MIDWAY : Killing to entertain

One is small and cute and scoffs sand eels. The other is big and ugly and eats anything. So you can predict the outcome of British television chef Gordon Ramsay’s clifftop encounter with a puffin in Iceland. Groan, went the puffin. Crunch, went Ramsay’s Icelandic puffin-hunting pal, and the bird’s freshly wrung neck bowed to the celebrity cook’s barbecue.

Killing your meal on television is the winning ingredient in modern cookery shows, adding an edgy authenticity to the programme considered the blandest. Nowadays, every television chef worth his salt must be shown shoot-ing or butchering the helpless beasts.

Not only did Ramsay and his Icelandic “sky fishing” guru bag four puffins in a big net, they ripped out their hearts and ate them raw. Ramsay declared he “loved” its “unique” flavour and vowed to hunt more.

These antics attracted internet outrage and 42 complaints to the UK’s TV regulator, Ofcom. The trouble is, Ramsay has a point.

I had puffin for starters when I visited Reykjavik. I am still racked with guilt — Atlantic puffins are adorable; its Latin name means “little brother of the north” for God’s sake! — but an animal’s aesthetic qualities shouldn’t make it harder to eat.

This little fella slipped down a treat. The rich, smooth smoked slithers of meat tasted livery and slightly fishy — the perfect appetiser that one would expect for whale steak. (This was lean and meaty, and eating it was an act I won’t defend.)

Ramsay’s detractors rightly argue we shouldn’t be encouraged to eat a bird that is endangered and protected by law in Britain. But Ofcom decided that Ramsay’s puffins were caught and killed humanely in a country where they are plentiful and a popular part of the national diet.

The baffling bit was its declaration that it did not “consider that this particular item went beyond the general expectations of the audience”.

So people in the United Kingdom now expect their cookery shows to have a murder-their-own-meat segment? Killing for the pleasure of television entertainment certainly leaves a nastier taste in the mouth than killing for the pleasure of eating.