How do you turn a cooking show into an international sensation? Start with a pair of saucy middle-aged British gals (think Posh and Ginger Spice with 40 years—and 150 more pounds—under their belt). Sprinkle a dash of culinary lunacy (think SNL-era Dan Aykroyd doing his Julia Child impression). Add a love for everything the AMA says clogs your arteries. Mix with chubby bejeweled fingers (dusted with cigarette ashes). And voila! You’ve got TWO FAT LADIES (Food Network, Saturdays and Sundays, 12:30-1 and 7-8 p.m.).
The corpulent dames in question—Jennifer Paterson and Clarissa Dickson Wright—are a couple of whisk-wielding whizzes who’ve had British telly watchers eating out of their hands for two years. And ever since last fall—when their show became the centerpiece of the Food Network’s weekend programming—the Fat Ladies have been making it, well, big in America, too.
”We do things [Americans] wouldn’t dare,” says Paterson, 70, of her decidedly old-school cuisine (the two specialize in what they call ”proper food,” the clotted-cream teas and wild-game feasts fit for neither the calorie conscious nor the squeamish). ”They gasp when I say, ‘Yogurt is no substitute for cream,’ and when Clarissa says ‘animal lard.”’
Their recipes may not travel well, but the Ladies’ quirky shtick has universal appeal. Each episode begins with them arriving on location (they’ve done shows everywhere from an Irish pub to the Cambridge University boathouse) in their trademark motorcycle and sidecar. Then they settle into the kitchen and banter through 30 minutes of chopping, mixing, baking. ”We don’t rehearse, and we don’t have a script, you see, so we just putter along,” says Paterson. ”And both of us are talkaholics.”
During one show, you can learn that Paterson began drinking tea at 45, while in a ”Dickensian hospital” recovering from jaundice; that her great-grandfather was a Viennese nobleman and friend of composer Richard Wagner’s; that neither of them can do without Tabasco; and that apricot jelly has ”the flavor of the Austro-Hungarian empire.”
Both hosts have eccentric pedigrees. Dickson Wright, 51, had a successful career as a barrister foiled by drinking; she was then forced to pursue culinary jobs. ”I actually cooked the best dinner I ever cooked in blackout,” she laughs. ”It took me five years into sobriety to discover what I had made.” Paterson was raised in China, and used to ”bother the cook and make disgusting little cakes.” She also lived in Portugal, Italy, and Libya, picking up recipes at each stop.
But to each, the U.S. may be the most foreign place of all. ”Americans aren’t accustomed to proper food,” says Pat-erson. ”There are these teeeerrrrible women’s magazines telling them everything ought to be low-fat…then they die of anorexia.” Not if the Fat Ladies have anything to say about it.