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Thursday, 28 March 2013

The Pippa Problem

Today we were treated to Pippa Middleton's new column for Waitrose Kitchen; full of 'Friday Feast' ideas for all the family from a writer with a "wealth of experience of entertaining" (according to the editor, William Sitwell). 
Some of the recipes sound OK, some even sound quite nice (tangerine and sake jellies: yum). The writing is just as you'd expect from Middleton if you'd already read extracts from her infamous book; faintly patronising and a bit dull. One of the more exciting lines reads: "Friday night is the perfect time to cook". Stone the crows. 

But it's not the recipes that are the problem. It's not even the writing that's [all] of the problem. It's the lack of graft, the lack of heart, the lack of sincerity that's the problem. 

When news broke of Waitrose's latest signing back in February food writers and bloggers were aghast; the appointment reeked of cronyism and headline-chasing. Sitwell, quite expectedly as editor, defended the decision by citing Pippa's aforementioned experience and even today responded to my Twitter enquiries by stating "Try her recipes...they're great". Hey my recipes are bloody brilliant but you're not going to give me a column are you? Don't pretend that your readers are idiots, Sitwell.

What Sitwell needs to acknowledge is that food writing isn't just about the recipes. The best food writers are the best writers; they write with passion, they're engaging, they're genuine, and they've been practising their craft for years. I don't just try a recipe from any old hack, I am inspired to use recipes by fantastic writers. Middleton could be the best writer since the invention of the written word yet her talent (ahem) is invalidated by the intentions behind her appointment (controversy + posh = advertising) and her lack of maturity in the field. It causes her writing to be insincere and bland. 

Now, regardless of who she shares chromosones with, if Middleton had spent the last 5 years plowing away at food writing, refining, tasting, learning, blogging, then her appointment would be much less of an issue. She would have earned that column through sweat, not blood. Having a quick think there are 20 food writers that I know of who are better writers, create better recipes, and have been grafting for years, but who will probably never get the same opportunities that Middleton has. Sitwell has previously hit back at critics by citing jealousy on their part; it's not jealousy, it's anger. Anger at having their talent trampled on by famous usurpers. Yes they would probably give their right arm to have a column in a supermarket magazine with a readership of many many thousands, but they won't because talent and experience isn't as important as 'the brand'. 

The Pippa Problem isn't necessarily Pippa's problem; she seems to be malignly following the yellow brick road to wherever it leads, but it is Sitwell's problem and it is Waitrose's problem. And as a whole it's the industry's problem. And as readers it's our problem too; demand more from the people who really make food writing what it is and don't accept the pretty, posh pretenders because there's more of them waiting in the wings for when Middleton's 15 minutes are done.


  1. I came across your blog post after searching Twitter for comments on the latest Waitrose Kitchen edition and Pippa Middleton's new column. I TOTALLY agree with what you say in your post and can't believe that there haven't been more comments on it. Waitrose has a reputation as a 'decent' supermarket, respecting producers and stocking quality products. It also has a reputation as the 'posh' supermarket, somewhat unfairly, and has brought in a range of basic items which it compares regularly to the big four supermarkets in price to counter this belief. It is therefore doubly disappointing that they have decided to promote as a food writer someone so blatantly in the public eye for every reason other than food. I also find it quite insulting when the editor of Waitrose Kitchen defends her reputation yet her first column (pages rather than column) lists a recipe made from a kit! If they wanted to alienate and disappoint such a large proportion of their customers they have definitely succeeded. A shame, for once, I thought we had a supermarket that listened, it appears as though I was wrong. So thank you for chasing this and making it public, it is very right that you do so (and by the way I love your blog, I'm a fellow Northamptonshire foodie!).

    1. Thanks! I totally agree on every point. I was planning on making the recipes she'd featured, but alas I didn't have £150 to spare...