TV chef Mary Berry puts the restaurant bullies and likely lads to shame

by Russell Brown / 09 September, 2018
Classic Mary Berry, Monday.

Classic Mary Berry, Monday.

RelatedArticlesModule - tv chef mary berry

Before the lads of cooking hit our screens, there was Mary Berry, who reclaims the genre for older women. 

Don’t be fooled by the title of Classic Mary Berry (Food TV, Sky 018, Monday, 8.30pm): it’s not a clip show, but a new series in which the beloved British chef demonstrates her tips for making more-or-less classic dishes. As if to make the point, the first thing she does is poach an egg (she uses the swirl method).

You can expect plenty of dairy fats, sugar and eggs with a few modern flourishes, but nary a clove of garlic. And, as promised, Berry makes dishes that might seem daunting agreeably simple. “Life’s too short to make your own puff pastry,” she advises. “So we’ve got some shop-bought here.”

But in a way, the series is also about reclaiming TV cooking for older women. In the era of restaurant bullies and likely lads, it’s easy to forget that the first TV chefs – Fanny Craddock in the 1950s and Julia Child in the 60s – were of the demographic that actually did most of the cooking.

The 83-year-old Berry came late to television: her first regular appearance was in 2010, as a judge on The Great British Bake Off alongside professional baker Paul Hollywood. The Guardian deemed the pair “the greatest judging duo in the history of reality television” and the British viewing public took Berry to its heart. Since then, she has presented a succession of cooking shows and even been accorded her own two-part biographical documentary, The Mary Berry Story.

Berry with her children in 1975.

Berry with her children in 1975.

That story is instructive in itself. Berry battled for a career of her own, first as a demonstrator of new electric ovens (the patience and projection of the professional demonstrator are still evident in her TV persona), then as a behind-the-scenes cook for food industry bodies – and finally as a cookbook author.

Her first work, the Hamlyn Colour Cookbook, sold more than two million copies – but unlike Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson, she didn’t get the rock-star royalties. Hamlyn paid her £162 ($312) for every 60,000 copies sold.

So what we’re seeing now is a talented, engaging professional woman who, far later in life than it would have seemed possible, became the star she deserved to be. And when, in the first episode of Classic Mary Berry, she flirts delightfully and persistently with hunky Swedish chief Niklas Ekstedt, 44 years her junior, it’s just another reason to cheer her on.

This article was first published in the September 8, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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