I was saddened by today’s news that Keith Floyd has died. He was a favourite of so many of us and an icon of foodie eccentricity.
I wrote an article about him earlier this year for Flavour Magazine.
I hope it does him justice.
“In today’s culinary environment, I am retro. If I’ve influenced people, I never set out to. I just wanted to bring real food to people and show them where it came from and why.”
There are many images that spring to mind when Keith Floyd’s name is mentioned: The eponymous Panama hat, a bow tie, breathtaking scenery, camp style open air kitchens and a generous glass of red wine.
Indeed, the book entitled “ A Splash and a Dash” epitomised his style of cooking that so often contained wine or the like , ever enhancing the delights he produced in front of the TV cameras.
He is considered the visionary that helped create the celebrity chef phenomenon, and was once heard to say:
“Cooks on television could be as famous as rock musicians and racing drivers.” How prophetic. How very true.
A son of the West Country, he was educated at Wellington School in Somerset and had strong connections with Bristol. He worked as a reporter for the Bristol Evening Post, as a radio chef for Radio West and owned a number of Bristol based restaurants at various times. After a bit of digging, I discovered there was one located in the heart of Clifton, and another located on Chandos Road, not far from the BBC television studios. Early shoots of a career that would bring him international fame.
His television persona exuded a flamboyancy yet unseen on British screens. The viewing public were more accustomed to heavily scripted studio cooking show with the likes of a young Delia Smith and the infamous Fanny Craddock.
He took the cooking to the very epicentre of its origin, allowing local produce and stunning backdrops to light up his culinary offerings – in short, the cookery show become a theatrical performance with props, performance and occasional hiccups and of course generous gulps of red wine. Real food cooked by a larger than life cook who was confident and oozed the je ne sais quoi that made him an icon.
In his early television career he worked with David Pritchard, who produced the early Floyd cookery shows. In his book on Floyd published earlier this year entitled “Shooting the Cook” he describes his screen presence as laced with volatility, and a mix between Richard Burton and Peter O’ Toole with “ a sixty a day voice”.
Whilst Pritchard was in at the start of the Floyd phenomenon, dutifully recounted in his book, they were eventually to go their separate ways, due to differences, either artistic, culinary or otherwise. They were not to meet again for sixteen years.
So what exactly launched Keith Floyd into the culinary TV arena? His first series was “Floyd on Fish”, initially broadcast in the South West, but soon went on to national screening. We almost take for granted today, the “book to accompany the series”, but it was from these shows that this genre of food writing was spawned. An ideal culinary marriage: Televisual and culinary prowess to entertain and a cookery book to recreate the dishes prepared with panache and verve so typical of the Floyd delivery.
His series were to be the basis of several books from that point, and are still seen on mainstream television. Saturday Cooks very often show Keith Floyd in action and his style is still not out of kilter with today’s chefs who appear on the show. Timeless showmanship par excellence.
His books go so much further than to provide the reader with recipes. He pens a faithfully the narrative experience of the whole. In Floyd on Fish, you can smell the sea, and perceive the taste of the oysters picked fresh by him from their beds. In Floyd on Spain he evokes the power of nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves in the butifarra sausages he cooks.
The cookery book morphs into food writing proper in his hands. His descriptions evoke the very essence of the food and the people who prepare it. It has a distinctive sense of time and place. Indeed, his opening quote illustrates his vision of the pivotal role of the chef in today’s world of Celebrity. His shows have taken him to the four corners of the globe to include India, Thailand, Australia and the U.S.A. He was considerate enough to tour around the British Isles and produced a fine work on the cuisine we have to boast about on on our shores.
Today he lives near Avignon in France, and owns a restaurant in the Burasiri resort in Phuket. He continues to do his One Man Shows in theatres around the UK and is still delighting his audience with the Floyd magic. He has a huge fan following who flock to these performances to see him in action. They get a complimentary glass of red wine plus a booklet of some of his signature dishes. He is pressed to autograph tattered and gravy stained copies of the books his fans have used and cherished for years, and for that, I raise my glass to him.
Keith Floyd produces so many first class books, it is difficult to choose the best among them. My advice is simple: If you get the chance, buy any of them. I have even picked up a recipe booklet he produced for Andrex , a real collector’s item, and ideal reading for the smallest room in the house!
However, here are a few highlights, amongst the many jewels.
Floyd’s Fjord Fiesta.
A delightful book which provides a valuable resource on the lesser known Scandinavian cuisine. He prepares food at Kronborg Castle, the setting for Hamlet, bores ice holes to fish, herds reindeer and rides a dog sledge. The photography is stunning, both of the food and the icebergs.
Floyd on France
One of his earlier books, he here demystifies the Dark Art of French cuisine and turns it into an accessible medium for us, the home cook to follow. The dishes are defined by region, and capture the flavours and specialities of each place. There is an excellent chapter on preserved dishes, which still today form the backbone of rural French cooking today.
A Feast of Floyd.
A wonderful compendium of dishes that take us through his childhood favourites and to distant lands and tastes. It is peppered with scribblings in his own handwriting that offers little jewels of advice, which more than make up for the dearth of colour plates.
Floyd on Britain and Ireland.
His opening chapter of the book reassures us that British Cooking is alive and well. In the eighties when it was written, British cooking was not at the cutting edge as it is today. Floyd however, confidently asserts that it has a real identity with many a proud and scrumptious dish. Staple favourites appear alongside more eclectic dishes, such as Heather Honey and Whisky Ice Cream and Welsh Salt Duck with Laverbread.