Matt again, covering for Hugh, who should be back next week. Thanks for all your feedback on last week’s newsletter from Robyn Collinge on CBeebies Bedtime Stories. Let’s just say quite a few of you agreed with Robyn about the ‘CBeebies Thirst Trap’. We love hearing from you, and are always open to suggestions or guest posts, so hit reply and get in touch!
This week, I’ve written about something that my teen daughter introduced me to. It scores highly on my lockdown bingo card, as it covers cooking, being outdoors in forests, and a little hint of ASMR for self-care. So thanks to Olivia for introducing me to Men With The Pot. It’s almost enough to make me consider going camping. Almost.
What’s it called?
What’s the format?
Social videos showing two Polish barmen cooking food in a forest in Ireland, using just an open fire, an iron pot and some skillets, a couple of wooden bowls, and a very sharp knife. There is no dialogue, no music, and the camera focuses on the cooking, not the chefs. The videos are just forest, fire, and food.
What’s the magic that makes it special?
You could come at this from a couple of angles. The sheer beauty of the scenery, and the quiet soundtrack - the snick of the knife against the wooden chopping board, the crackle of a fire, bubbling sauces - make it ideal for a lockdown era when we are stuck at home. And the recipes themselves look delicious, and feel really achievable. As they are cooking in the wild with just a few pots and one knife, they are not overly complex recipes, relying on simple flatbreads, all-in-one sauces and grilled meat and vegetables. And if in doubt, melt some cheese on it, which is a very good culinary tip.
But I want to come at it from a different angle. When we talk to clients about how new technologies and platforms change formats, we often use cooking videos as an example. In a recent episode of Gogglebox, they showed the Goggleboxers a BBC repeat of the 1975 cooking show Fanny Cradock Cooks for Christmas. Despite the genuinely scary host and the way she treats her poor assistant, it’s remarkable how basic the show was. The set is minimal, and Fanny barely bothers to give much instruction, assuming her audience would have some competence in the kitchen.
In the 1980s, cooking shows left the studio and went on location, and the shows became more about the lifestyle than the food itself, like Keith Floyd’s boozy adventures in France or Rick Stein’s gastronomic tours. In these shows, the food and recipes were punctuation points for broader cultural lessons about the areas they were visiting, with local characters brought along for additional colour.
Then the foodie revolutions of the 1990s brought this cosmopolitanism back home, and a new generation of lifestyle-first chefs like Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson showed us cooking as a kind of status symbol. There were recipes in these shows, for sure, but we were drooling over their interior decoration and fashion decisions as much as the food they were cooking.
Then along came Instagram, and cooking videos had a back-to-basics revolution. The short, square video formats Instagram designed for mobile consumption didn’t leave any room for fripperies like hosts or designer kitchens. Buzzfeed’s Tasty spin-off popularised a new way to make cooking videos - closely cropped videos of bowls and plates filmed from above, speeding up the boring bits like mixing, with the recipe instructions as on-screen text and a jaunty music soundtrack that, to be honest, doesn’t even need to be there. These are cooking videos designed to capture attention as we scroll, giving us bright, sometimes ridiculous recipes that we could make when we got back to our boxy, overpriced city apartments.
Each of these shifts represents changes in both audiences and platforms. Fanny Cradock’s TV shows were designed for at-home wives who had been trained in domestic science at school. Keith Floyd brought the romance of the continent to a UK that was starting to break out of its post-war meat-and-two-veg culinary silo. Nigella Lawson and Jamie Oliver made food a status symbol for the comfortably-off nineties. And Tasty gave stressed and over-worked millennials mobile-first recipes for chocolate mug cakes that they could try in tiny kitchens before ordering a Deliveroo instead.
Men With The Pot combine elements from all these formats. They have the basic instructions of Fanny Cradock, the beautiful locations of Floyd and Stein, the subtle lifestyle cues of Lawson and Oliver (that knife! those skillets!) and the digital aesthetics of Tasty. But, like the sauces they make on their open fire, they brew this up into something altogether more delicious. Even though they are designed for social media, the videos feel more like Slow TV. They are meditative, calming, and almost visceral. It’s ASMR video - Springwatch as a cooking show.
Lockdown has slowed life down, and made it smaller. Men With The Pot is slow, small, and set in nature, something that many of us feel more connected to now our lives are not as reliant on commuting to cities. For ages, I assumed it was filmed in a Polish forest, because of the Polish recipe translations. The fact that it’s filmed in Ireland, by two Polish Barman, feels even more poignant in a post-Brexit Britain.
It has to be one with melted cheese, and this Baked Camembert recipe is about as cheesy as it gets.
If you like the lush, slow visuals and high meat content of Men With The Pot’s forest cooking, you’ll love Chef’s Table: BBQ on Netflix. Particularly the episode about Tootsie Tomanetz, which will absolutely melt your heart.
Thanks for reading, and thanks again to my daughter Olivia for introducing me to Men With The Pot. If you’ve got a format you’d like to Unpack for us, get in touch, we’d love to hear from you.
Until next week,