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Jan 14, 2007 01:26 PM

Best and Worst Cooking Shows

I'm going to kick this off with an obvious statement - this is a very subjective list, and I would love to hear everyone else's opinions. I'll also limit it to my top and bottom four.

Also, I'm not even going to include Rachel Ray or Sandra Lee in my list - these two are in class by themselves IMO, and not in a good way.

My categories are largely based on two factors: 1) Education - how much I actually learn and can replicate from the show. 2) Personality - how entertaining, fun, and captivating is the host, without distracting from the food.


America's Test Kitchen - Scores very high on the education factor - lots of practical, real-world information on food and tools, with recipes I can replicate. Kimball can be annoying at times, but banter with the rest of the cast is entertaining.

Good Eats - Great on the education factor, and pretty fun to watch as well. Kind of like a tv version of "On Food and Cooking." The science sometimes gets distracting, but lots of practical advice. Plus, the Mcguyver setups rock. My sister-in-law, however, finds him unwatchable, personality-wise.

Easy Entertaining with Michael Chiarello - High on the personality factor, and I love how Mike's goal is to show you how much you can prep in advance so you're not bogged down the day of your gathering. Great for when you're planning a party. His little "chef's tricks" are great.

Tyler's Ultimate - High on personality - Tyler's very casual and comfortable to watch. Plus high on education - it's great on how he focuses on 'core' recipes, but makes them the 'best' he can. Fried chicken, rib roast, pot roast - all staples that belong in every home chef's repertoire.


Emeril Live - I'm not a big Emeril fan, but even so, I don't think I've learned anything from his "Live" show as opposed to "Essence of Emeril". Perfect case of the personality distracting from the food.

Licensed to Grill - I find Rainford very unwatchable and cringe-worthy. I can't exactly put my finger on it, but his personality completely turns me off to his cooking.

Barbecue University - For such a well respected barbecue chef as Raichlen, his TV personality is a complete bore. He scores well on the Education factor, but there's just no excitement in this show. The "Grill Cam" is completely useless.

East Meets West - I know lots of people love Ming, and I'll admit to watching his show on a regular basis. I like the concept of his Master recipe, but as far as replicable recipes are concerned, he scores very low. More often than not, I've seen him use ingredients that are just too exotic for the regular home chef. Almost every show, I find myself saying "Where am I going to get THAT?" And I live in New York, where I can pretty much find everything at some local farmers market or store - I can't imagine what it would be like for people who live in areas without as wide a variety of produce.

What are your best/worst?

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  1. I like falling into the cooking shows on the Lime Network, edgy and with Canadian, Aussie and British accents. Of course the grandmamma of all shows- Julia Child -just hasn't been duplicated. I loved the "take offs" of her shows on Sesame Street. For comic relief and catty soap opera, Top Chef is a secret pleasure.

    I guess folks need to have something to "hate" :). Even if the "Big Personality" irks you- there may be someone out in middle America or far away from a big city that may be inspired to try something new.

    Even the "worst cooking show" beats all the crazy junk food ads on Nicklelodeon and Disney (I have a 10 year old). I'd love to have a show- non pretentious that actually showed children teaching other children great eating ideas and simple recipes.

    5 Replies
    1. re: drmimi

      Well said. I agree a cooking show for young people by young people is needed and I'd like to see it include culinary school, career opps and ties to world history.

      As for best & worst lists, I'm not a player.

      1. re: drmimi

        That's a great idea! Kids are very impressionable, and I feel they would listen to their contemporaries if introduced to healthy eating and simple recipes. This is a great opportunity to inspire them to experiment with food that they can prepare themselves (or with a little help). Hey, as a result, they will also get to experience a sense of accomplishment -- an added benefit. We've got to get this generation to eat healthier somehow, someway. The answer might be right here: kids teaching kids. They find TV mesmerizing anyway, so capturing their attention should be easy.
        A good opportunity for child actors too, LOL. : )

        1. re: drmimi

          The Noggin network has a short program called "Cooking with Luis" that they show between shows sometimes. It's geared for 3-6 year olds, but it's great to see another kid helping and making basic things (like meatballs, fruit kabobs and polenta) in the kitchen with help of an adult. Helping in the kitchen is a big deal to my little pre-schooler.

