy whenever she came on, cooking her Beef Burgundy and saying "Scrumptious!". Now, I've found out that she used to work as a food economist for our Ainsley and the fact that he uses the same tagline (albeit two octaves higher) disturbs me...a lot
Another thing that disturbs me is not really his own fault. It's the media perception that blacks are good for grilling and that's all. Rulhman's fine book " The reach of a chef" discusses the plight of a classically trained black female chef who was offered a television show..to cook 'soul food'. The racial typecasting still remains. Look at "licence to Grill". I pity both Robert Rainsford and Ainsley. I'm sure they would rather be making a beurre blanc or sauce velote but noooooo...we want you grillin' them steaks with a can of Grape soda next to you.
Anyway, back to Mr Harriott.
The kids dance with him. He dances around the barbie while cooking fruits flambe. I have to admit, he's better than Prozac. So, you want to watch him because you want to believe in a better, kinder world. A place where cooking isn't just a few ingredients slapped together, it's transcedent: it takes you to another realm of existence
And that's why I'll watch it again. Not because of his naff fashion sense, but the fact that he's part Willy Wonka,part C.S Lewis and a dusting of Enid Blyton. A touch of absurdity, a dose of naievete and a patina of a shadow like reality.
But Lord, I wish he'd drop the dancing.