Finger-licking good: My short history of sex in cooking television shows

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JEbQ5S-LHc8]

Only the other night gazing out at the opera house from Quay restaurant in Sydney I had the good fortune to sit at dinner with the new improved much, much larger than life Matt Preston. Not only was I subject to his advice on all things Myf Warhurst, his pony skin R.M. Williams boots and dressing-up box chic but his stagey sexy looks.

The look that stuck in my mind is when his sultry eyes gaze towards what should be a camera and while he sucked A-list chocolate off his index finger. What I can only imagine is a lot of practice in the mirror had paid off. Although I can’t say the earth moved for me, Matt later may have retired for a cigarette.

And it made me realise how we got to this point that food isn’t food on TV with out some sort of sexual imagery. Two decades (and more) ago food writing and TV was left to the stuffy, recipe writers and cookbook authors, dry enough to pucker the mouth up like a plain Carrs Water biscuit.

Food was twee, as were the shows about it. And not everybody had the high camp talent and hilarity of a Julia Child, who is being reintroduced to local audiences through the film Julie and Julia.

The British cooking icon Delia Smith may write idiot proof recipes and own a football club, but her TV presence is flat and she’s hardly a sex symbol.

Then all of a sudden food is sexy, perhaps even rock ‘n roll. Inevitably, Australia is influenced by the UK and the US, with mainly English shows making it to free to air TV.

Here’s my brief history of food sex as (eventually) seen Australian TV.

1999
The new popularity of food on TV is born. I’m talking of course of the cheeky chappy himself Jamie Oliver, styled with a naked double entendre and raw delivery style. Born on 22 May 1975, youth and his Essex banter were on his side. His dumbed down but appealing recipes have taken my mates, some of whom haven’t yet admitted their own metro sexuality, from Barbequing sausages to making Thai green curries and fresh pasta.

This is the same year that the final season of the enormously entertaining Two Fat Ladies show goes to air in the UK. They aren’t sexy but nevertheless are enormously engaging.

2000
Artful cinematography hides Nigella Lawson’s bottom on Nigella Bites while her sexy licking of various phallic foods win over the audience. Men the world over fall for her burlesque looks.

2004
Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares first hits the screens. Ramsay soon is stripping topless before switching to his dental hygienist-style chef’s whites.

Bill Granger arrives on TV, and is distinguished by his pastel tops and bright white smile. A year later his show is repeated in the UK and he is now seen in some 22 countries worldwide.

2005
The UK version of Masterchef, which first went to air in 1990, in given a new contemporary format but still isn’t selling sex. The would-be chefs cook-off in heats but don’t have to pretend they want to open their own restaurant as in Australia.

Gordon Ramsay takes his naked torso to the US with Hell’s Kitchen.

Meanwhile, food writer Laura Calder starts filming 78 episodes of French Food at Home which airs on Foxtel. There are enough glimpses of her low-cut top to keep the lads’ attention after the pub’s closed.

2007

Nigella Lawson introduces a new weapon of mass sexual frustration, what I’m convinced are specially dubbed in slurping noises created with a bucket of KY Jelly and a Wellington boot. The cinematography remains artful and we are still none the wiser about her bottom.

2008

The Chopping Block begins airing on Channel 9 in February with hard-boiled Aussie chef Matt Moran (who later makes a guest appearance in Masterchef). Moran keeps his top on and presenter Catriona Rowntree is distinguished by her selection of tight singlets.

Somehow it doesn’t quite gel.

2009

Matt Preston debuts with his closet full of cravats on Masterchef Australia, with Melbourne chefs Gary Mehigan and George Calombaris. They all, and several of the contestants, become sex symbols.

Women want to plant George’s face in their bosoms and fondle his shaved head. It turns out Chris is a love rat (I met his ex via Twitter). And Poh is totally gorgeous and appears to be a lovely person too (yes, I met her too).

Even winner Julie is given a sexy makeover, which certainly involved Photoshop and possibly an angle grinder, in Who Weekly.

Matt becomes the poster boy for Don’s salami and some of those paper super absorbent paper towels used to wipe up all sorts of unfortunate stains.

Channel 7 initiates its own national search among restaurant critics for its own sex on a stick presenter. I’m called to Sydney and turn up with a sock stuffed in my pants. I return home from the audition elated and with an unfortunate food stain on my trousers.

A few weeks later the news is broken that I can’t suck finger like Matt Preston. And to think I’d also been buffing my torso.

