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My better half (in many ways!) and I always enjoy cooking shows on British television.  We don’t watch too much telly, so these provide not only inspiration but involve further enjoyment of our favourite aspects of God’s creation.

One of the things we have noticed since cooking competitions have begun is that an increasing number of men and boys — from teens to seniors — have participated in them.  Some series now have close to a 50-50 ratio.  Now, I realise that this will probably rankle with some of my male readers who might draw a line between men’s and women’s duties.  However, it proves a valuable point — there is no reason why men and boys cannot cook!

When I was growing up, a new concept entered the popular lexicon — ‘talking about things’. It was aimed at men and received a stiff-necked resistance. All I have to say on that subject is that the more parents get involved with their children in various household activities, the less there will be a need to … talk about things.  Forget the talk, just get on with the doing.  Doing will require discussion about and collaboration on the task in hand.  As so often happens, quiet intervals arise.  At that time conversation ensues.  ‘How is school?’ ‘Dad, I wanted to ask you something …’

We all think of women and girls being the cooks of the family.  However, that is less often the case now.  Many times, the men of the house have their own food specialities, which is especially true in Britain.  This might be the domain of the barbecue.  However, equally, it can be with certain dishes and even desserts prepared in the kitchen.

Recently, Britain’s Best Dish aired on ITV1.  Over the past few years, a number of men — and boys — have taken part, some of whom became finalists.  I can assure you that some of these chaps live in the country, play rugby at the weekend and are quite stocky.  Many are married with families and businesses.  Some are livestock farmers who prepare delightful dishes made from their own farm animals. A few years ago, a pig farmer, Mr Kelly, entered the finals with a spectacular rolled pork belly main course which looked (and, according to the judges, tasted) out of this world.

This year, a 15-year old from Scotland, Conor McLean, won the honours for an exceptional French-inspired dish, Vanilla Friande (pictured at right, courtesy of the Savoy Hotel’s Facebook page), an assortment of delights making a very fine pudding indeed.

Conor participates in an after-school cooking club.  The ITV1 site says:

Conor cooks 2-3 times a week at home and he’s even gone out to friends and neighbours to cook for them! Conor’s dish, Vanilla friande was created with the help of his college mentor Scott Lyall. Conor’s mum doesn’t usually like desserts, but this one is an exception.

As we approached the final, ITV showed the contestants in everyday life.  Conor’s film clip was by far the best.  The production crew showed him hosting a cookery session at home and giving helpful  instructions to his contemporaries.  Conor was calmly and remarkably self-assured.

The three finalists for the starter, main course and dessert each had to prepare their dish at London’s Savoy.  (Yes, that Savoy!)  They judged Conor’s the winner and offered Conor an apprenticeship at the world-renowned hotel.  Wow!

After the competition, ITV interviewed Conor, who said that the whole experience — particularly winning — was quite emotional.  This is what else he had to say (photo courtesy of ITV):

Why did you choose to cook this particular dish?

I did a previous competition where I got a mentor, Scott Lyall, from the Adam Smith College. I came up with this dish through working with him. Sometimes we work all day and play about with a dish until we were happy with it …

How did you become such a good cook?

I’m not too sure to be honest. I went to an after school club run by mentors from the Adam Smith college. And then my home economics teacher Mrs Scott encouraged me to enter the future chefs competition where I got to the national finals. I must have a natural talent, maybe from my gran. She’s a really keen cook!

As I write, he and his family are negotiating on the offer of the apprenticeship. Nonetheless, on May 31, 2011, the Savoy’s Facebook page tells us that they have already put Conor’s Vanilla Friande with Amaretto Cream on the menu of their restaurant in the Thames Foyer.

The ability to cook can definitely attract a mate and impress her family and friends. On a more serious note, if your wife is out of town or unwell, you might have to put together a meal or two of your own for the family. This is part of the reason I run recipes now and then — not as exciting as Conor’s, admittedly, but they are simple enough for a beginner and won’t tax the budget.

A number of Conor’s contemporaries who participated in Britain’s Best Dish are also studying at catering colleges or taking domestic science courses around the country.

Let’s celebrate the fact that men are interested in cooking.  These days, there’s everything to play for in the world of food — whether you’re looking for a career or for Ms Right.  Cooking for a girlfriend or her family will impress them, believe me.

Best wishes to Conor and to all who pursue a noble dream of a career in cookery.

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