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Rant: What About TV Chefs?

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From the days of Julia Child and the Galloping Gourmet, there’s been a certain fascination with television cooking shows and their hosts.  We invite them into our living rooms day after day, hoping to glean some small sliver of information that will turn us into better cooks.  And chances are good we will.

I’ve watched a lot of cooking shows in my time, and still do.  Like most others, I have my favorites, and my not-so-favorites.

I find the “reality show” concepts behind many of the current crop of cooking shows interesting, from a marketing point-of view anyway.  If you are to believe the promotional effort behind the shows, you’ll find that you can learn to:

  • Construct a delicious meal using five ingredients or less (that doesn’t involve Captain Crunch and milk)
  • Make dinner for the family for under $10 USD
  • Prepare a gourmet spread entirely outdoors (sometimes in a horse pasture for extra effect), without ever setting foot in the kitchen (except presumably to raid the pantry and fridge, and grab a few pots and pans).
  • Combine ingredients no one’s ever heard of, that are available nowhere, that don’t even sound edible, and produce something temptingly good.

This shouldn’t surprise anyone who understands the fierce battle for advertisers’ dollars – and this brings me to my number one gripe about cooking show hosts – they now tend to be entertainers and showmen/women rather than cooking educators.  In fact, some seem to only have barely passable cooking skills, but as long as they are personable, have camera presence and some amount of charm, that’s what the production companies (and advertisers) are looking for.  Of course, exceptions abound, and those shows are the ones I gravitate toward.

Although I’ve never hosted a cooking show, I can see how difficult it must be.  In order to fit the allotted time and keep a brisk pace going, time compression is a requirement – camera time is too valuable to actually show a host fine-chopping eight hard-boiled eggs, even though that’s what the recipe calls for.  You demonstrate chopping one, and then you move on.  I get it.  But why are hosts shown doing such sloppy work?  I mean, when you mince basil, for example, why do you never see it being washed first (which is a must with any fresh produce)?  Or at least some mention of washing produce first?  The only answer I can come up with is that the host assumes the viewer already knows this.  Believe me, they don’t.  And if a particular technique is stated (“always remove the stems from the basil, and chop finely”), you’ll see the host rapidly cutting the leaves in thirds, stems and all.  At least demonstrate proper technique for the viewers, people!

Another flaw with cooking shows is seeing the cook put together a meal without once washing his/her hands.  Finally, several hosts are starting to emphasize this vital step, but I’m still seeing shows where only a quick rinse is ever shown.  Pictures are worth a thousand words – you have to show soap and water being used.  Not every viewer has spent a lifetime in the kitchen; many are new to cooking basics such as these – and even advanced cooks can benefit from the occasional reminder.

So that’s my take on the current state of televised cooking.  As I mentioned earlier, however, I still watch several of the shows as often as time allows – if for no other reason than to yell at the television set during something other than a sporting event.



About azdon

I believe that my unique combination of education, ability and experience would be a real asset to your company, in any capacity that… Wait a minute – this isn’t a résumé, it’s a profile – I’m sorry, I was confused for a moment. In that case, I’ll just say that I live in the beautiful desert Southwest, I’m extremely happily married, I have everything I need and almost everything I want. Is that good enough? And one more thing… I probably wouldn’t be much of an asset to your company.

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