Why I'll Miss Keith Floyd, or Who Was that Crazy Drunken Brit?

I first encountered Keith Floyd while flipping through channels on a lazy Saturday afternoon. I will watch any cooking show once, if only to glean ideas for future meals. Some cooking shows are irritating, with preternaturally chipper cooks who smile incessantly at the camera while cooing and moaning at their food as if on cue. In fact, some of these food show presenters do interact with their food on cue, which is what makes them so boring. It's the rare cooking program that harks back to the high standards set by Julia Child. The really fun cooking shows are the rarest of TV gems in that--in some small way--they are authentic.

"This looks interesting," I thought. "A dude cooking outside in what appears to be Scandinavia." It was Floyd, talking to the camera while preparing a traditional dish, pouring himself glass after glass of wine from a seemingly bottomless bottle.

What began with perfect mis en place and a good outdoor cooking fire going began to go horribly wrong. Having emptied a dish or two of raw ingredients, Floyd realized that his assistant was nowhere to be found. "Vlad? Where's Vlad?" he said. "Why do I have an assistant if he doesn't assist me? Very well. I shall have to dispose of the dishes myself." And so, on camera, Keith Floyd began to toss cooking detritus over his shoulder while continuing to cook his dish. Each item landed behind him with a crash, as if to punctuate his words. "And now, add the venison." CRASH. "Browning the meat is most important. A few carrots." THUMP.

Unbelievable. I stared at the screen agape, the laughter slowly rising from my belly. This was, in a word, brilliant! I called over my husband A. "You've got to see this! There's this guy cooking on TV, he's completely tanked and he's throwing dishes because he can't find his assistant!"

A sat down and we watched the whole show, laughing and salivating in turns. Thus began our Keith Floyd ritual. Nearly every Saturday afternoon, we'd watch every Floyd show we could find on Israeli cable. It didn't matter whether it was "Floyd's Fjord Fiesta," "Floyd on Africa" or "Floyd Around the Med," as long as it was Floyd, traveling the world and cooking in the local style. I'd never seen anyone so honest about his lust for food and drink, and so eager to share his love with the rest of the world. Yet in his brash passion for food, he was authentic enough to keep the cameras rolling right along with all his foibles and mistakes. (In this old clip, Floyd translates for viewers a French granny's scathing critique of his version of a traditional French dish. Classic Floyd.) Floyd was an intrepid and fiercely honest TV cook.

Aside from filming cookery shows, Floyd spent years opening restaurant after restaurant whose culinary achievements were as great as their spectactular financial failure. "I've chosen generosity," said Floyd. Floyd could care less about the cost of having water dishes for patrons' dogs and a special dining room for patrons with chilren. "It turned out I was spending hundreds of pounds a month just to give people occasional pleasure," he said. For Floyd, cooking wasn't at all about the money, but about sharing the sensual pleasure of good food and good drink. "I certainly drink more than my fair share of red wine, and I also smoke quite a few cigarettes. It's my life, and that's how I want it. So, cheers!" he once remarked.

In what turned out to be his final interview, Floyd was as brash, opinionated, honest and relevant as ever. He had this to say about cooking shows and celebrity chefs:

Some of them are terrific guys, and some of them are absolute arseholes... But Gordon has gone on a celebrity zig-zag... He's undoubtedly a very talented cook, they all are. But they've all been pretty much seduced by television. And it's the producers of television cookery programs who are at fault, not these people...

No one can make a paella. All they can do is assemble gastronomic lego, without knowing where it fucking came from. This ill-conceived idea that all these wankers who turn up on television are chefs, is just a failure of anybody to understand the language. Chef is chief! Chef du train, chef de la cuisine. The people that cook are cooks.

Gastronomic lego indeed. Cooking show producers could learn a lot from Floyd.

I'll always remember Floyd's gastronomic escapades. Floyd putting out a kitchen fire with great aplomb, while spouting poetry, no less. Floyd shouting at the camera guy to focus on the bloody food, and not his face. Floyd cooking a brilliant paella. Floyd drinking one bottle of wine and cooking with another.

Ah, Floyd.

We gastronauts miss you already. 

 

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