The original cast recording of ‘Suppertime’ from the old Broadway show You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown booms out as three old fashioned pedi-cameras pan across the studio audience. I smile, despite myself. The melody fades and TV Chef comes on.
They call him TV Chef. Not because he’s the only one, although he acts as if he were. He needs no name, the PR people tell us. He will redefine the genre. Take reality TV to new incendiary heights. Yeah, right.
‘Hello,’ he says in an accent I can’t quite pin down. Antipodean? No. Perhaps English, but travelled. He grins and I can see that he’s missing two front teeth. Well that’s certainly new. Probably difficult to convince anyone that it’s an improvement over the usual manicured dummies doing this job, though.
He lifts a frying pan and throws it in the air. (He insists on calling it a skillet. Must look that up when I get home.) Before it lands he spits in it and swirls the awful saliva around. It lands perfectly on the hob.
He throws a half dozen thick slices of pink meat heavily into the pan (I’m not buying ‘skillet’). He loudly guarantees that the audience member lucky enough to taste his creation will never forget it. I don’t doubt it. He throws vinegar on the meat and smiles as it sizzles. I hope he doesn’t spit again. He crushes garlic and adds that.
He finds a packet of boil-in-the-bag rice (announcing he ‘can’t be arsed’ making real stuff) and chucks it in a stained microwave which I hadn’t noticed before. Where did it come from? Doesn’t matter.
He asks for a volunteer. My hands stay tight on my notebook. He singles me out nonetheless. I descend the steps to deafening audience applause. I can’t stop looking at the gap in his teeth. What insanity led to this misanthrope getting his own cookery show?
He serves the food and provides me with a plastic fork, with which to eat it. I ask if he’s joking and he says he isn’t. I can’t very well refuse, although my stomach churns at the thought of eating any food this vile man has prepared. What kind of journalist would I be if I said no, though?
As I munch on the dry, joyless mouthful, he asks my name. I tell him and he nods as if he knew all along. ‘You’re a journalist,’ he says. I wonder if the twist here is that he combines mind-reading with terrible culinary displays. I’m not impressed. But I nod.
‘You work for The Herald.’
I nod again. What’s going on?
‘You wrote a piece last week about television sliding into the bowels of hell.’
I have stopped nodding. But still chewing. This meat won’t break down.
‘The hill greased with dire cookery shows,’ he quotes me verbatim.
I realise I’ve been set up.
He smiles, then laughs. ‘Impressed?’
‘No,’ I exclaim, ‘you’ve done nothing to impress me. I am underwhelmed. Watching this has had no effect on me whatsoever. I remain unmoved.’
His face turns nasty and he asks who Snoopy is.
The audience goes quiet.
I look him in the eye and do not answer.
Suddenly he is holding Snoopy’s collar. There’s a spot of blood on it. I look at the plate and want to vomit.
I wake, sweat pooling in every crease of my naked body, gasping for daylight that isn’t there. I call for Snoopy as loudly as my dry throat can. I can still taste his meat.