Cooking with Jane
By Deborah Yaffe, Nov 3 2016 01:00PM
Here’s another item to add to the list of contemporary cultural phenomena that have now been given a Jane Austen twist: TV reality cooking shows.
My Kitchen Rules UK, the British version of a wildly popular Australian program, pits two-person teams against each other in a cook-off with a £10,000 prize. Each team must cook a three-course meal in a home kitchen and serve it, in the style of a pop-up restaurant, not only to the judges – a Michelin-starred chef and a famous food writer – but also, in a peculiar twist, to the members of the three teams competing against them.
Although the judges’ opinions weigh more heavily, the competitors’ evaluations are also taken into account. Maybe Brits are more honest and less cutthroat than Americans, who would assuredly tank everyone else’s score without giving it a thought. (We’ll find out next year, when Fox launches its own version, featuring has-been celebrities.)
The Janeite episode of My Kitchen Rules UK (episode #11 – view it here or here) aired last month: the team of Catherine Grassi and Debbie Spencer-Jones, longtime friends from Hampshire, named their pop-up restaurant “Persuasion” and presented allegedly Austen-inspired cuisine. Their menu – watercress soup, venison fillets, potato and celeriac gratin, rhubarb with potted custard -- showcased Hampshire produce and was served on heirloom china in a charming country home.
Janeites will realize that pretty much nothing about this menu, except the Hampshire part, has anything to do with Jane Austen. But never mind. “We’ve gone for Regency glamor here tonight,” Debbie told her guests.
Catherine and Debbie – spoiler alert! – won their division of My Kitchen Rules UK, as I discovered by browsing later episodes online. If I understand the game’s rules correctly, they will have competed last night in a semi-final, so our UK friends presumably know if they’ve survived to cook another day. And whether Hartfield pork and Donwell Abbey apples were on the menu this time.
Well, let's cut them some slack on the venison: JA mentions having eaten it with Capt. and Mrs. FA in Letter 145. "Our day at Alton was very pleasant--Venison quite right--Children well-behaved..."
Besides, I'd be delighted to ship over a few of the deer that have been ravaging our gardens on my street for the past several years. Scrawny U.S. Eastern white-taileds might not be a match for Mrs. Bennet's "fat...haunch," but I could certainly make up in quantity for what might be lacking in quality.
Ah, you know the letters much better than I do -- good work on spotting that venison! We could send along some roadkill from our neck of the woods, too. . .