It’s not often that cooking and politics cross paths. When you spend your days trying to be as family friendly as possible on The Food Network, it doesn’t normally pay to start pressing buttons. The fate of fallen stars like Paula Deen shows exactly what can happen if you let slip that there’s more to you than deep frying and cake baking. Most would rather remain neutral. Ultimately, who can blame them?
Unfortunately for the rich and famous who would rather keep calm and carry on, we do not live in normal times. Politics is more polarised than ever, making people who would really be much happier telling us about how to cook the perfect apple pie pick a side. It might be uncomfortable, but sitting on the fence no longer cuts the mustard. Battle lines must be drawn.
This is especially true in America. The election of a Twitter-literate satsuma to the White House has made having an opinion mandatory, wherever you happen to work. For the first time, liberal or conservative celebrity cooks are forced to confront audiences who may have drastically different political leanings, making your choice of food program as potentially politically charged as a debate on CNN. Gone are the days of relaxing with Rachael Ray.
This new reality for celebrity cooks was perfectly encapsulated last week by the enigmatic and eternally popular Ina Garten. Having written dozens of best selling cookbooks and presented thousands of hours of prime comfort food viewing, you might think that Garten had earned the right to avoid a politically charged interrogation. But, in times like these, even the Barefoot Contessa creator can’t get away with being non committal.
At an event to publicise her latest cookbook, “Cook Like a Pro: Recipes and Tips for Home Cooks”, Garten dipped a debut toe into inevitably choppy political waters. In an in depth and wide ranging interview with New York Times critic and commentator Frank Bruni, she was asked what she would serve some famous figures in the American political landscape. The answers have placed her firmly in one camp over the other.
The questions and answers were, initially at least, fairly routine. Garten revealed that she would serve Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren a hearty bowl of “lobster macaroni and cheese”. Democratic senate hopeful Beto O’Rourke would be on the receiving end of “pulled pork shoulder with maple beans, cornbread and a kale salad”, while former VP Joe Biden would be lucky enough to enjoy “something fun, like a lobster and clambake”. All fairly above board and inoffensive answers. And then conversation turned to the current President.
When Bruni asked what she would most like to serve Donald Trump for dinner, Garten quickly retorted, “A subpoena”, referencing the President’s long list of legally dubious wrong-doing. According to “Eater”, the live audience greeted the answer with “a roar”. It looks like the Republicans are going to have to deal with Barefoot Contessa fans, as well as Special Counsel Robert Mueller, in the near future.
As evidenced by the lack of commentary on most cooking shows, it takes a lot to rouse a cook from their default state of political torpur. Clearly, for Ina Garten at least, things have reached a breaking point. If even the cooks are turning against him, one has to wonder what hope Trump has left.