Forgotten Comedies: Lenny Henry Is the Inaugural Rude TV Chef!

Updated: Mar 27, 2019

Quite a long time before rude chefs were a TV mainstay, Lenny Henry's Chef showed us how entertaining they could be. It also had one of the best sitcom theme tunes ever, in my opinion!

Chef was Lenny Henry's first sitcom, written by Peter Tilbury (a drama and comedy writer). It was based on an idea by Lenny Henry himself. Chef follows the story of Gareth Blackstock, the extremely bad-tempered head chef of a somewhat ailing French restaurant. His kitchen staff consist of Lucinda, played by Claire Skinner (Outnumbered), and amongst others his old friend, but also the bane of his life, Everton, played by Roger Griffiths.

Chef was a landmark sitcom for a few reasons. It was, foremost, the first British sitcom to star a black character as its lead! It was embarrassingly late for this to be noteworthy in the year 1993 but apparently it was!

The other was the fact that it popularised the 'rude chef' genre, which was huge in the 2000s in particular. Shows like ITV's Hells Kitchen, Ramsey's Kitchen Nightmares and really anything else presented by Gordon Ramsey played out dramas that now, on reflection, seem a bit like a scene from Chef!

Watching Chef now, it may even feel a little bit obvious to a modern audience, but you have to remember that at this time there weren't Gordon Ramsey sketches where he squashes two bits of bread between a woman's face and asks her to exclaim 'I'm an idiot sandwich!' To be honest, I think that the writers of Chef might have found that a bit too over the top!

The most famous moment from the show came when Gareth berated a man who dared ask for 'salt'! His long tirade is something that Basil Fawlty would have been proud of! Later in the episode, Gareth has to bite his tongue when his bank manager (played by Geoff McGivern) asks him for the same thing.

Chef was really successful. It ran for three series, and was even nominated for a BAFTA. But these days it isn't really something many are familiar with. There was a similar sitcom that undoubtedly took inspiration from Chef, Alan Davis's Whites in 2010. This show also earned a cult following, and fans even started a petition to try to get Whites a second series, but unfortunately that didn't really take off.

Criticism of Whites (From The Metro) said that "The problem with doing a comedy about chefs and restaurants is that the real thing does it so much better." An attitude which undoubtedly killed the restaurant sitcom. This is another example of reality TV, if not replacing, then certainly encroaching on comedy and drama's places within the TV schedule.

However, it's interesting to note that Chef may have started popularising rude TV chefs and reality restaurant dramas in the first place!

Written by Rhianna Evans

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