Brits’ obsession with cooking programmes hides a culture of culinary cowardice

A new study shows that while three out of four of us regularly devour TV cooking programmes to check out the latest recipes from our favourite culinary celebrities, an overwhelming majority are too timid to copy what our heroes do in the kitchen.

A new study shows that while three out of four of us regularly devour TV cooking programmes to check out the latest recipes from our favourite culinary celebrities, an overwhelming majority are too timid to copy what our heroes do in the kitchen.

Britain’s army of armchair diners may be tuning into television cookery programmes in record numbers, but it seems our obsession with culinary creations on the small screen is hiding a most unsavoury secret.

For a new study commissioned to celebrate the start of National Butchers’ Week – which takes place from 13-19 March – shows that while three out of four of us regularly devour TV cooking programmes to check out the latest recipes from our favourite culinary celebrities, an overwhelming majority are too timid to copy what our heroes do in the kitchen.

In fact, the study of 1,000 UK adults reveals that less than one in three foodie fans who regularly tune in to food shows put what they watch into practice. And even though more than half of us (50.9 per cent) switch on to such shows at least once a fortnight – with an estimated 320,000 viewers tuning into them virtually every day – it seems we lose our nerve as soon as we pick up a cooking pot or frying pan.

It is not as though we don’t need the practice, either, as the UK-wide study also reveals some alarming gaps in both our knowledge of meat and of cooking in general, with one in five adults (18.6 per cent) admitting to not knowing how to cook a Sunday roast, whilst three out of 10 (29.6 per cent) don’t know the ingredients for a simple cottage pie, with one in six (17.3 per cent) believing the traditional beef-based British dish is made with lamb and one in 20 (4.5 per cent) thinking it is made with chicken.

The study also reveals that two out of four adults (27 per cent) admit they can cook only the simplest meals, while one in 12 (8.3 per cent) say they cannot cook at all.

It seems many of us have some very strange ideas about animal anatomy, too. Two out of five respondents (40.6 per cent) believe that pig wings are a real cut of meat, a similar number (41.8 per cent) are adamant that chickens have chops, 39.3 per cent are convinced that liver has legs and one in six (16.9 per cent) are even quite certain that tofu is a kind of meat.

The research also shows that shame about our lack of culinary expertise makes some of us economical with the catering truth. More than one in 10 of those surveyed (10.6 per cent) say they often cook simple meals for family or friends but pretend they have been difficult to prepare, while a small number (1.4 per cent) even admit that they get someone else to cook it for them and then pass it off as their own work.

Where we live seems to play a role in our level of culinary expertise – or lack of it – too, with those living in Northern Ireland showing the greatest ineptitude in the kitchen as more than half (56.2 per cent) of adults are prepared to attempt only the simplest dishes, while East Anglia has the greatest proportion of people who are happy to admit that they cannot cook at all (13.1 per cent).

However, the figures do show some signs of hope for Britain’s culinary future as there is in general little difference between the cooking abilities and interest in cookery of men and women, while not everybody is afraid to try and copy their favourite cookery experts, with the survey suggesting that two out of five people (38.4 per cent) attempt a recipe they have seen on television at least once a month, while one in seven (15.4 per cent) do so at least once a week.

It also appears that shoppers appreciate and enjoy simple to cook, quality cuts of meat with almost half of respondents (48.6 per cent) regularly buying top quality sirloin steak, two out of five (41.5 per cent) opting for rump steak and almost one in three choosing cheaper beef joints such as brisket (27.4 per cent) and silverside (28.9 per cent).

Finally, when it comes to picking our favourite TV chefs and cooks – irrespective of whether we put what they preach into practice – Jamie Oliver gets the nod of approval from the greatest number of viewers (28.6 per cent), while Gordon Ramsey’s abrasive style appears to be winning him an army of younger admirers, with two out of five adults aged 18-24 (39 per cent) proclaiming him to be the food and drink king of the small screen.

Mary Berry - darling of the Great British Bake Off – is second favourite with younger viewers (35.7 per cent) and much more popular than BBC defector Paul Hollywood with all viewers, polling 18.8 per cent of votes compared with Hollywood’s modest backing from 6.6 per cent of all those surveyed. James Martin is the most popular celebrity chef with viewers aged over 55, getting the nod of approval from one in four voters (25.4 per cent) in this age group.

Rod Addy, editor of Meat Trades Journal, said the study showed there was still room for improvement in transferring skills and knowledge learned from TV shows into the kitchen, despite the nation’s apparent insatiable appetite for culinary information.

He said: “The popularity of television cookery programmes and the fact that there are now so many of them vying for airtime and viewers’ attention would suggest that we are a nation of food lovers, but our findings also show that the popularity of such shows is masking an inherent fear among many viewers to get into the kitchen themselves.

“There are some clear gaps in basic knowledge about food, and one of the best ways of filling them and building confidence in the kitchen is to seek advice from your local butcher about how to cook simple dishes, as well as asking them about easy to prepare cuts and joints that will wow family and friends every time.

“As such, we would encourage everyone to visit their local butcher during National Butchers’ Week and find out how easy it can be to become a kitchen god or goddess, regardless of how much time you spend in front of the TV.”