I've seen so many profiles on buzzy chefs lauded for their messy, unpretentious, kinda rock-and-roll attitude towards food. The vibe is always cool-kid boys club, typically populated by young or youngish guys, all sporting a charming glower, a few tattoos, and the ability to quote Kitchen Confidential.
But what if this nonchalant, leather-jacket-sporting approach was actually inspired by two devil-may-care British women in their 60s?
Let me set the scene for you: A motorcycle gleams as it swerves down a country road, the side car bumping along with a passenger snug in the compartment. You see two helmets, two leather jackets, and know that somewhere on the driver's person there's a pack of cigarettes. The two figures tear through cities and rural settings to crash kitchens across England, setting up shop with whatever equipment is on hand. They're as brash and fun-loving in front of a stove as they are on the road.
There's no super-soft lighting, no understated glam makeup or perfectly swooshy hair. They laugh a lot, they crack jokes, and, in the throes of the very low-fat '90s, are adamant in their love for butter and red meat. Their food is not beautiful. It sizzles, it collapses, it orchestrates the choreography of a thing that is probably very delicious in person if not on camera.
They're not opening a pop-up with a line around the block or posing in the pages of a food magazine. They're the Two Fat Ladies, the godmothers of kitchen cool.
The Two Fat Ladies Made Cooking Fun as Hell
The Two Fat Ladies was a cooking show starring Clarissa Dickson Wright and Jennifer Paterson that aired on BBC2 and the Food Network in the late '90s. The opening credits have a proto-Lucky Peach vibe. They're whimsical and weird, with a paper cut-out illustration of the two women on their motorcycle plus side car emerging from a cookbook, driving through a table of real food as they stuff illustrated food into their mouths. They sing "The Two Fat Ladies are itchin'/ To get into your kitchennnnn" in a gutteral, Louis Armstrong-esque voice. It sets a tone and the tone is fun as hell.
They appear relaxed and rebellious. Two big personalities, two bellowing voices that sing and laugh and instruct you on the perfect way to lace a meatloaf with bacon. Their banter is full of everything from recipes to insults to that one time Jennifer accidentally cooked a pile of testicles. At the end, they sit on the steps like a pair of delinquents while Jennifer smokes a cigarette. They lift their glasses, cheers, then hop back on the bike and ride off into the sunset.
I remember watching them as a kid and laughing with my mom, who always made sure to frame the end of episode cigarette as a terrible idea. But other than that, they were funny and made cooking look like a meandering party, one that landed you in the sidecar of motorcycles or on wild adventures meeting new and interesting people.
The Two Fat Ladies Brought Personality into the Kitchen
When I think about the food shows I watched at that age, they all had a sheen that looked a lot more like, well, cooking and not delicious set design. We watched old Julia Child episodes, where she whooped and laughed at her mistakes, or thoroughly unglamorous public access shows.
Look, I love glossy shows too. I could spend all day in bed happily devouring Food Network reruns and a mountain of snacks. But rewatching the Two Fat Ladies didn't give me aspirational feelings that metabolized into anxiety and guilt. It just made me want to go on an adventure and make a meatloaf.
With the Two Fat Ladies, cooking didn't look intimidatingly cool or performative. It didn't look gruff and inaccessible, and also it didn't look gentle and soothingly styled. It looked wild and silly and thrilling. The kitchen was a place for personality. Jennifer and Clarissa were front and center, big and bawdy, making messes and not worrying too much about consequences.