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Rick Stein's Secret France, BBC Two review - is the travelling chef's palate growing jaded? | reviews, news & interviews

Rick Stein's Secret France, BBC Two review - is the travelling chef's palate growing jaded?

Rick Stein's Secret France, BBC Two review - is the travelling chef's palate growing jaded?

Stein's latest culinary tour produces unconvincing results

Rick Stein with 'andouillette' producer Patrick Maury in Troyes

Another year, another cookbook. Rick Stein is back for his next round of food travels and this time, we’re going to France. “For the French, food isn’t part of life, it is life itself,” says Stein, as his Porsche zips through the French countryside. “So what’s slightly worrying is I keep hearing these stories about things not being what they used to be.”

To investigate, Stein takes us to “secret France” — towns off the tourist trail — in search of local gems. In his words, “It’s always better to travel hopefully,” so he’s optimistic that France will deliver the goods. In this episode, France does — but is our host as successful?

Over the course of this BBC Two series, Stein will zigzag across the country. Tonight he starts in Dieppe, a coastal town in Normandy, to guzzle cider and fresh-caught fish. Then to Picardy, where he explores the marshes of Le Crotoy and the trenches of Beaumont Hamel. Then, finally, to Essoyes and Troyes in Champagne, where he heaps praise on Renoir, rabbits, and hand-made andouillettes. Tonight’s episode offers the usual mix of Stein scenes: a meal in a local restaurant, a spin on the same dish at home, a few chats with locals. Stein adds some historical vignettes: tonight these include anecdotes about French and British artists, as well as sober tributes to slain British troops.

This formula should be all well and good, but there is something a little off about our host. As a celebrity chef, Stein gained fame for his brand of blunt charm and homespun joie de vivre. As he has aged, there has been a little more grumpiness, a few more gaffes, and an occasional scolding for the folks “back home.” But this is the first show where Stein simply doesn’t pull it off. This is clearest in the first scene. With a plate of turbot in front of him, Stein stiffly faces the camera, appearing both uncomfortable and unconvincing as he lauds the food. Even his speech is oddly paced. TV presenters deal in charisma and believability: here, Stein gives us neither (eating John Dory with asparagus in Dieppe, pictured below).

This initial faltering might have be overlooked. But it soon reappears — Stein grimaces, he smiles too wide, he stumbles through descriptions. He talks way too much about salt. Maybe it’s a few bad days of filming. Maybe it’s indigestion? But there is the unfortunate effect of making our veteran host seem overfed and overstretched, as well as (concerningly) breathless. Stein’s delivery does become smoother over the course of the episode. But the damage is done. The show starts on a shaky note from which it never quite recovers.

Of course, Secret France still offers some of the the old-school, lulling pleasures of the travelling chef programme. There is food and landscape eye candy. There are cooking tips. There are even some gleeful moments — including when Stein laughingly calls three-Michelin-starred restaurants so fussy that they “disappear up themselves.” There is also a rather charming sequence of Stein and his crew waddling through the mud after picking samphire, in which both the cameraman and the camera take a spill.

Although this episode is not a failure, it is a let down. This is a series that asks about the enduring relevance and quality of French cuisine. But should the same question be asked of Stein’s parade of television shows? Unlike French food, which Stein tells us is just as good as it once was, their pleasures are not quite what they used to be.

 

This formula should be all well and good, but there is something a little off about our host

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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I loved the first episode Rick Stein's Secret France! It made me want to go over there tomorrow. I particularly liked he seafood gratin and pleased to have found it in BBC Recipes! Can't wait for the rest of the show.

Completely disagree. This was classic Rick Stein as he's always been. No complaints from my side.

I also completely disagree. Loved the episode. Perhaps you are being picky to justify your job as a critic.

Did Jill watch the same programme ? It was typical Rick Stein.an enjoyable piece of television, as opposed the usual game show offerings. My only concern was his eating andouillettes with such relish.

I think you are being a bit harsh on Rick. As a regular visitor to France who has not been to these locations, I enjoyed it all. Rick clearly Ives France and , unlike some presenters, the people he meets warm to him and trust him. But I agree with you on one point, his health is a cause for concern. A quick nip to your GP Rick ? We want you around for many more years

I am glad I read this review as after watching this episode I felt exactly the same way but wondered if to was just me. I am a huge fan of Rick's but this episode felt like someone had said something to him before filming started which he didn't like and he was begrudgingly forcing his way throughout the shoot. It's a shame as this series had all the potential to be a Rick Stein Classic.

I am so glad I read your review just now. I honestly thought I was being hyper critical. We watched the first episode on the afternoon of Sunday 10th November and below is the text of an email I wrote to a friend who lives , ironically enough, in Provence. One of the things I meant to say this morning was that we recorded and watched the first episode of Rick Steins new series yesterday afternoon, have you seen it yet? If not it's on iPlayer, currently. I must confess to being a little disappointed it really was not, I thought, as good as his other series, at least not the first episode. For a start, he's always done these series travelling around in a fairly unprepossessing vehicle and that has given him the air of "a man of the people" or at least someone who wasn't bothered about such things, this time he is driving his own car, albeit ten years old, but still a Porche 911 cabriolet (a little too showy for me and gave him the air rather of a "Milord" rather than a gastronomic explorer) and in my book compounded that mistake by excusing it, and wearing a ridiculously inappropriate battered Panama (English "Milord" again). A hat man RS most definitely isn't! The second strike against the program was, in my opinion, was that he lacked his usual verve and enthusiasm. It all seemed laboured somehow and almost a bit of a chore. I remember, a long time ago, when Michael Caine was asked why he did a film that was a particular "turkey" ("Water" I think it was called) his reply was "For the School Fees" and this is just how the motivation behind the first episode seemed to me at least. I think he may be starting to feel his age and I thought looked tired, and the script or at least its delivery, seemed somewhat laboured. I also have liked the trademark notebook, and note-taking, a sort of shorthand for "I don't know it all and like everyone else I'm still excited to learn." Not a glimpse of that yet. I'm an enormous fan of his work both on TV and of the printed word and have been because he has always avoided pretention on what is sometimes a very pretentiously presented topic, this time I'm not so sure.

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