JAMES MARTIN, the Yorkshire chef who dominates weekend morning telly on the BBC, proclaims in the trailer for his new programme that he has two great loves: Cakes and Cars.
This week saw the launch of not one, but two, new Martin programmes. The one with the most hype is United Cakes of America (Good Food Channel, Monday to Thursday, 8pm), in which Martin professes his love for cars and cakes and travels around in one to sample a lot of the other.
As programmes of sheer self indulgence go, it’s right up there with Wish You Were Here. Because we all needed to know what Judith Chalmers and John Carter thought of a holiday destination before we booked, didn’t we?
Still, the biggest surprise about this show is that it’s housed on the Good Food Channel. Given some of the cake-based TV shows which have made it on to the big five channels recently – it appears every chef worth their salt, or perhaps sugar, has rediscovered a love of baking – it seems odd that Martin’s daily 30-minute intake of 3,000-plus calories is locked away on a niche channel like this.
Think Man v Food but without the begrudging respect (if you’re a man)/sheer horror (if you’re a woman) at the portion size and you’re halfway there, only the level of conversation is much higher – a strange thing, given how utterly dull the banter on Saturday Kitchen can be every weekend.
But while that programme has had a lot of promotion, Martin’s other new show Operation Hospital Food (BBC 1, weekdays, 9.25am), is arguably the more important – and more shocking.
It’s the second time Martin has convinced a hospital to let him poke around their kitchens and try and improve the quality of food. I’m surprised a second hospital let him in – as he observes, he didn’t think he could find anything worse than the grim, grey grub (his words, not mine) which awaited his arrival in Scarborough last year.
However, silver-tongued producers managed to convince a Birmingham hospital it was the right thing to do. And almost from the off you’re witnessing everything that’s wrong about the NHS: Too many rules, too many quick initiatives, too much waste.
The patients in the opening vox pop generally pan the food. The staff in the kitchen aren’t bad cooks, they aren’t uncaring employees. They’re trapped in a world which seems to contrive to ensure the bland food they are told to serve up is delayed for as long as possible.
And, in a way only the NHS can do, managers absolved themselves of the problems by telling staff they’d be outsourced if they didn’t try harder. And this is is supposed to be an organisation all about caring.
Martin manages to spare us – so far – the Jamie Oliver-style “this wouldn’t be acceptable in a restaurant” style nonsense, because we all know that. He does, however, draw on experience of other kitchens to try and get the staff to do things differently. And he also draws on his celeb friends to help improve things.
Of course, time will tell whether a brief spell with James Martin really improves things. Did it in Scarborough? Are school meals any better for Jamie Oliver’s involvement? Is America fighting obesity after Oliver’s whistle-stop tour? Hmmm.
In the meantime, a question for the Beeb: This is devastating telly which begs many questions of government. Why is it scheduled at 9.15am rather than 8.30pm?
What I’ll be watching next week: Elementary (Saturday, 9pm, Sky Living): New York re-take of Sherlock is back with a bang.