Who’s your sex on a stick on food TV?

Originally published on The Punch.

16 Comments

  1. Great post! Can’t think of anyone I would consider sexy.. I guess Nigella is/was (don’t watch her much these days). Oh, and Gail Simmons, a judge on Top Chef. I love the way she waxes lyrical about food.

  2. Certainly Keith livened up the cooking programs, but what about the Galloping Gourmet Graham Kerr ? hardly call him stuffy – some interesting (? well I think so 😉 ) footage below

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=popxjzoQaUI
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_jKnPo_GH9U
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SksGTMnPjH8
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d176AY_4gzo
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IiSM_6rQGCI
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fJQ82S2S3tU
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sJj_RK6ChE8

    Gabriel Gate had the ladies going with his French accent and Gallic charm, and hairy chest in the ’80s as Caitlyn suggested

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ApI1mYTFGpk

    or how about Peter (G’day) Russell (G’day) Clarke – never stuffy and dry – but maybe not as naughty as the video of his bloopers:

  3. What about the cuties on Ready Steady Cook?? I used to think Manu was hot (possibly shades of a girlhood crush on Gabriel Gate), but after spotting him sitting on one of those vibrating chairs at the Sydney Food and Wine show things have waned slightly. Shudder.

    Cait 🙂

  4. Hehee Iron Chef – I do think the actor who plays the Chairman in the American version (Mark Dacascos) is a bit of alright.

    As for REAL chefs – Can’t go past Emmanuel Stroobant! Tall, blonde, and with a sexy accent – meow!

  5. No Iron Chef?
    ….maybe not quite sexy, but seriously weird.

  6. Steve, I think you are talking Keith Floyd there and I believe there is a vacancy. Not sure about the wingchair though.But the grumpy bit and the wine sounds god. Planning a trip down your way soon. Be warned!

    Maybe there’s a show where I travel the country and get plastered with chefs after service.

    Chanel, I’m Googling them right now.Thanks.

    Hannah, Please do. Somebody showed me a clip of her “allegedly” drunk.

    Greggles, sorry about that. Promise not to tell too many more about Carla.

    Carladelvex You think I watch 60 Minutes? I think we all know she’s a cougar. The only trouble with Curtis is that he is as stiff as his surf board.

    Lindsey, just googling her now but am having trouble finding footage.Will persevere.

    Conor,would that be Iain is suspenders and high heels wobbling along Fitzroy Street? LOL!

    Penny, I didn’t know that was anAsian thing. My mum lives in SaffronWalden you know near his dad’s pub.

  7. Jamie Oliver with his boyish look, cheeky smile and his English accent. Yes yes… I am so Asian…. 😛

  8. What, no Iain Hewitson love? Ooh those suspenders!

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  10. Anna Gare from The Best in Australia is very, very cute. Not to mention the whole show being filled with innuendo and double entendres.

  11. Did you not see Liz Hayes interview Curtis on sixty minutes? …She was a freakin’ cougar…a cougar I tell you…

  12. Hey now Ed lets not give away the secret cooking cleavage that is Laura Calder – that’s sheer inspiration to get into the kitchen if ever I’ve seen it

  13. I could tell you stories about Delia that would make your hair curl. You really *cannot* judge by appearances!

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  15. In terms of women, I thought Tonia Buxton from My Greek Kitchen was quite sexy, I have also heard of the sexiness of Giada de Laurentiis from Everyday Italian and a dozen other shows.

  16. that was a very funny timeline Ed.
    I’m sorry that your footy sock wasn’t big enough nor your skill at putting a whole chicken drumstick into your gob to suck off all the meat not taken into account. I totally agree with the observation that the trend in food tv must have some sort of sexual display in order to make it watchable. Frankly though, it degrades its hosts in the process. Having done a small amount of tellie I was struck buy how much you had to amp up your personality almost to the point of cariciture or pantomime. I would take direction from the producer & see myself getting more animated & more over the top until it just wasn’t me doing the talking anymore. It felt weird & unreal.
    Should you decide to return the calls of the producers might I say my prefernce would be for you to present as droll, acerbic, slightly grumpy, unscripted, glass in hand, seated in a wing chair & not suffering fools gladly-reakon there a market for that?
    Actually this whole genre of food shows is ripe for parody, particularly the ‘City boy goes all River Cottage’ type. Are you listening Chris Lilley or Working Dog?