Welcome back to Pop Pedestal, the series where we pay tribute to pop culture figures we admire. Up today are Jennifer Paterson and Clarissa Dickson Wright, better known as Two Fat Ladies.
Pedestal Profile: Clarissa and Jennifer could be seen making impressive meals on the go for their cooking show on the BBC in the late '90s, and you can currently catch them (in reruns) on the Cooking Channel. Traveling by motorcycle and sidecar to various locations around the UK, the two fat ladies always made a special meal for special diners, from Rabbit Isabel for the Boat Club in Cambridge to chocolate crème brûlée for a pony club in Cotswold—and they did it all with a charming repartee, a healthy dose of fat acceptance, and an eye for fresh, local ingredients.
Admirable qualities: Where to begin? First of all, these two have mastered witty banter like only proper British ladies can—their back-and-forth in the kitchen will satisfy even the most hardcore of Anglophiles. Check out this clip from the Lock Keepers episode, where Clarissa tells Jennifer about spending "a rather diverting part of my debauched existence down there" in Quercy (and keep watching to see Clarissa make what is seriously one of the most complicated cakes I've ever seen):
Of course, amid all the quips and anecdotes, the two fat ladies cook the shit out of some really elaborate and delicious-looking food. While it's not an instructional cooking show per se (you'd have a hard time cooking along with them at home), you can learn quite a few helpful tips from the two fat ladies while they move around the kitchen like twin Julia Childs, making complicated and oh-so-British cuisine. Did you know that you can pour stock right into a pie to keep it fresh on a picnic? Or that you can't make mayonaise unless the ingredients are room temperature? I didn't. (I'm not likely to make Welsh lamb pie any time soon, but it's still impressive advice.) The great thing about the two fat ladies is that their sense of humor and down-to-earthiness takes the edge off of the fancy food they make, so it all seems really accessible (until you realize that you do not possess a massive stone mortar and pestle, at least).
Two Fat Ladies bonus: They sing their own theme song!
Though not overtly political, you can't separate the two fat ladies from fat acceptance or locavorism, two philosophies that guided the series. They were unapologetic about their size, and they celebrated the ingredients of the region where they lived way before Michael Pollan said it was a good idea. They always advocated for fresh ingredients and for finding out where food comes from, often taking their motorcycle on the road to visit farms or restaurants to learn more about smoked kippers or wild mushrooms.
Fasten your seat belts for a gastronomic ride!
Their influence: The two fat ladies have quite a devoted following, and have even inspired a few parody videos. (I read that Brendan Fraser played one of them on Saturday Night Live, but I can't find a clip.) Now that the show is in reruns on the Cooking Channel, a whole new batch of groupies is bound to crop up.
That's not all: Sadly, Jennifer Paterson passed away in 1999, during the fourth season of Two Fat Ladies. Clarissa Dickson Wright is still cooking though, and she's also written several books about cooking, game, travel, dogs, a book on the history of Haggis that appears to be illustrated, and a memoir of her early life. (Before she was half of Two Fat Ladies, Dickson Wright was the youngest female barrister in British history, the offspring of nobility, and an alcoholic with a troubled past full of abuse and neglect. Though it's a story for another post—or several—you can read an excerpt of her memoir Spilling the Beans here and see some photos of her as a young woman. Trigger warning for descriptions of domestic violence.)
Think of them when: Think of the two fat ladies when you're in the kitchen of course, but also consider them when you feel like letting it all hang out and truly not caring what others think. Hop in that sidecar and go for it! They certainly would.