          1. re: drmimi

            a second for top chef, prolly my favorite show on tv right now

            in sd we have "sam the cooking guy" which is somehow mesmerizing, maybe it's the shaky camera angles they do to jazz things up

            san diego food blog

            1. re: stangoldsmith

              We have Sammy up in OC as well, and I have to say, he has one of the most entertaining cooking shows on TV right now. He can't cook worth two shakes (or doesn't on TV to keep it simple) but he is personable, funny, sarcastic, and a bit of a lush; all admirable qualities.

              Rumor has it he will be appearing on the Discovery Channel at somepoint, which would be nice. I'm really tired of watching the same eight episodes they keep repeating up here.

          2. Since "Best" and "Worst" are so subjective I'll pipe in w/my faves-the ones I'll make a point to watch-and the ones I will skip over when surfing the channels.

            Easy Entertaining w/Michael Chiarello
            From Martha's Kitchen (unfortunatley, only reruns)
            Good Eats
            Barefoot Contessa
            Naked Chef (see comment above)
            America's Test Kitchen
            Nigella Feasts

            Least favorites:
            Rachel Ray's shows
            Batali's shows
            Emeril Live
            Semi-Homemade w/Sandra Lee

            All of the others, I'm agnostic on. In other words,if there is nothing else on television, I don't mind watching Good Deal w/Dave Lieberman, Essence of Emeril, or one of the many others. As far as I'm concerned, food television is great background to have on-"comfort food", if you will.

            1. I must be a minority here, since no one ever mentions them, but I think that Party Line with the Hardy Boys is a great show. They have good TV personalities, and they play so well off of each other. Their food is inventive but simple, and there's something on every episode that inspires me. One of them gives party planning or decorating tips about 2/3 through each show, and these are often nice ideas as well.

              10 Replies
              1. re: maestra

                I really like that show (Party Line with the Hardy Boys), but it's on at times that I almost never catch it... I'm either asleep or at work.

                1. re: maestra

                  I love the Hardy Boys. Charming show with good recipes and entertaining tips. A pity that FoodTV airs it at 8am on a Sunday. A time I've heard of, but have never actually experienced. Thank god for DVR.

                  1. re: stolenchange

                    It's on here in NY at 4:00 a.m. on Fridays. Just looked it up.

                  2. re: maestra

                    I really like Party Line too, but it is never on during a reasonable hour on the weekend -- only really early in the morning here in CDT. I am going to have to plan ahead to TiVo it. Maybe the FoodNetwork can get the hint and mix things up a bit? I wish they would give up some Rachel Ray time slots to them. In fact, the new faces are still fresh and interesting and could take some of her slots and some of those tedious "Unwrapped" slots as well. Guy is pretty cool and fun to watch.

                    Most educational and therefore, most enjoyable for me: Good Eats, Tyler's Ultimate, most things Bobby Flay. Most irritating: 1) 30 Minute Meals, not because of content but because she is so overexposed and her style wears out its welcome. She needs to tone it down a tad; 2) The above-mentioned Semi-Homemade. If someone could possibly spend and much time in real life redoing their kitchen colors to match their sweaters, and creating (gag me) "table scapes" for anything other than a very special party, like a six year-old's birthday, they would certainly have the time and money to cook from scratch. I must admit that I do like her cocktail recipes, and that is often the only reason I watch. That, and I am too busy watching the train wreck to change the channel.

                    Used to love the Two Fat Ladies -- They were hilarious.

                    1. re: RGC1982

                      You are soooo right about Sandra D's hypocrisy... I.e. "This recipe will be so quick and easy, which is good because I need to spend five hours decorating my frickin' table!"

                      And I LOVED the Two Fat Ladies!!!

                      1. re: almond3xtract

                        They were the BEST! Every once in a while, there will pop up one of their segments - still wonderful.

                      2. re: RGC1982

                        what ever happened to the 2 fat ladies? I love them and forgot all about them till you just mentioned it!

                          1. re: bythebayov

                            Jennifer Paterson died back in August 1999. I loved The Two Fat Ladies. The series is available on DVD. I received the set for my birthday last year and they were wonderful to watch again. I always learned something from them. Not that I'm going out to shoot my own grouse, but I think it's good for people to know the origins of their food.

                            1. re: decolady

                              Agreed. I was not going to go out a shoot game, but what an awesome way to spend an afternoon - watching her show.
                              Makes me wish Netflix carried more old shows like that. Or even more cooking shows. Be kind of cool.

