All for the love of good food


Philip Harben introduces his new cookery show – The Grammar of Cookery – in 1964, part of ABC’s Headway adult education service

IT is quite a formidable experience for a man to scramble eggs on a television cookery programme in front of a studio audience of 50 members of a women’s organisation.

From the TVTimes for 19-25 April 1964

An august bunch they were and the most venerable of them said to me afterwards: “You did it wrongly. You stirred anti-clock-wise. You should always stir clockwise. I was taught that.”

“But why?” I asked. “What happens if you stir anti-clockwise?”

“It curdles.”

If this new series of mine — 13 lessons called “The Grammar of Cookery” — succeeds in releasing the craft of cooking from the bonds of voodoo, mumbo-jumbo, witchcraft and black magic, it will not have been in vain.

In cooking, things happen for the physical reasons that make them happen — and it is those reasons that I am analysing in “The Grammar of Cookery”. That is why we are using such things as microscopes, integral calculus, parabolic graphs and slide rules.

Philip Harben makes sure the temperature of the frying oil is just right before he starts cooking

At the same time I hope that no one will get the idea that in order to be a cook you need to be a mathematician or a colloid chemist, nor that in order to make mayonnaise you need a microscope.

No, the whole idea is to show how and why things happen in cookery. It is all basic bed-rock stuff. I wanted it that way and Executive Producer Lloyd Shirley wanted it that way too. A welcome change for me. In the past I have had to fight off attempts to wish on me every conceivable gimmick — practically dancing girls and gypsy violins.

Perfection is Philip Harben’s aim. Here, as he holds a slide rule in readiness, he examines particles of food through a kitchen microscope

This series will contain no new recipes. To begin with there are no really new recipes. It has all been done before. The Book of Ecclesiastes is right. Actually I think that there are far too many recipes already. Cooking skill is what matters.

Philip Harben tries another useful kitchen gadget – a special thermometer for taking the temperature of a frying pan

Yes cooking skill. And that means love of good food. What becomes of cooking skill when you have the deep-freeze and instant-everything? Isn’t it killed?

Well, has the theatre been killed by television, musicianship by gramophone records, painting by colour printing? Not so as you would notice!

I am not the best cook in the world, not by a long chalk. There are many far better practitioners than me (including you, for all I know). I am just the chap who decided to find out what makes cooking tick and to try and pass on that knowledge.

It is one thing to work out the rules — the “Grammar.” But behind the rules, in every art, there lies the active genius that mocks at rules.

If you are a great cook, madam, you are a singer of songs, a poet, an actress, a painter, a pianist. You are Callas, you are Cilia Black, Vanessa Redgrave, Laura Knight, all rolled into one. And the world is at your feet.

Or it should be.

About the author

Philip Harben (1906-1970) at first wanted to be a commercial photographer, but found himself working in a kitchen instead. He served in the Army Catering Corps during World War II, and had a BBC radio programme on cooking. He moved to the BBC Television Service in 1946 and joined ABC in 1964

1 thought on “All for the love of good food

  1. My parents bought an associated paperback from the series. Sadly it fell to bits years ago. Shame!

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