Look at my mussels!

An otherwise unremarkable Wednesday morning in August. My phone rings.

“Hi, is that Simon?”

“Yes”.

“I hear you’re a foodie, is that right?”.

“Ummm…well, I like food”.

The call was from a Flemish production company who were looking for “foodie” expats for a new English language cooking show they were making for channel OP12. I had been “volunteered” by a friend who thought I might be up for it, and when put on the spot I said “Ummmm…ok”, despite the fact that I’m not particularly comfortable with being on camera. In fact I’m not that comfortable cooking either. Don’t get me wrong; I love food, and I love eating. I eat pretty much every day, in fact. But my kitchen skills haven’t really evolved since my student days (pasta, toast, pasta on toast), so I was a little apprehensive about the complexity of the dishes we would be preparing.

The following Monday we drove out of Brussels to the filming location, which turned out to be the producer’s own house.

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The basic set-up was that my wife and I would each be filmed separately being taught a traditional Flemish recipe by a “Flemish granny”.

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As it turned out the recipes were fairly simple ones: my wife was given tomato stuffed with shrimp and I had mussels and fries. Now obviously, having lived in Belgium for over a decade these dishes aren’t unknown to us, but it was the first time we’d tried to prepare them ourselves, albeit under strict expert supervision.

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Things got off to a slightly wobbly start as the first few takes were interrupted by a dog excitedly barking in the next room, but once it had been disposed of (well, moved to a different part of the house), things went more smoothly.

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Paola went first and they filmed it twice, so that they could get the close-ups and cutaways they needed, but by the time it was my turn they were a little more organised and did it all in one go.

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Everyone, from the director and crew to the presenter, was relaxed and friendly and that helped make it a more pleasant experience. I managed not to embarrass myself too much, although I feel it was unfair that I, the less experienced cook, was given onions to chop (yes, tears were shed) and at one point I had some problems cleaning a stick of celery, much to my wife’s amusement. Her stifled giggles did nothing for my concentration, I can tell you. I felt vindicated however when the chef confirmed that the knife I was using was insufficiently sharp.

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But both dishes turned out very well, it was a fun morning, and we ended up drinking wine, chatting and eating up the food. Well, most of it. Once we’d finished the mussels clip and I’d tasted the final dish, complete with fries and mustard sauce, on camera, I turned to the presenter and asked her if she’d like to try some. “Oh god, no!”, she cried, “I can’t stand mussels!”

After the summer break I received a mail from them, just on the day that the website was launched, telling us that they’d decided not to use the footage they’d shot of us after all. Personally I thought that during filming I came across as stilted, hesitant and a bit boring, so I’m secretly relieved that this won’t be made public, although I guess I’m a tiny bit disappointed too. Still, it was a fun experience. And who knows, maybe we’ll even make these dishes next time we have friends over for dinner?

But I’ll delegate the onion-chopping to my wife.