Once upon a time, there were only two cooks on British TV. One was Delia Smith and the other was Keith Floyd. Their respective personalities provided all the variety and colour one needed when it came to watching people throw stuff in a pan and make it taste nice. In 2013, however, TV chefs are now global superstars and a rogue's gallery of televisual cooks clog up our screens with distressing ubiquity, whether it's Gordon Ramsay reducing people to tears over their chopping boards or Heston Blumenthal making an omelette from platypus eggs and liquid mercury. It's all a bit too much. Thankfully, there is one cooking show where you can find solace, comfort and delightful recipes without having to worry about the presenter turning up in a Sainsbury's ad while listening to Toploader. I am referring, of course, to Cooking With Dog.
Cooking With Dog sounds at first like some ghoulish collection of recipes which incorporate canine flesh as a key ingredient. Thankfully there is none of that here, merely a series of short and sweet clips found via a dedicated YouTube channel, which focus on Japanese and Oriental cooking. The show is presented by two entities: a quiet but genial middle-aged Japanese woman simply known as Chef and the titular dog, an extraordinarily well-behaved poodle named Francis. It is Francis who supposedly narrates each episode, which is odd, because when Francis talks he sounds like an adult Japanese male with fluent English delivered in an accent that borders on parody. Both Francis and Chef take the viewer through each recipe step-by-step, so that even someone who struggles with beans on toast has a fighting chance of knocking up half-decent octopus dumplings and pork ramen.
Chef doesn't say much, but she is practically a neurosurgeon of cookery as she quickly and quietly works her way though each task with minimum fuss. Special mention must go to her fearsome ceramic knives, which make short work of the most sturdy foodstuffs. An aubergine is reduced to mere shreds within seconds. An onion is hacked into tiny pieces faster than you can blink. Both these tasks are done with as much exertion as flicking on a light switch. It's like watching a cookery programme which uses Wolverine from the X-Men to slice up the veg.
There are no wacky camera angles or bombastic soundtracks, so the lack of unnecessary razzle-dazzle makes for a soothing, zen-like experience. We are here to cook, eat and enjoy. That's all. And as with many things in life, it's the little things that make Cooking With Dog so enjoyable. Chef begins each episode with a respectful bow and a quick verbal description of what she will be cooking. Francis is an obedient presence throughout as he watches his cohort at work, sometimes licking his lips, other times wearing a funny hat and on a few adorable occasions, enjoying a little snooze mid-cook. Every episode ends with Chef trying her concoction before proclaiming her satisfaction (in Japanese) to the camera while Francis signs off with his de-facto catchphrase: “Good luck in the kitchen!”.
Little is known about the story behind Cooking With Dog. The only time Chef made any news outside of the show was when she was seriously injured while going for a bike ride in early February of 2012. The show had to make do with repeats for weeks on end but thankfully she made a full recovery (encouragingly, the notoriously abrasive and intolerant YouTube community left a heaps of well wishes on the comments page) and the channel is back in full swing with nearly half a million subscribers. In a world full to bursting with plastic media personalities churning out dishes by the dozen, Cooking With Dog is haute cuisine by comparison. Enjoy!