Thursday, September 16, 2010

Real Men Jump Over Chairs

Cooking shows are a dime-a-dozen these days. Entire networks are devoted to them. But in 1969, they were something of an oddity. And none were odder than The Galloping Gourmet.

It was a syndicated program, and how the hell it got on Channel 10 out of Roanoke I’ll never know. Its programming consisted mainly of professional wrestling, country music shows and Baptist church services.

But at noon, every Monday thru Friday, this smiling British chap named Graham Kerr came dashing out of wings of his darkened studio and, after a few seconds of shaking hands and slapping the backs of his audience, would dart behind a dining table, jump over a chair (sometimes two chairs, Evel Knevel-style) and wind up at his elegant padded bar where a glass of wine awaited him…all to tremendous applause.

Kerr would then segue to some rather blurry film footage of a restaurant he and his wife Treena had recently visited – usually in Paris or Rome or some other exotic place – where they had sampled the dish he would prepare on today’s show. Kerr would then go into one of those lengthy shaggy dog barroom stories that usually ended in some sort of groan-inducing corny pun (“The moral is: Don’t hatchet your counts before they chicken”).

He would then bolt behind his kitchen counter set and begin the preparation of the featured dish and, this being 1969, it was usually some kind of meat slathered with butter or bacon…sometimes both. But the food was secondary to Kerr’s antics, as he cooked with a nonstop stream of witty banter, silly voices and, when the show was running long, a sense of urgency that bordered on the manic.

When the finished dish was finally removed from the oven, Kerr would retreat to his darkened dining room area where he would sample a bite from his creation with the smug, satisfied look of a true sensualist, prompting orgasmic “oooohs” and “ahhhhs” from the audience.

I was a schoolboy when the show first aired so, truth be told, I probably never saw more than 4 or 5 episodes. And that was enough, for the vast majority of Kerr’s jokes and naughty references sailed way over my head. But 10 years later, as a college student tired of Big Macs and Whoppers, I bought an old, grease-stained Betty Crocker recipe book at a yard sale and decided I would teach myself to cook. 30 years later, I have shelves of cookbooks and cooking is still a favorite hobby. And I’m not opposed to taking a few sips from my favorite beverages in the process.

I have Graham Kerr to thank for that. Sometimes we don’t realize our role models until years later. Today’s legions of TV chefs are great at creating healthy and practical fare; some are even entertaining. But none capture the sheer hedonistic fun of cooking - its soaring successes and abysmal flops - like The Galloping Gourmet.

Catch The Galloping Gourmet on Cooking Channel

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