We’re used to seeing Sue Perkins on The Great British Bake Off, elbowing muffins and prodding soggy bottoms. But her new More4 series Cooks’ Questions sees her channelling veteran broadcaster David Dimbleby. Or at least attempting to. “I’m so in love with David Dimbleby,” she tells RadioTimes.com. “He does precipitate a profound sense of the erotic in me, I just adore him. But I’ve got none of his sense of cool, none of that. I’m just pottering around, sticking fingers in things, which I’m known for. I cannot stop eating.”
She certainly has a propensity to munch on her subjects’ ingredients… “In every programme, someone goes, ‘Where are my cherries?’ Then I run away because I’ve eaten them all. Or ‘Do you happen to have the white chocolate?’ and I disappear below the bench.
“It’s the best job on television and I make no bones about it. It feels like I’m Marie Antoinette in this show and I’ve got this great big banquet with loads of swans that I’m eating and all these people are just staring, dribbling and they can’t have any. I really feel sorry for the audience.”
But while Bake Off lends itself to jugs and sausage gags, Cooks’ Questions is of a more serious ilk. “With this show, I put all that aside because I’m so desperate for them to think I am not an idiot. We did one show where there were five Michelin stars around the bench so I can’t go, ‘Is that fowl, that chicken?’
“I think humour has to be applied in a relevant way. I take the rather rye kind of overview as I watch two chefs debating whether they should be blow-drying a chicken to make it crispy or hanging it by its neck and breathing on it for 27 days. It’s a level of intensity that I both appreciate because they’re craft people but also find mildly ludicrous.”
It may all sound rather complicated – the sort of jargon that belongs in the corridors of Michelin star restaurants – but Perkins is keen to assure us there are also plenty of tips for those of us not well versed in ballotines and quenelles. “Some of the questions are, ‘If I’m to master one sauce, what would it be?’ And you have a French chef showing you which I think is really useful – I’d probably spend three minutes of my life working out how to do that.
“For me, where the show is really interesting is where it asks, ‘Out of all the canon you learn when you’re a Michelin starred chef, what’s the one thing you think is important to pass on to lay people like me?'”
As one of the aforementioned “lay people”, I can’t help but agree. A trip to the set of Cooks’ Questions taught me how to use pulses and lentils, and to chop and make pasta, as well as an insight into chicken gizzards (that I’m not sure I’ll ever deploy…)
This is without a doubt a programme for food-lovers, proficient in the kitchen or not. “You can love food without being a cook,” concludes Perkins. “Equally you can love food and be a very good cook. Food attracts a kind of nerdishness like any other sort of passion and Cooks’ Questions is for those people who want to find out more.”