Sunday, September 13, 2009

Keith Floyd: Stirred But Not Shaken

I wrote on this blog in July about the tragic news that Keith Floyd – one of my all-time heroes, and the man who inspired me to retrain as a chef - has cancer. The response rather surprised me. I had little idea of the level of feeling involved, and from all corners of the world.

The legendary TV cook had touched so many lives, it seemed, inspired so many people to get their hands dirty in the kitchen, and Delia aside, vanquished those dreary, sterile, studio-set cooking shows to hell in a chicken basket.

Of course, Floyd’s stardom led to the rise of twats like James Martin and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, not to mention Jamie Oliver and Gary Rhodes. But it was worth it, wasn’t it? Just for one show of the bow-tied roue on Floyd on Fish?

Well, the old soak doesn’t think so.

He has described how he would like to “napalm the lot of them”, and his battle against cancer has, if anything, intensified that bile.

But it’s not the Valentine Warners and Hairy Bikers who have really got him down.

It’s the genuinely-talented cooks who swapped kitchen life, and all its treasured pressures and camaraderie, for the plastic, pretentious world of television.

Floyd – clearly pained by the monster he has created - seems far more hurt by the celebrities who actually deserve the title ‘chef’, namely Marco Pierre White and his former protégé Gordon Ramsay.

Okay, Ramsay has wealth and fame far beyond what he would have got if he’d stayed in the kitchen, but what has it got him? His reputation is pretty much now in tatters.

Floyd, 65, savages Ramsay with the highest honour kitchen sledging can muster - the very Château d’Yquem of put-downs - and calls him a “c***”.

He claims that the likes of Ramsay and White have been "seduced" by TV glamour, insisting "television is crap", and that the "w*****s" on programmes do not understand the "language" of food.

“Some of them are terrific guys and some of them are absolute arseholes,” he adds. “Marco Pierre White is an extraordinarily good cook, but Gordon Ramsay, who used to be the pastry chef for Marco, has gone on a celebrity zig-zag, which is why I call them c****.”

He makes the comments, appropriately enough, in a Channel 4 documentary to be shown tomorrow (Monday) night called Keith Meets Keith.

The other Keith is that oh-so-hell-raising actor Keith Allen, in comparison to who the scourge of the celebrity chef is but a flea-bite on the arm of a tattooed giant.

Why they got the Sheriff of Nottingham and not Johnny Vegas to present the show, I have no idea. The roly-poly comic seems to genuinely love Floyd, and often sits for hours watching re-runs with a can in his hand. “It’s like drinking with an old friend,” he once said.

But Allen it is, and after getting nowhere with Floyd’s former agent Stan Green, he eventually tracks down a frail-looking, walking stick-aided Floyd at his farmhouse in rural France.

Fags and booze are to the fore, and Floyd dismisses the modern generation of TV gastronauts as “a bunch of arseholes”.

“The ill-conceived idea that all these w*****s who turn up on TV are chefs is a failure to understand the language. People who cook are cooks, a chef is a head of a restaurant kitchen,” he says.

Although Floyd only mentions Ramsay, pictures are flashed up of the Hairy Bikers, Jamie Oliver and Rick Stein (who his ex-producer David Pritchard formed into a poetry-spilling ‘mini-me’ when Floyd suffered his own zig-zag.)

Floyd tells of his money problems and says his rambling farmhouse in Avignon is being re-possessed by his fourth ex-wife Tess, 42.

Allen, father of pop star Lily Allen, and general all-round gobshite, asks Floyd: “Do you get foxes here?”

Floyd replies: “No, but I’m going to.”

The pair are filmed drunkenly singing, very badly, at a hotel piano, but Floyd is no arse and soon sees Allen for what he is.

The next day over lunch, Floyd tells Allen to “shut up” before being helped away “to go on a sofa”.

Allen, who at another point is called “a prick” by Floyd, said of the wine-glugging cook: “He’s mentally as sharp as ever and just as opinionated.”

Since the filming, Floyd has had chemotherapy and five operations. He has also published Stirred But Not Shaken: The Autobiography by Keith Floyd, which is out next month, and deals with how four marriages went down the pan and the money ran out.

At one point in the book, in true Floydian spirit, he deals with the health problems that have blighted him in recent years...

“The banquet was in honour of some long-deceased French chef — although as far as I could see it was nothing more than an excuse for the mother of all piss-ups,” he writes.

“Soup was served, oysters were gulped and a whole lamb was carved by an ancient maître d’ who looked like a cross between Dr Jekyll and the Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Sweetmeats and trifles came and went.

“Bon Appetit! Keith Floyd enjoying a meal with a bottle of wine in a typical pose. Bare-knuckle boxing took place, port and whisky flowed as the night turned into dawn and I finally floated along the teak-paneled corridor to my bedroom.

“Later, I don’t know how long afterwards, I reached out a hand to press the bell for a steward.

“My mattress was hard, I needed a glass of water and what with the tubes in my nose, I couldn’t breathe properly. No steward arrived. Just a man in a white jacket with a stethoscope and a briefcase, from which he took a syringe and injected my arm.

“Strange, I thought.

“Morning came — along with a group of people who stood round my bed, talking about me while they pressed their cool fingers over my stomach. ‘How did you enjoy the dinner?’ I asked them, by way of conversation. Silence.

“‘Wasn’t it a great night?’ I said. ‘I mean, there was the port and the boxing, there was the whole baron of lamb, and then there was dawn. How do you manage to have such a place in what appears to me to be a hospital?’

“It was a hospital. ‘Mr Floyd, you have been hallucinating,’ said one of the group. ‘The medication we had to give you in order to keep you alive together with the effects of — how can we say it? — an overindulgence of alcohol. . .’

“It was unreal. The whole banquet thing had been a complete figment of my imagination. ‘You were suffering a nasty case of delirium tremens,’ continued the man, whom I had by now realised was a doctor. ‘DTs, Mr Floyd. We have played our part.

“Now it is for you to play yours. Drink again as you have before and you will die.’ That was a year ago, in the spring of 2008 and I’m thankful to say that somehow or other, I’m still here.”

I do hope he gets better. But even if he doesn’t – what a life!


Anonymous said...

john benson smith who?

Ann said...

Give me more! I really like this blog. Please keep writing.

theundergroundrestaurant said...

Finally a cook with style!

Anonymous said...

I'd kill to see Vegas and Floyd together. If fact I'd gladly kill Keith Allen for this to happen ;)

Douglas Blyde said... watching after your preview,,,

Christophe said...

Shame. Heard he died this morning! Man is a legend.

Michael said...

God speed Keith.