Growing your own food, foraging, embracing nature, leading a sustainable lifestyle, making the most of the space around you: these are the new endeavours that everybody is talking about. A new television series, called “Love your Garden”, hosted by Alan Titchmarsh, has been showing people how they can achieve all of the above to enhance their quality of life, their health and, hopefully, save a few pennies along the way. On ITV1 at 8.00 p.m. on 15thJuly 2011 the show features making a cooking fire pit in your garden, and using it to cook a shoulder of lamb. It was filmed in my garden.
If ever you have thought that TV production work is glamorous and easy, think again. I witnessed ten hours of really hard work at my property, which will ultimately result in just six minutes of show time. The camera crew arrived at around 8 a.m. in the morning, they unloaded all the equipment from the van, and had a good look round the entire 1.5 acre garden to see where they were going to position all the cameras.
Terracotta pots and urns were moved, tables and chairs were taken from one side of the garden to the other, and at one point they thought they might even want to shoot in my kitchen, although there was not enough light in the end. Plans changed as the day progressed.
The crew also brought along a landscape builder, Simon, who was responsible for doing all the heavy lifting and digging. The stars of the show, food writer, author and TV chef Valentine Warner and garden designer Matt James arrived just after the crew and discussed their lines, walking on, walking off and the day’s schedule with the production assistants and camera men. A total of seven people needed feeding and watering throughout the day, and so I had been shopping, preparing, cleaning and organising for a few days beforehand in order to ensure everything was perfect for the day.
I had been in communication, by e-mail, over several months with Spungold, the TV research company that produces several shows for the television channels. I sent over lots of photographs and descriptions of my garden, the plants that grew in it and the facilities we could provide.
In the beginning of the shooting they showed Valentine picking herbs from my garden and preparing an anchovy, caper, olive, herby marinade for a whole shoulder of lamb. Matt and Simon dug a very deep round hole in the lawn and around it were placed four huge logs to sit on. Charcoal was lit at the bottom of the fire pit and then a cast iron grill was placed on top. The marinated shoulder of lamb was wrapped in foil and cooked over the hot embers.
The heat was really strong, and quite soon the outside of the lamb was very dark, but the taste was absolutely delicious. Valentine also grilled some courgettes to go with the lamb. Matt was filmed on a patio at the other side of the house showing viewers how you do not have to make a fire pit by digging into the ground, as they are also available to buy in various sizes from the garden centre. They come flat packed and look like metal hemispheres on legs, with a grill rack and a lid that is made of metal gauze. They can be placed on stone or brick, and can also be left out in the rain.
We all ate round the dining table at lunch time. I prepared antipasti and tagliatelle with beans and a lamb and Marsala stew with homemade breads and salad. There was pistachio cake, butter biscuits, strawberries and meringues and a chocolate and almond cake. Endless cups of tea and coffee were drunk. The crew worked all day, and many of the shots had to be done again and again.
Valentine and Matt said that they both pursued independent careers, one in food writing and the other in designing and creating gardens, because television work was infrequent and unreliable. There is also a certain degree of relatively boring waiting in the wings while everybody else is taking their turn, or while the camera crew position and reposition the setting, only to change their mind and move again. Half way through the day it started raining, which, I was told, was just part of the job, and they carried on with special plastic hoods covering the cameras.
At the end Simon went round the garden moving everything back into place and picking up all the rubbish.
I can completely recommend this style of cooking: make sure your pit is near your kitchen or your kitchen garden, place a small table next to it for all your plates, glassware, cutlery, candles in storm lanterns and so on and then gather your friends and family around it. As the night draws in, the wine is passed round, little tea lights flash in the smoke filled air, you feel like you are camping, and the food really tastes delicious.
If a camera crew wants to come to your house or garden to film, be prepared for anything and everything as your whole day and property will be hijacked. You will most probably not be paid, as budgets are now so small, but you will gain an insight into how the process takes place. I also learned a great deal about what it actually means to be a TV chef. Would I want to be one? Now that I have found out what it entails, no thanks.