That’s a whole lotta Gok
Gok Wan is somewhat of an easy target. With all his hair flicking and shrieking of “you can do it, babes,” and grabbing of middle aged women’s breasts and forcing of housewives to get their thread veins lasered off, throwing casual insults his way is easier than taking your bra off and walking down a makeshift runway in a shopping centre outside Hull. For starters, he calls his fans Gokettes, and pictures of them in his glasses on his website form part of a Gokette’s Gallery. You’d think this blog post would write itself.
But I take people on face value, and having never seen more than ten minutes of How To Look Good Naked - and his new cookery show having not aired at time of writing - I have to judge ol’Gockles on the three times I’ve met him. I use the word “met” as casually as you might idly pick up a pair of his Specsavers specs, glance at their lilac frames in your hand and cast them aside, for on none of these three occasions would I have even registered on his consciousness.
The first was in Bristol, in 2006. I was on the cider boat with some friends, and after three pints of 7% Festival Proof Scrumpy the subject turned to one Mr Wan, who had recently become a TV phenomenon. “I can’t stand him,” I sneered, despite having never seen the show, though to be fair after that much Scrumpy I’d have held the same opinion of my own grandmother. Moments later, walking out into the sunshine, we were confronted with Gok standing on a street corner, looking long and lean and louche. “Hi,” I simpered, hoping he’d not been on the boat and heard my drunken diatribe. He beamed beatifically back. And that was the first time we “met”.
Then a few months ago at the Soho Hotel he held the door open for me with the sort of passive aggressiveness I thought only I was capable of. “Come on then,” he said meanly, tutting and sneering as I sheepishly held him up by walking through the doorway, past his angrily tapping foot, delaying him by a whole second and a half.
But only a couple of weeks later he flirted with me in the queue at Sainsbury’s. I got ID’d for wine (Best. Day. Ever) and he jokingly suggested he hoped he’d get the same treatment, and I made some remark about how hey, if they were asking me my age they clearly needed to visit his line of glasses in Specsavers, and he said that not at all, I looked very young, and we both laughed and smiled, and was that a frisson that passed between us? and all the time I was thinking about how he had been so rude when he’d held the door for me that other time and that all this charm was too little too late, but ooh, perhaps he was actually quite nice, and that well, I just didn’t know where I stood on whether I liked Gok or not.
But fortunately he has conclusively provided me with a concrete way to judge him – yes he’s got his own cookbook, entirely based on the Chinese food his dad, Poppa Wan, served in the family restaurant Gok worked in throughout his teenage years. “At last,” I cried, as it landed on my desk. “I’ll finally know whether I should flirt back next time I bump into him at the supermarket.” But just like my previous ”meetings” with the man, the results don’t determine a thing.
Gok’s Sesame Prawn Balls with Stir-Fried Cucumbers
Sesame prawn toasts are one of my favourite things in the world. They’re greasy and toasty and salty and surely make up at least half the wine glass full of fat that I once read in Metro is in every Chinese takeaway, but Gok’s version does away with the bread base and adds some stir fried cucumbers. It is also totally impossible.
Not pictured: the stir fried cucumbers, which by this stage I couldn’t be bothered with, or indeed any actual prawn balls
I followed the recipe to the letter. I chopped the prawns and water chestnuts finely, stuck them in a bowl with the sesame oil and mixed it all together. On Gok’s command I went to take an eighth of the mixture to form into a ball to roll in the sesame seeds…and it fell apart in my hands. “For Gok’s Sake!” I screamed. “This is the worst moment of my life!” My guests, over from Canada and expecting some top quality cuisine, rushed to help. “But there’s no binding agent,” they agreed. “There is no way this recipe could ever work.” I forwent the cucumber, cursing the name of Gok, and fried the prawn mixture as one. We ate it with a spoon, off one plate. Worst appetiser since the raw potato.
Gok’s Hot and Sour Soup
However, his Hot and Sour Soup was incredible. “Opposites attract!” begins his intro about why the two flavours work together, also neatly explaining why we would never get beyond the flirting-in-Sainsbury’s stage. With our glasses, love of scarves, and self esteem issues, The Gokster and I are as one. I might marry him for this soup, however.
My version. Tasted as proportionately unlike vomit as it looked similar
Rich and dark, full of mushroomy goodness and tangier than Haribo, we all four licked our bowls clean. “And he doesn’t really even like mushrooms,” said my female guest about her boyfriend, staring at his empty bowl.
His Braised Aubergine with Pork
And then his Braised Aubergine with Pork fell somewhere in the middle. Served with his aromatic Wok Fried Beans it had an earthy flavour that came from the soy sauce and anchovies, but there wasn’t enough sauce – it lacked the oomph you’d expect from a man who talks to women about their breasts all day. “Yeah, this is fine,” everyone agreed, damning with faint praise.
And mine. Roughly as appetising as it looked
Of course, Gok being a former fatty there were no desserts in this book. We served ice cream and more booze instead, just like we were in a real Chinese restaurant. And that’s the problem with Gok’s endeavours. Flicking through it now, staring at recipes for Crispy Duck Plum pancakes and egg fried rice, I just want to order straight in from Deliverance, rather than make any of these things myself. It’s better than your average celeb-turned-cook cookbook, but he should have had the foresight to see that in an era where everyone’s a foodie, we really do need more than that. Perhaps he should have gone to Specsavers.
Cost of ingredients £27.35 (not including items already in store cupboard)
Appetiser * Shanghai Surprise, and not in a good way
Starter * * * * *
Main * *
Overall 5/10 It looks nice, and most of the recipes pretty much work…
Gok Cooks Chinese (Penguin, £20) Original Photography by Jemma Watts