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1st March 2013

Delia Smith: food missionary or business mogul?

Eve Commander deplores Delia’s cheeky re-release

Delia’s back from self-imposed TV retirement – and she’s on a mission. Her new free online cooking school teaches her old gospel: for everyone to cook, healthily. However, when she announces this on The Graham Norton Show the muffins, chocolate gateaux and caramel sauces which whirl around on the clip of the first ‘lesson’ suggests she doesn’t practise what she preaches. As if that wasn’t bad enough, when Graham holds Delia’s 1970s book One is Enough up for the camera to tout its re-release, its plain to see Delia’s motives aren’t strictly charitably Christian.

Not that Delia sees it that way. When Graham picks her up on the food porn that’s just graced our screens, she devilishly says she’s tempting us with something indulgent before getting to the nitty-gritty. Even the ever acerbic Graham doesn’t dare challenge her for cynically timing her amazing free cooking school with her far-from-free book. A discussion of all the pretty pictures she’s added to help us now we’re so woeful at cooking has me split between whether I think our adopted Patron Saint of Home Cooking sounds like the witch from Hansel and Gretel or just plain patronising.  Either way, I fear this is set to be of a line of bizarre misjudgements, which has seen her dethroned from cooking queen with the common touch to simply out-of-touch.

Her series in 2008 How to Cheat At Cooking was where she lost a lot of followers. I wasn’t alone in being unconvinced that the ready sliced and pre-cooked onions and bizarre ‘cheat’ ingredients were the golden link that would allow us finish a hectic day of work and rack up a home-cooked dinner. A fact cemented by the disappearance of said items from supermarket shelves quicker than the time it took to gobble the McDonald’s quarter pounder they thought they were saving us from.

However, it was that (non-cooking) halftime incident at Norwich FC which really flagged up her deluded ideas about her relationship with us ‘normal’ folk. Descending from the Chairman Box to pitch-side to screech ‘let’s be having you’ at awestruck Norwich fans, it was as if she’d got some bizarre Messiah complex (which is not such an outrageous accusation when you learn that she has written several religious books.) However, it was less Jesus descending from heaven to the masses, rather a mockney transformation into Peggy Mitchell.

In fact, a look at her website suggests she moved herself from the mortal sphere altogether. Its clinical white lines and her pristine photo almost convince me that I’ve navigated to a page for a dental clinic. When we’re invited to save money with their coupons it seems like she’s reconciled herself to the fact she’s no longer a human being but an industry. What more evidence do we need that she’s left the common cooking touch behind than the fact, despite she’s trying to get us to cook, she chose to re-release a book rather than cook up a couple of new recipes?

I would like to view her re-release not as a cynical money-grabbing scheme, but a kind of prodigal return to those good old days when she supplied us with dense books of ‘no-nonsense’ recipes. There’s a lot to like about the old Delia: leaving school with no qualifications, she’s worked hard to become the UK’s bestselling cookery author. As co-chair of Norwich FC she’s an upstanding female in a male world. Whilst an ethical approach to food seems like an after-thought to Gordon Ramsay’s bombastic Hell’s Kitchen cooking, ever since her first show, Delia has been trying to preach a food gospel.

However, it was Delia the cynical business mogul rather than Delia the misguided food missionary sat on Graham Norton’s sofa. Whilst the cooking school looks like she’s been called back to the public sphere to fulfil a food mission, Delia’s re-release suggests she back for the material gain: she’s merely hedging her bets and cashing in her former glory.

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