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The Emperor’s New Omelette Challenge

It is my habit of late to conduct Saturday mornings at home to the tune of BBC’s Saturday Kitchen.

Frying pan

This is an hour and a half of television programming which, each week, features cooking by two guest chefs and by host, James Martin, interspersed with archive footage from assorted other BBC food programs. A celebrity guest is on hand throughout the show to chat to and to cook for.

When Saturday morning rolls around, I’ll fire up the television and keep an ear on proceedings while I make coffee and whatever else takes my weekend morning fancy. Inevitably, my interest in the show varies, depending on the guests (cheffy and otherwise), on the dishes being cooked and on the archive clips that are shown (I have a definite fondness for the old Keith Floyd pieces which have been featuring lately).

Two frying pans

I made a particular point of tuning in last Saturday, as the line up included Thomas Keller, founder of not one, but two 3 Michelin-starred establishments, The French Laundry in Napa Valley and Per Se in New York, and considered to be one of the finest chefs in the world. He’s not given to making television appearances, and you could tell that there was a mixture of excitement and nerves at having him in the studio on the part of both James Martin and Tom Kitchin, the other guest chef and no stranger to Michelin stardom himself.

During the show, Chef Keller was a pleasure to watch, neither snooty nor shouty but assured and gracious. Then it came time for the omelette challenge, that part of the show where the guest chefs are pitted against each other and against the clock to see who can use three eggs to make something resembling an omelette in the shortest amount of time. Of course, this has little or nothing to do with real cooking skills and everything to do with supposed entertainment. I’d expect that, with rare exceptions, the omelettes that are cooked are never eaten.

Frying pans

I watched as the clocks and frying pans were primed, and I couldn’t help but wonder if the Saturday Kitchen people weren’t a mite embarrassed at asking Thomas Keller to enter the omelette fray.The cue to begin what is usually a frantic session of egg breaking and pan shaking was received and something wonderful happened: Thomas Keller took his time.

As he carefully greased his pan and tended to his eggs, he explained that he thought omelettes were best when cooked slowly (and I have no reason to doubt him on that). When urged to speed up by a mildly exasperated James Martin, Thomas Keller’s response was simple: “I think we all have five minutes to make an omelette in the morning.”

There was a simple respect for food and ingredients at work and I think even Tom Kitchin slowed his omelette-making down – there was no competition to win here. “Today was about respect, right?” said Tom as he finished.

At last, then, the challenge had been undone, its lack of substance exposed, just like the fabled old Emperor who really had no clothes. Bravo Mr. Keller, I thought to myself. Now isn’t it time for the omelette challenge to go?

Postscript…

Better than any omelette challenge, methinks, will be this year’s FoodCamp at the Savour Kilkenny food festival.

This is an event where anyone with an interest in food and food production, from food professionals and state agencies to journalists, bloggers and consumers can come along for a day of interaction and learning.

The event takes place on Friday October 28th and there are 24 speaking slots scheduled between 09:30 and 15:30, running simultaneously in four different rooms. Anybody can register to speak on whatever food-related topic moves them – to get a idea of what it’s like, see my take on last year’s event. You’ll find the attendee and speaker list for this year’s event here and you can register to attend or (if you like) to speak here.

While there will be no Thomas Keller in attendance (that I know of), word on the street is that renowned U.S. food writer Colman Andrews, formerly of Saveur Magazine and author of (among others) The Country Cooking of Ireland will be there. As for omelettes, I notice that Fiona Dillon of Hunters Lodge has registered to speak about everything from quail eggs to ostrich eggs and about rearing poultry in your back garden. Now that sounds like a far more interesting challenge to me.

11 Comments

  1. Móna Wise

    It does sound like a wonderful event/weekend.
    Alas, with it being ‘all hallows’ weekend, the four kiddies have spookier plans for us grown ups ans we must oblige. Have fun.
    I love Thomas Keller. Have met him twice (once on my honeymoon) and eaten at his fancy restaurants too :0). He is every bit a gentleman..and artist.

  2. Daily Spud

    Needless to remark Móna, I am dead jealous of the fact that you have both met Thomas Keller and eaten at his fancy restaurants – I can lay claim to neither (not yet, at any rate). I can well believe that he is every inch the gentleman and the artist.

  3. Kavey

    Best. Post. Ever.

    I hate the omelette challenge for the way it reduces a simple yet great dish to nothing more than a facile time-test; even as entertainment it’s long past it’s sell by date.

    Keller is not the first chef to ignore the exortation to speed, and take his time. I don’t watch it often, but I’ve seen occasional others do the same.

    Respect to Keller and to you for this post.

    x

  4. Colette

    I totally agree with you on this silly challenge in the name of entertainment. I would ask why, though, did a chef of Thomas Keller’s calibre agree to do it in the first place. I am getting so tired of the raw mess served up every Saturday.

  5. Daily Spud

    Kavey: thanks lovely, ’tis about time the omelette got a little more of the respect it deserves x

    Colette: I guess that’s a question that only Chef Keller can answer. Thing is, they get plenty of chefs on that show who are Michelin star standard and most every one submits to the omelette farce (some more wholeheartedly than others). Perhaps the price of publicity (and the power of 3 million viewers) is measured in broken eggs and broken omelettes.

  6. Tracey@Tangled Noodle

    Thomas Keller in the house? That would’ve been the perfect opportunity to drop your regularly scheduled programming and let a chef who has SIX Michelin stars just do whatever the hell he wants… 8-D

    I want to go to FoodCamp!!!!

  7. Nora

    I’m an occasional watcher of Saturday Kitchen, and I saw this – and I was delighted by the way Thomas Keller refused to go along with the omelette challenge. It’s so utterly pointless – the results always look disgusting. And I don’t really like James Martin, so the sight of him desperately trying to hurry Keller on was highly entertaining!

  8. Daily Spud

    Tracey: …and I want you to come to Foodcamp! As for Chef Keller, I couldn’t agree with you more on that one…

    Nora: yep, it was entertaining (in a how-could-you-think-this-was-entertainment kind of way) as well as illuminating!

  9. Saturday kitchen recipe searcher

    I really like Saturday kitchen programme on BBC but I think the omelette challenge is definitely the worst element of the programme…you have to admire James Martin for actually tasting some of the vile results … I don’t care who the chef is

  10. Jenni

    And *this* is why I am in love with Thomas Keller. Putting the emphasis on the food. Where it belongs. Bravo, TK, bravo!!

  11. Daily Spud

    Yes, bravo indeed Jenni! I am truly admiring of the man.

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