Colin Hogg: Topps shine as rambling foodies

By Colin Hogg

Lynda and Jools cram laughs, interviews, songs and plenty of grub into a show that seems bigger than it is

Lynda and Jools Topp have been touring the country seeking eccentric talent for their food show.
Lynda and Jools Topp have been touring the country seeking eccentric talent for their food show.

Almost as inevitable in life as taxes and death are television's food shows, which seem to know no mercy at all, though they do sometimes at least get out of the kitchen.

Two new local ones arrived in the last week with a common theme of meeting and greeting and getting to know the animals a bit before sitting down and eating them, which is a lively and rather Kiwi way to go about it.

On Maori TV, starting last Thursday at eight, was Get Your Fish On, a 13-part series that jumps around the country, telling a bit of local history and staging little fishing contests before sitting down to eat the catch.

And then, on Sunday night (TV One, 8pm), there was Topp Country, a new vehicle for the Topp Twins, who have been operating just below the national radar for long enough to have risen into primetime at just the right moment.

Well, that's how it felt watching the first episode of Topp Country, which was promisingly titled For the Love of Pork and unravelled more like a gentle, funny little film than just another flaming food show.

Its winning ways lie mostly in the particular charms of Lynda and Jools Topp, who turn out to be as good at the art of intimate interviews as they are at those other things that come to them so naturally - like singing (which they do all over the show) and being laugh-out-loud funny (ditto).

But rather than simply being a thin container for a large talent, Topp Country is also a fully formed food show of the sort England's Rick Stein used to do when he drifted round Britain meeting people who made rather than simply cooked food.

The more eccentric the talent the better, of course, and the first episode, at least, was bulging with loveable loopiness on the subject of pigs, where they come from and where they could end up - like in a sausage sandwich.

In the first of the half-hour show's three encounters, the Topps met a pig-crazy free-range farming couple. It was filmed in such a joyous, porker-filled way I wouldn't have been in the least surprised if a piglet had turned to the camera and said "gidday".

"They all have personalities," said Ian, the farmer and a bit of a thinker. "There are pigs you like and pigs you don't like." He reckoned pig farming was "a calling".

One of the show's great devices is to film the featured couples alone with one of the Topps - Jools out among the pigs with Ian telling her "a farmer needs a wife" and Lynda, in the kitchen making bacon balls with the wife, and asking her what made her marry a man in love with pigs.

"He makes me laugh," she said. "Pigs make him kind. At first he neglected them for me, but once I was trapped, he went back to his pigs."

Then they all sat down and wolfed bacon balls and large glasses of stout.

Topp Country was so full of stories and good humour it felt bigger than it was.

In Christchurch, it was sausage worship with a chorizo-making couple - "you've got to put love in your sausage" - and out on Banks Peninsula, John and Anna, who run "pig in a day" workshops and showed Lynda how to make killer pancetta.

They even squeezed in a couple of skits starring classic Topp characters - "Camp Mother's Saucy Tips" and a pig-themed poem at the end from the two Kens.

Truly wonderful television.

- NZ Herald

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