When a food critic turns the poison pen on herself

The Best Show On TV August 27, 2009

Filed under: Inane stuff — crummb @ 10:30 am


As it is with many foodies, Discovery’s Travel & Living is the centre of my universe.

It’s pretty much the only channel I watch, and I only hop out of it for cursory glimpses of the outside world during commercial breaks (or when that nauseating Bobby Chinn comes on).

Recently, I kept seeing this trailer for a new show called Willie’s Wonky Chocolate Factory, which looks like a cheap cooking programme fronted by this sweaty, straggly-haired Brit on how to make different types of chocolate desserts.

But just 10 minutes into watching the first episode last Sunday, I turned to my husband Z (who works at Discovery) and firmly chastised him: “Your trailer people did a very lousy job of selling this show.”

Because, instead of some throwaway food programme about chocolate , Willie’s Wonky Chocolate Factory turned out to be equal-parts documentary, tension-filled reality TV, and delicious cookshow shot to the same degree of gorgeousness as Jamie At Home.

It tells the story of Willie Harcourt-Cooze, a chocolate-obsessed bohemian who sells his house in England in order to buy a plantation in Venezuela to grow his own cacao beans and make his own brand of chocolate (“the best chocolate in the world”). So he transplants his young family to the grimy plantations of Venezuela, and spends 12 (12!) years cultivating his crop.

Thrown into the main narrative are yummy vignettes of Willie cooking a mind-boggling array of dishes using his very own 100% cacao — roasted pepper gazpacho, mushroom risotto, stewed fish in coconut milk, apricot injected roast pig, and a chocolate cake that promises to buckle any woman at the knees.

But his journey from plantation to the glitzy food halls of Selfridges is fraught with peril. In Venezuela, he has to contend with capricious weather, weird insect infestations, poor crop yields and a troop of workers waiting to be paid. Back home in Devonshire, he has three young children to feed, a worried wife to placate, barely enough money to keep the heaters running, and a constant stream of creditors beating down his door. This show is absolutely riveting.

I came out of it with this big question: Is there anything that I’m so passionate about that I’d sell my house for and live on mere subsistence for 12 years to fulfill a dream?

Sigh, no. Not even the pursuit of the world’s most divine strawberry shortcake. I’m the sort who can only sleep at night when I know there’s a nice pile of savings in my bank account, fat enough to cushion me against sudden unemployment or a Morakot-sized typhoon.

Which explains why I’m no headlining star of a totally awesome TV show. Damn.