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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.