                      3. The ones I've been watching a lot recently are "Good Eats" and "Jacques Pepin's Fast Food My Way." I love Martha, but don't watch regularly. My husband is also crazy about the Jacques Pepin show. There's nothing on the Food Network that I find very interesting anymore other than Alton Brown.

                        I'll watch the Christopher Kimball every so often, but he is so insulting and thinks he's much more humorous than he actually is.

                        When I run across "Yan Can Cook," I find myself enjoying the show greatly.

                        It's highly humorous that they've taken the techniques of shooting high-budget porn (camera angles, close-ups, and bad music) to create Giada's persona.

                        Ina Garten is so exceedingly smug, it makes my blood boil, if I'm going to single someone out for derision.

                        5 Replies
                        1. re: Atomica

                          There might be a reason Ina comes across as some as "exceedingly smug" - her recipes WORK! Not to mention they're generally uncomplicated and in my experience have never failed to be crowd pleasers. There's also an absence of cleavage, ridiculous hand gesturing and kitschy-kitchens. Ina's a tried and true winner in my book.

                          1. re: chefwannab

                            I was thinking, reading these posts, that maybe we ought to do another edition (maybe more appropriate on the home cooking board) to say whose recipes have worked for us, personalities and tv-stuff aside. Good to know that Ina's have for you -- maybe I'll try her in the future. I've had good luck with Batali (although they're really long recipes sometimes), Jaime Oliver and Nigella Lawson recipes... and I tried to make some Paula Deen recipes, which tasted fine... but I agree with someone else who complained about fat lower down -- the food literally had fat dripping off of it, so I might halve the butter if I try her recipes again.

                            1. re: Adrienne


                              Great suggestion! As the OP of this thread, I'll start one on the home cooking section for your suggested topic. I'm sure there'll be plenty of interesting answers.

                              Thread is now open here!


                            2. re: chefwannab

                              As much as I get annoyed with some of her personality quirks and making Jeffrey seem inept etc. Her recipes really do work. I have rarely disliked any one of her recipes and a few are my favorites (roasted vegetables with orzo). So as much as I sometimes cringe watching Ina, I'd definitely recommend some of her cookbooks.

                            3. re: Atomica

                              I LOVE watching Jacques Pepin prepare food. He's the real deal, a superbly trained chef who can make the simplest food elegant. And of course the accent -- sort of a Charles Boyer of the kitchen.

                              As for America's Test Kitchen, I am continually grossed out on the few occasions when I watch it now. The sugar and fat plopped into every recipe is so over the top that I wonder they don't keel over dead from heart attacks. Christopher Kimball doesn't appear to be getting any fatter, but over the years, the women who cook on the show sure have.

                            4. There is *one* person whom I find difficult to watch without uttering a negative comment to myself. That would be James Barber -- Urban Peasant. Here's a preview of him in action ... click on 'Welsh Rarebit' and study his technique.

                              7 Replies
                              1. re: Cheese Boy

                                So glad to hear you say it Cheese Boy. I can't stand watching him but he is so "aw shucks" I feel bad saying it.

                                1. re: Mila

                                  I think James Barber passed away recently so not to speak ill of the dead but I cringed every time I watched his show. Abosolutley horrid stuff and incredibly sloppy and unhygenic technique.

                                2. re: Cheese Boy

                                  Good Lord! "Take a teaspoon of mustard..."

                                  1. re: Elizzie

                                    My point exactly. His 'mise en place' is okay ... .

                                    ... it's his execution that needs help. Most people cringe. I know I do. It also reminds me of how skilled and how well-rehearsed some of the other TV chefs are. The others make food preparation look graceful and effortless. Some make it even look *clean* by constantly wiping cutting boards and counters etc, LOL.

                                    That all takes *skill*, or a good moments worth of rehearsal, IMO.

                                    1. re: Elizzie

                                      oh my gosh, this is hilarious. I'd never heard of him before. No, it doesn't look appetizing, but I love it!

                                    2. re: Cheese Boy

                                      Have to agree about Barber. He has this routine where the phone 'rings' and he then spends three minutes saying 'yes mother' for no apparent reason.

                                      1. re: Withnail42

                                        Okay, has anyone seen the show on foodnetwork, the really, really tall lady that wears clogs, says she's a food editor for Family Circle magazine, Cici Carmichael, you know with the dog in the kitchen, Dont' forget Calorie Commando, or Cooking Class and Robin Miller.