food & drink

Spanish kitchen nightmares

If you are a watcher of Spanish TV (not many hands up!), you cannot have avoided seeing some of the myriad of programmes devoted to food and cooks. This type of programme is popular with viewers and always gets high ratings. But in common with much else available on Spanish channels, all of the most popular shows are clones of foreign productions from the UK and the US.

Currently we have such delights as Pesadillas en la Cocina, a duplicate of Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares. The theme is straightforward, and although always billed as a reality-type show, it is as much a work of fiction as any soap. A recent broadcast focussed on a country inn near Jerez de la Frontera, where the owner whiled away his days drinking with friends and listening to flamenco. What few customers came through the door always left disappointed with the poor service and bad food. So along comes our hero, chef Alberto Chicote, the worst-dressed presenter of any TV show, who proceeds to give the entire place a makeover.

Viewers are supposed to believe that the same staff miraculously reform, when in real life they would be sacked. But shows like this do not have time, so after our hero has worked his miracles, there is a big re-opening party for families and friends. Everyone thinks the changes are miraculous, and from that moment on the inn-venta becomes a gastronomic reference in the area. Of course once the show is in the can it is on to the next needy location and the fake 'reality' starts anew.

Digging a little deeper it becomes obvious that these programmes are completely set up, and while not exactly scripted, are not far off. There are countless cases where the unfortunate 'transformations' have failed dismally (check TripAdvisor a month later) but the worst aspects are the accusations by the owners of these restaurants that they were obliged to do things against their will. Chicote has even been accused of improper conduct for his comments to a gay cook. The message is loud and clear. Don't take anything you see seriously whether it's Ramsay or Chicote.