In the last year I realised I fkn love cooking shows.
I love watching Poh Ling Yeow stare at an oven on MasterChef. I love seeing James Acaster have a breakdown on The Great British Bake Off. I love seeing talented people make delicious treats I desperately want to eat.
During lockdown, I felt so inspired watching MasterChef I started actually trying to cook properly (not just pasta and vegetables) for the first time in my life.
But I don’t just love cooking shows. I love celebrity chefs. I love the wry smile of Curtis Stone and Jamie Oliver‘s enthusiasm and Gordon Ramsay‘s rough exterior and the way daddy Jock Zonfrillo softens while talking to kids on Junior MasterChef.
And, I know it’s wrong, but I fkn love reading about disgraced celebrity chefs. Yes, we shouldn’t give Pete Evans any more of a deranged platform than he already has, but the schadenfreude of his fall from grace is molto bene.
So that’s why I in turn have been sucked into the new ABC comedy-drama Aftertaste about fictional disgraced celebrity chef, Easton West, who gets ‘cancelled’ and flees back to his hometown in the Adelaide Hills.
Let’s set the scene quickly: Easton West (Erik Thomson) is a Michelin-starred chef in Shanghai who loses his shit at his new restaurant’s opening night and drops a pig carcass on a food critic’s table. He’s volatile, sexist and domineering, one of those shouting chef types but without the heart of Gordon Ramsay.
And when the moment goes viral, seemingly ending his career, Easton has no choice but to lay low in his hometown until “this bullshit blow[s] over”.
I guess PEDESTRIAN.TV’s interface was too hard to rip off.
Except people in his hometown aren’t super interested in spending time with the self-absorbed celeb chef either – especially not his estranged sister, Denise (Susan Prior).
Easton West, real name Jimmy, somehow manages to represent so much white male rage, entitlement and alienation.
The last time I watched Thomson was when he was the cheery dad in Packed To The Rafters, a show I loved to watch with my Mum in the ’00s, and he full embodies a kind of vile bitterness while managing to make him strangely sympathetic.
But the real star of Aftertaste is Natalie Abbott as Easton’s niece, and a 19-year-old pastry genius, Diana. She’s not just body-positive, she’s resolutely optimistic all the time, one of those people who brings people together and makes them feel good without even thinking about it. Abbott is charming.
While Easton reckons the backlash against him will just go away with time, both Diana and his former employee, Ben Zhao (Remy Hii), who now runs the best, many-hatted restaurant in town, advise him to take some time out to learn from his mistakes and work on himself.
Ben points out Easton’s long history of “bullying, abuse, sexism, generally just being a dick”.
“You are going to have to take some time, like find a new narrative or something,” he adds, “because people are over the angry white guy schtick.”
Instead, he goes on Adelaide radio (to ex-triple j Breakfast, now-Nova hosts Ben Harvey and Liam Stapleton to be exact) to announce his comeback, when the lads are only interested in making cheeky pig jokes.
Everyone’s face every time Easton speaks.
The series also traverses sticky family relationships, with the idiosyncrasies of this stubborn and strange family illuminated best by Diana’s stepfather, Brett (Wayne Blair), who is the constant voice of reason. There’s long-held family secrets and folklore, along with bubbling resentment that Easton would leave his family behind for his new life.
And the food on Aftertaste. How have I not talked about the food? Seeing Natalie’s trundle table of cakes is food porn, I salivate when I see her bake. Natalie’s pastries are a reminder of the joy and playfulness of cooking, the same way MasterChef is.
We all know there’s a redemption arc coming, likely with Easton learning to value his family once more, dating brazen local winemaker Margot (Rachel Griffiths) and remembering that cooking isn’t about fancy restaurants but community and care.
And that’s the thing about somewhat-talented white dudes – often, even without a real apology, they’re given a second chance, an opportunity to rewrite their narrative and forge ahead with their career.
And that’s fine, I’m not saying people should be cancelled forever if they’ve made an effort to better themselves. But it’s of note that rarely are queer people, women, non-binary and trans people, and people of colour afforded the same second chance.
Aftertaste airs on Wednesdays on ABC at 9pm. Catch up on the first two eps on ABC iView.