Cooking with camera…the new reality

I seem to spend much of my after work down time these days flicking through the channels searching for the latest episode of the ever increasing cooking shows and I truly cookingshowstvsbelieve that I am now absolutely addicted to them. Truth be known even though I was a professional chef and an unapologetic foodie, I don’t believe that I have ever copied even one recipe from one of these shows…so what’s the point? Food porn I guess?  In fact most everyone can name maybe one or two famous sports icons, a few movie stars and maybe one or two Nobel Prize winners, but if you ask them to name their favorite TV personality chefs we will get a veritable Emmy award’s list of names! They are all such a part of our viewing and daily regime that we recognize most of them by their first names.  Whether its Jamie with his boy next door, everyman’s/ woman’s 15 minute (yeah right!) meals or Hugh what’s-his-hyphenated-name from River Cottage and his “let’s save the planet” cooking through to the voluptuous Nigella and the annoying Kylie.


I personally am absolutely intrigued by Adam Richman’s American reality show Man vs. Food. I mean Richman seems like an all-round nice guy even intelligent but am I fascinated in the way people are fascinated by near death, car crash scenes or is it honest culinary geographic social studies?  Is it extravagance or is it gluttony?  Watching the mega-feeder Richman as he hungrily chomps his way through culinary monstrosities like a 4 kilo, a multi-patty cheese burger, 2 meter-long Philly cheese steak sandwich, a mammoth sized 2.5 kilo steak (with a mountain of fries) and devouring napalm hot ghost chili salsa smothered chicken wings without missing a bite until he is actually ready to explode with sweat pouring down his tortured face is nothing short of unbelievably stupid but stupid in the best way. Is it insanity or is it television brilliance? Either way I can’t help myself…I must watch and it does go a long way in explaining America’s increasing obesity epedemic.Adam Richman

When it comes to reality TV cooking shows, you’ve probably seen more than one episode of Martha Stewart or like me, admit that the combination of cooking show with competition reality TV is seriously addictive.  I watch most seasons of F—king Gordon and those other two fellas in MasterChef with enthralled devotion.  Obviously I get emotionally attached to certain contestants, loving some and absolutely loathing others but that’s exactly why there’s a market for reality TV.
Of course it is not all fun and games we do have some “serious” contenders that stimulate the senses with their pseudo intelligentsia. Like the ever cynical Bourdain and the latest enfant terrible, David Chang’s “Mind of a Chef” or Hesston’s deconstructing and trying to improve on already naturally perfect food.

I mean “get over it” Bourdain. How much can an ex line cook with a somewhat mediocre although successful book about more line cooks, who is now being paid god knows how much  by CNN to travel the world, eat as much as he likes and pontificate on just about everything as is humanly possible be also that mocking and cynical?


Now, if you think that in the UK, Israel, the US or Australia you have your share of annoying television cooks or experts you really are missing out if you don’t get the Asian Food Channel. Now this is really entertainment! Talk about scraping the bottom of the barrel or plate as it were. On this channel they seem to excel in featuring every idiot that has ever raised a fork (or chop stick) to their mouth and professes to be some kind of culinary wizard. If you have never seen the Asian “Iron Chef” dubbed from Japanese into English then you have not lived…I mean this is beyond corny it is so bad it is almost perfect!  Being in Asia one is surrounded by a vast array of amazing and exotic culinary delights and a vast array of very annoying “whiz kids” to go along with it. Priceless!

Is it really real cooking or is it just entertainment?  Watching most of these “culinary whizz kids” at work is sometimes a bit of a bluff and not as simple as it seems to be…why? because it is TV after all and as such it is perfectly choreographed, items prepared in advance, selected so that the “chef” can show off his/her knife skills chopping an onion without miraculously ever shedding a tear or make food glisten and glow with fantastic camera work and subtle sound effects which has absolutely nothing to do with taste.

A make-believe scenario because it not only doesn’t take place in real time it is magically condensed into the allotted time slot and in between commercials. And when a show is pre-taped, all sorts of frightful blunders can be intriguingly made to vanish. Let’s be honest in the real world dishes burn sometimes, or get overcooked, or look like something closer to “road kill. Mistakes happen even in the best of restaurant kitchens and the chefs just do these over. On TV, chefs rarely give you a sense of what really goes on.

Gone are the days of those real life food heroes.  Julia Child probable started it all off and she famously was quoted as saying “The grand thing about cooking is you can eat your mistakes”


Who can remember Graham Kerr the “Galloping Gourmet” and the wonderfully flamboyant Keith Floyd? Both real foodies after my own heart…pissed drunken most of the time. This was real live TV so I guess you needed a few drinks to keep your hand steadyKerr

Apart from being popularistic though, what do these shows they tell us about social trends?

A few facts:

A large percentage of adults enjoy social cooking at home and do it frequently. Eight out of 10 of these adults watch cooking shows regularly, according to a recent poll.

Specific sectors of the population are more likely to watch cooking shows. More than half of the Baby Boomers ( aged 46-64) surveyed watch cooking shows very often, compared to more than half of Echo Boomers (aged 18-33) who say they seldom  watch these shows.

Even though a great many of the TV chefs are men, as are many of the world’s great chefs and statistically as home cooks men love to cook more than women it surprising to note that according to the same poll women are more likely to watch cooking shows then men. )

At the present time there are more or less 7000 cooking shows on television around the world. In other words you are more apt to see a cooking show of some sort whenever you turn on the television than you will see a sports or news show. Somebody will be farting around and self-importantly setting some type of food onto a plate and declaring themselves to be oh so high and mighty. I have pondered on this anomaly about TV cooking shows during the commercials and yes I suppose they do make people more aware that different, often better types of food exist. In any case I enjoy them, even the most annoying of them but I must admit that they are beginning to all get a little the same. I might make a move to the E Channel next!

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