You didn't mess with this fat lady

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By Robert Harland

What's cooking?

Monday, March 24, 2014


THIS week I'd like to pay tribute and raise a glass to my favorite TV chef, Clarissa Dickson Wright, who died last week in Scotland at the age of 66.

She was vivid and outspoken and achieved fame as the co-star and co-chef of the astonishingly popular British television show “Two Fat Ladies,” known as much for the hosts’ irreverence and eccentricity as for their indulgent and sometimes confounding recipes.

In the show, Clarissa Dickson Wright and Jennifer Paterson, another culinary rebel, traveled the UK on a vintage Triumph Thunderbird motorcycle heading to new locations in search of culinary inspiration. Ms. Paterson steered the bike while Clarissa rode in the sidecar, sometimes beneath the carcass of an animal bound for the dinner table.

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This unlikely show became a massive hit in the UK and ran on BBC TV from 1996 to 1999, when the much older Ms. Paterson died. The show also became an amazing hit in the US and in many other parts of the world, regularly clocking up a worldwide audience of over 70 million. It was one of the Queen Mother's favorite TV programs.

The pair scorned so-called health foods and low-fat ingredients such as yoghurt -- only good for bad tummies -- and they particularly enjoyed baiting vegetarians.

Clarissa also disliked the term ‘chef.’ "I am a cook," she would say. "Chefs are forever stacking and arranging the food. They forget what the food was about in the first place."

On eating butter, she said, “We have been eating the stuff for at least 2,000 years and if it were killing us in large numbers I think we'd have realized by now, or died out. But we haven't done either.”

She was tough, once putting two would-be muggers into intensive care. And she had a temper, "They don't call me Krakatoa for nothing," she remarked.

Clarissa was born to a wealthy family in London in 1947. Her father, Arthur Dickson Wright, was a brilliant surgeon who was the first to extract a bullet from the spine without leaving the patient paralyzed. He also pioneered the operation for stripping varicose veins and his patients included the Queen Mother, Vivien Leigh and the Sultana of Jahore.

He had met Clarissa’s mother, Molly, an Australian heiress, while working in Singapore.

But Clarissa’s father was a violent alcoholic and often beat her and her mother. Boarding school proved a wonderful refuge. She then did a law degree externally at University College London as her father refused to pay for her to go to Oxford unless she read medicine. She became Britain's youngest ever female barrister at the age of 27. In Britain barristers specialize in courtroom advocacy.

But her promising legal career came to an end due to a battle with drink, but she had enough money - her mother left her three million British pounds (PhP222 million) - to be able to ignore this.

But in 1982 she went off the rails after the death of her boyfriend, an insurance salesman and fellow-alcoholic, called Clive ¬"the only real love of my life," she wrote.

She eventually came to her senses and gave up the booze. Always keen on cooking, she worked as a cook in a posh London club and in private houses and went on to run a cookery bookshop in London's Notting Hill. She then moved to Scotland, where she ran the Cooks Book Shop.

Then a TV producer-friend suggested she team up with the eccentric chef Jennifer Paterson, and the "Two Fat Ladies" show was born.

Sadly, the "Two Fat Ladies" show was never shown in the Philippines, but if you go to You Tube, you'll find many of their shows listed there.*

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on March 24, 2014.

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