This column appeared in the South China Morning Post’s Post Magazine
If there is a subtext to Rick Stein’s Spanish Xmas (Saturday, 7.50pm, BBC Lifestyle) it would go something like this: nothing you’re going to eat this Christmas will be anywhere near as good as what Rick’s been cooking up with intimate friends of his in Spain, where everything is much, much better. More than likely, though, this is just accidental, Rick’s enthusiasm for anything in front of him (in this instance, Spain) fetching up the default TV foodie prejudice: against you – philistine brute! – with your supermarket turkey.
TV chefs’ Christmas specials are now part of the whole pre-Christmas Christmas saturation deal. By December 25, you just want it to be January 1, or February, or Easter. Stein’s had a go at doing the whole thing differently, though, out there in Spain, with his lovely Spanish friends; dozens of them. “It’s just so blinking good”, he purrs, tasting one of the dishes he intends to make for 200 of his closest ones, in London. And he cooks a lot of food that does at least look very nice and good (you can’t taste it, see – it’s just on television): clams with serrano ham and oloroso sherry, lamb stuffed aubergines with moorish spices. But there doesn’t seem to be much exclusively festive about any of it.
I once sat down to watch a Rick Stein programme about the poet John Betjeman that turned out to be about Rick Stein and his love of fish pie, so let’s not dwell on the fact this one isn’t all that Christmassy, because at least the Flamenco music will remind you he’s in Spain; albeit “the Spain untouched by the hand of progress” and not the one with all the defaulting banks and riots and food shortages going on.
All of which privation would likely be more bearable than spending time in the company of either the contestants or the judges on TLC’s Ultimate Shopper (Tuesday, 10pm), in which four women are let loose in a department store at various intervals then come back and are told how ridiculous they look by a sassy Aussie (Holly Valance) who sounds like she’s just smoked 40 fags, an old plastic-looking American woman, a deranged Italian person and a male fashion journalist whose job it is to be even more horrible than the others. It’s the British version of a prime-time Italian show, which you can be sure is simultaneously classier and more vulgar.