Just like fresh fruit and veg, good TV chefs are seasonal. Jamie Oliver is best served in summer, an ice cream on the beach with a sea salt tang. Nigella Lawson on the other hand is a winter speciality, creamy and coma-inducing like a boozy Christmas pudding.
For me, Nigel Slater always felt like Autumn: rain mizzling through kitchen gardens, wax jackets humming in the cupboard, rosemary and root vegetables roasting in the oven.
But the home cook has gone against type in his latest series Nigel Slater: Eating Together. Warming stews give way to hot chillies, stomach-lining suet to puffy ravioli. This year, Nigel is full of the joys of spring.
Admittedly, he comes out of his winter hibernation grudgingly. This global cooking tour begins with the very British dumpling, or, in Nigel’s words, “comforting little baubles of flour and fat”.
It’s only after this glasses-steaming hot pot of happiness that he goes looking for the sunnier equivalents. In Lincolnshire, he tries Nita’s pea kachori, gorgeous knapsack bundles of mashed pee and spices that travelled from India to the east coast via Idi Amin’s Uganda.
From there it’s off to meet a Polish man called Rafael who makes a mean pierogi – dough stuffed with potato and cottage cheese – and to Bedford for a taste of Liz’s fresh beef ravioli, a black and white photograph of her Italian mum wedged into the kitchen tile keeping watch over the bubbling tomato sauce.
It all ends outside in Nigel’s Flower Show-perfect garden, with everyone from the episode coming round for a warm dusk get-together and food from all four corners of the earth.
Nigel’s past series have been about lonesome pleasures: wet, furtive days spent hidden away in the kitchen concocting fabulous treats for unseen friends and family. This year is different.
“The series has allowed me to see the sheer joy and delight of being part of a kitchen where so many ideas and recipes are shared,” he wrote in Radio Times. “Not to mention those moments, many off camera, when our cooks relax and sit round the table, tucking into each other’s food. Talking, drinking, laughing and of course, eating together.”
Perhaps it’s not the food at all that makes this series different, so full of spring. Perhaps it’s the friends who share Nigel’s table.