I’m not a Rick Stein fan, particularly, but he is certainly churning out the globe-trotting TV series these days, swinging around the world on a seemingly random arc wherever an interpreter and a backstreet kitchen await. His programmes are easy to watch, even if he is increasingly resembling Keith Floyd without the booze. Seen most recently in Shanghai, there was a sequence of things he sampled (notably ‘pigs intestine noodles’) where quite obviously he had to adopt a thousand-yard chew and turn to the camera to try to sum up this ghastly thing he was eating.
This is the lot of a TV chef, I guess. Gone are the days where a slow paced fifteen-minute piece to camera would be delivered with a glass of red in one hand and a lit cigarette just out of shot in the other, as a stoic Italian Nonna stirred a barrel-sized pot of pasta in the background. Modern cooking programmes have shorter segments, more extreme destinations, and shock-value meals produced in locations with questionable hygiene standards (or street food, to give it the proper term).
Having to pretend to like something when people are staring at you is something we’ve all had to do (I know because I’ve seen that look many times after cooking something). It can be tricky to pull off even if you aren’t in the loading dock of a fish market, surrounded by bemused local chefs tending to things bobbing greasily in pans of oil. So why do TV chefs put themselves through this? Maybe because to be enthusiastic about something somehow requires you to pretend to love absolutely every last example.
Which brings me on to smoked beer.
Yes, my annual attempt to see it for what it is (a truly historic throwback style, grittily produced by a dedicated – but growing – number of breweries) has again seen it for what is really is (unpleasant). I’m not one of the reviewers referred to by Mark Johnson in this excellent post – for one thing because I’m not reviewing it (Beer: Schlenkerla Rauchbier Marzen. Flavour: hot dogs in a blender). Neither is it a tick on a spreadsheet, or an exercise in masochistic one-upmanship. I’m not drinking it because I don’t like it, I’m drinking it to confirm whether that opinion has changed.
And sadly it hasn’t. I love craft beer, real ale, Berliner Weisses, American turbo-IPA’s and even shandy (there, I said it). But I really don’t love smoked beers. Nobody is asking me to of course, but I would hope the least producers of rauchbiers and the like would ask is that every once in a while I revisit them, and make like Rick Stein plumping for a local delicacy whilst carefully forgetting what part of the pig it came from. Look to camera, realise the expectations have been confirmed, and start to form the words ”Well, it’s….certainly interesting…”
Should we feel the need to like every style, and continually test this? Or just let some go?