It has been more than 15 years since Nigella Lawson first did publicly as many couples with plastic sheets had long done privately when she mingled food with sex. Even today, the goddess incurvate is remarkable for her capacity to take a kipfler potato and infuse it with the scents of both rosemary and pudenda. She remains magnificent. We know that there has been and likely can be no individual able to say, “I cannot eat lamb without cumin” as Nigella does and get away with it. As such, no one has been so foolish as to wed cooking with lust. Well, not until last Thursday night on ABC1.
I cannot be absolutely sure that Silvia’s Italian Table is history’s most disastrous culinary experiment, as I have never eaten camel—a meat, as the late food and drink writer Mark Shield once told me, “tastes exactly like a full Huggies”. But, we can be sure that this show is packed with shit. And not because its host Silvia Colloca fails to be as frankly, warmly filthy as Lawson—who doesn’t?—but because it strives to conceal a truth even dirtier than sex. This is a weekly half-hour instruction in self-hatred.
To be even, Colloca does not seem to hate herself. Nor should she. She is tall, striking and apparently lives on about a jillion dollars’ worth of absolute beachfront reserve. She is also able to fund tonnes of the finest farina and hectares of premium b-roll, in which she features, always in slow motion, often in a glorious Tuscan meadow and frequently with a blurry, ancient labourer hauling crops in the foreground as she twirls a bit of Genovese basil in her manicure. Such a tableau should be generally unlawful, but seriously criminal when it features a woman over 35. I am aware this may seem “sexist”, but so do whimsical flowers and withered straps of calico on the adult female head. Act your age, not your dress size.
Silvia’s Italian Table is a big old plate of spoiling ideology that nobody from this decade ordered, or wants.
These falsely confessional images that concoct a “simple girl” from country couture and expensive travel make Eat. Pray. Love. seem like a serious work of ethnography. And, no, Ms “Why Can’t You Just Enjoy Something Like a Normal Person?”, I’m not expecting cultural insights from a cooking show. Like everyone, I hope for one or two achievable recipes and, perhaps, a little pleasure. But, Silvia’s table serves up bitter poison between the carbs and the cutaways of darling-little-curios-that-we-picked-up-on-our-family-holiday that makes it impossible to like. It’s a big old plate of spoiling ideology that nobody from this decade ordered, or wants.
The “aspiration” here could not be contained in all the October graduate application letters to Goldman Sachs. I mean, shit. Is it truly acceptable at the ABC to offer pornographic flashes of one-off modernist architecture on Sydney’s northern beaches? And if, so, why? If you’re going for a “simple” show whose participants eat “real” food and talk “humbly” and fucking “bravely” about what it really means to be human-in-the-nineties, did you not think this might come off better in a dwelling whose access is not achieved with a line of credit, a security clearance and a high-end tinnie?
This show is not simple and true, but complicated and deluded. Sure, the recipes are fine, but it’s impossible to enjoy celebrities eating 10,000 calories apiece on a “simple” cliff top that few people in the nation can afford.
When Silvia isn’t wearing a garland in her long, amazing hair or sensually kneading dough-penises that recall the idyll of a bullshit peasant past, she is talking with Australians of note to a weekly theme. The format, which borrows as copiously from Annabel Crabb’s Kitchen Cabinet as it does Nigella Bites, might work to provoke conversation if anyone was permitted to say anything other than “I prefer the simple things” and “I believe in being true to myself”.
This show is not simple and true, but complicated and deluded. Sure, the recipes are fine, especially some atrocity called a “hand pie”, which I intend to pop into hot oil the very moment my girlish heart is lost to surgeons for good. But, it’s so impossible to enjoy celebrities groomed and costumed to the teeth eating 10,000 calories apiece on a “simple” cliff top that a few dozen people in the nation can afford.
This is not only the sour lament of a nasty old Marxist envious that she cannot cram her gut with that much gluten without spending the week on a rented toilet. It’s just sheer and market-based incredulity. All other lifestyle and reality lifestyle television programs have amended the way in which they frame wealth—even The Block is currently down-at-heel. That’s just the convention in mass culture, expressed by that early work of freakonomics, the hemline index: hide the good stuff in case the poor people get angry.
No one has told Silvia, her producers or commissioning editor that even Vogue has cooled it for the present with the tennis bracelet shoots, so put your jewellery away. Not one of these people is, apparently, aware that the phrase “check your privilege” appears a thousand times a minute on a Facebook feed. If they were, then this background of great income and leisure would be remodelled to accommodate our diminished dreams.
Silvia’s Italian Table re-casts its wealth as rustic poverty, its lonely cliff-top life as “family” and “courage” and “defiance”.
There are some eminently likable people, such as Magda Szubanski and Tara Moss, who manage to rot in Silvia’s kitchen. Marvel as ambitious conversation is emptied and filled by vanilla mascarpone! In episode 3, Moss, now a gender theory scholar, strives to make a point about personal narratives. I personally loathe this stuff about democracy founded in story-telling, but I concede that Moss is qualified to make the case. Silvia has no such confidence, so just keeps spouting crap about “family” and “table” and “simplicity” so that any good thought this thinker could produce is reduced to an insipid dessert.
I will say that it’s worth watching this episode just to see the look on Moss’ face when compelled by her hostess, so committed to the totalising force of pasta, to use a kitchen instrument.
Perhaps the only way to survive this cucina is to be nasty, or silent. Kathy Lette, featured on last week’s show, prefers the former. And, gee, Silvia made this easy. As she cooks, she asks Lette if her husband, Geoffrey Robertson, ever regrets leaving his former beau, Nigella Lawson. This is the sort of question that can only be asked by someone with as much practised charm as Nigella Lawson. If I were Kathy Lette, I might have taken my puns about fallopian tubes and decade-old Paris Hilton jokes to another network.
The show tells us the lie that unpaid, socially necessary labour can become a delight if you shower it in enough truffle oil.
Normally, when Lette makes a declaration like, “My work is to take sacred cows and roast them!”, I find it vulgar. At Silvia’s table, however, any reference to violence is welcome and last week, even the performer Lisa McCune seemed interested in the idea of torture. It was only when she was prompted to talk about her brief turn in a splatter film that real blood returned to her face.
The blood had begun to drain, I think, when Silvia asked if work ever got in the way of family, a question about as fresh as Harambe. It had vacated when she was asked “What have you learnt about courage?” The only sensible answer to which is, “How not to dive from this expensive cliff top and to my death on savage mother ocean”.
Silvia’s Italian Table is awful and it is artless. It does not manage to conceal its central avarice from viewers, and it doesn’t even make any rude puns about meat and “cumin”. It is alienated from its own desire and re-casts its wealth as rustic poverty, its lonely cliff-top life as “family” and “courage” and “defiance”.
It makes even the most farfetched Zumbo dessert seem like a more immediate possibility than these sun-drenched hours of leisure and calico. It tells us the lie that unpaid, socially necessary labour can become a delight if you shower it in enough truffle oil and that soft-scripted conversation is what passes for liberated speech.
This is a pre-crash relic whose single function is to remind us how much we love Nigella’s frank sale of the body on a benchtop. Sex doesn’t cost much. Desire for property costs everything. Fuck this show.