Food heaven makes TV gold: Saturday Kitchen’s winning formula

BBC Good Food's Barney Desmazery on how James Martin and Saturday Kitchen have helped take quality cooking mainstream

Saturday Kitchen has become a national institution and its enduring popularity shows how food has moved from functional niche to ‘mainstream lifestyle’. Its theme tune is now as much a signifier of a Saturday as a leisurely late breakfast, visiting the shops or Match of the Day.

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Millions of Brits start the weekend by waking up to James Martin and an assortment of chefs and celebrities with books or films to promote, with the show competing with the more traditional talk show formats as a number one choice for agents. Meanwhile the memorable ‘food heaven and hell’ and the ongoing ‘omelette challenge’ are now part of the national lexicon.

It is interesting to look back at how much cooking TV has changed over the years. In the 70s and 80s it was the instructional Delia. At the polar opposite of the spectrum ‘Bon vivant’ Keith Floyd introduced the nation’s unsophisticated 1980s palette to ‘exotic’ cuisine like er… garlic. Into the 90s we had the slightly more pantomime ‘Ready, Steady, Cook’ but it wasn’t till the Jamie Oliver, ‘Naked Chef’, that we really saw cooking as mainstream lifestyle. This was taken to the next level with Saturday Kitchen developing a format that really works and has stood the test of time.

While Jamie’s shows focused on his skills as a chef and his life, the beauty of Saturday Kitchen for me is in how it has provided a platform for so many different chefs. Over the course of the past 13 years hundreds of hugely respected but not universally known chefs have been able to cook-up a signature recipe to an audience of millions.

Executive Editor James Winter (who, interestingly, cut his TV teeth on Ready Steady Cook) has a knack for getting in some of the best global food talent and if there’s an international heavyweight like Thomas Keller or Massimo Bottura in the UK you can bet they’ll be on the show.

James Martin has been skillfully hosting the programme since 2006 and makes the art of chop-and-chat seem like a breeze. As a regular presenter and chef at BBC Good Food Show’s live events I can tell you it really isn’t…

As well as championing modern up and coming chefs, in a nice nod to food television heritage the show has also introduced the younger generation to Floyd’s wonderful foodie travelogues as well as Rick Stein’s more modern versions.

As someone who experienced them the first time round and with a busy Saturday morning family schedule I watch the show back later in the day on iPlayer skipping straight to the parts I find most interesting, the cooking. Shown live it is the background to three million other Britons’ Saturday mornings, an astonishing number for daytime TV.

For helping to bring cooking into the absolute mainstream, and championing so many chefs we named James a BBC Good Food Great Game Changer at our recent 25th birthday celebration.

So here’s to another 400 programmes of waking up to food. And for the record my food heaven would be crab…

Barney Desmazery is Senior Food Editor at BBC Good Food

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