There’s an old saying that you should never trust a thin chef. What, then, should we make of a cooking show fronted by a former model?
"Can you make restaurant-quality food without the naughty stuff?" asks Pamela Flood, a former Miss Ireland and Off the Rails presenter, who returns after a 10-year absence from the screen to take the fun out of eating.
The contention of the show is that we must do without the naughty stuff, asking professional chefs to trot out their signature dishes – delicious, calorific, artery cloggers all – then to reconceive them with less fat, more fibre and smaller portions.
With the passive-aggressive thrust of someone who takes you out to a steakhouse then insists the salad here is to die for, the show is called Healthy Appetite (RTÉ One, Wednesday, 8.30pm), but only because nobody listened to their gut and called it Dinner is Ruined.
For starters, we have starters. Chef Kate Lawlor, whose award-winning restaurant in Cork, Fenn's Quay, closed down last summer, whips up a chicken liver brûlée with blue-cheese ice cream, a cheeky savoury starter that skips straight to dessert.
This is the kind of experimental dish you would only ever risk at a restaurant. But the idea here is to play it safe. So dietician Aveen Bannon explains that this contains 49 grams of fat and about eight teaspoons of sugar, and the severity of her facial expression lets you know you that this is a bad thing.
Lawlor is good enough to act ashamed at the news. “I suppose, as chefs, we don’t think about what we put into it and how it could affect a person,” she says, although, as a chef, that is her exact job description.
At least the next chef, Gary O’Hanlon – also introduced at a restaurant from which he no longer operates, Longford’s Viewmont House – is quite determined to kill us. His quail cordon bleu, eventually described here as “a ham and cheese sandwich, deep-fried in meat”, rolls cheese into the centre of the dish, then coats it with more cheese, while an accompanying leg and thigh confit is cooked in thick, viscous duck fat. He adds a sprinkling of butter-slavered burnt cauliflower, just for the craic. Healthy? I had to loosen my belt just to watch the damn thing.
A single portion contains 61 grams of fat. “Anything above 20 is high,” interjects Aveen, with the authority of someone who will live forever.
Faced with the bad news, Gary is philosophical. “I’d rather just lose and have the judges enjoy their dinner.”
Gary, bless him, treats the show with all the seriousness it deserves, aware that restaurant eating, like restaurant programmes, are dens of sin, not for people watching their figure.
So, while Kate goes about reducing the size of her dish, replacing ice cream with frozen yoghurt, and trading caramelised sugar for pumpkin seeds, the impish Gary decides that – y’know what? – his dish could do without the cauliflower.
Huddled together over a single tiny starter portion, like hungry Dickensian orphans, the judges wear regulation uniforms: a monogrammed chef's coat for Adam Byatt, a champagne cravat for food critic Ross Goldon-Bannon and a worried expression for dietician Bannon.
“I suspect that it’s going to taste very good,” Bannon warns Byatt about the quail, “because I don’t know that it’s that far from the original.”
That, presumably, is a criterion for the competition: if it tastes good, it cannot win. You can see why Gary seems so happy then to have lost.
Still, the show tells us, there’s no hard feelings, and both chefs go out together for pints. Presumably of water.