Cookery programmes are so en vogue these days that the next version of CSI will probably be set in a kitchen and star Gordon Ramsey as a cantankerous forensic chef who fights crime while whipping up a nice batch of houmous.
But one thing they all have in common is that they’re set in the present. They cook modern, interesting grub like cheesecakes, sushi, bone marrow mash and endless balsamic reductions.
In fact, if you watch Heston Blumenthal it’s not so much modern as space age: he makes ice cream with liquid nitrogen, then covers it with a nice quark-gluon plasma made in his own personal hadron collider.
The good thing about Supersizers is that it puts all these other programmes in context by delving into the past. You feel like you’re learning something new as posh-boy Times columnist Giles Coren and Tellysquawks (read: my) favourite Sue Perkins explore the food of a bygone era, but crucially you’re also entertained by the fact that a) they’re dressed in silly costumes and b) most of the food is so foul it wouldn’t even be permitted in a bushtucker trial.
Kangaroo penis? Please? Try some garum instead: an ancient Roman sauce made by leaving brine-covered fish guts to ferment in the sun for weeks. And you thought pickled eggs were unpleasant.
A different chef is drafted in to recreate food from the relevant era each week, but Supersizers isn’t a traditional cookery programme so they don’t take centre stage. After all, it’s unlikely any viewers will have the urge to whip up their own boiled calf’s head after watching Giles and Sue chow down on the poor creature’s skull and sinewy skin. It looks more like something dug up from Fred West’s garden than a delicious dinner party treat.
There is a certain point-and-chuckle amusement at watching the twosome eat things you’d put as far from your own mouth as humanly possible (in the case of garum: Australia. Or possibly Mars) however they do occasionally get to eat some nice food: cakes, pastries, trifles etc.
However, on occasion something initially pleasant might turn out to contain a nasty surprise, like the tansy omelette Sue ate in ‘The Supersizers Go…Restoration’ that subsequently gave her food poisoning. Tansy, a flower that was popular as a sweet flavouring in Ye Olden Days, is unfortunately rather toxic. Whoops.
On the other hand, the sheer volume of booze the two get through in a typical episode means that even if something does taste horrible, chances are they won’t even remember eating it.
In Ye Paste (that’s past with an ‘e’ on the end. Not paste) you often couldn’t really trust the water. Luckily, alcohol kills germs so they simply drank lots of that instead. As Giles and Sue can only eat the food and drink of that era for a week they frequently end up joyously trollied on port, small beer, champagne, brandy, sherry and claret…
Ah, claret. That word is now etched in my brain in the lavish, unctuous tones of the voiceover man, Roy Marsden. He recites each feast- no matter how unpleasant- so purringly you almost want to eat the calf brains in a butter and herb sauce with maggot-filled cheese.
Especially if they’re washed down with a bucket of lovely claaaaaret.
It’s Sue who’s the real star of the show. Giles is great, don’t get me wrong, but she’s about as game as you can possibly get, throwing herself into every challenge with gusto and chasing people round the table while hammered. In ‘The Supersizers Eat…the 20s’ she even had her hair chopped into a traditional ‘flapper’ bowl cut. That’s commitment, especially as it (sorry Sue) looked a bit crap.
The only time the programme falls flat is when the era they’re exploring isn’t quite historical enough. In ‘The Supersizers Eat…The Eighties’, breakfast is coffee, orange juice and potato waffles. Giles eats Shepherd’s Pie with Jeffrey Archer (he appears as a guest, rather than a side dish). Other delicacies consumed include Pot Noodles, Pop Tarts and Viennetta. This isn’t historical food: it’s effectively ‘Supersizers Eat…The Contents of Farmfoods’.
But there are plenty of hits to counteract the handful of misses. We’ll leave you with this clip of Sue Perkins with snails on her feet:
‘The Supersizers…Go/Eat’ is currently being repeated on Yesterday, one of those channels in the upper stratosphere of your cable package. If you don’t have that channel, then none of the episodes are on YouTube, we definitely didn’t tell you that. Definitely do not check YouTube.