What is it that we are looking for in a cooking show?
One of the on going issues posted here is about the quality of food shows. FN is a continual bashing target (and rightfully so). But so it seems are many of the PBS offerings. Granted everyone has his or her own opinions.
So just was is it that we want to see in our cooking shows?
I don't want lifestyle and travelogues. Travel is fine only to the extent it is relevant to understanding ingredients, technique, and context; but once it veers into a kind of fanstasy advertisement, I am outta there and fast. Ditto lifestyle crap (basically, the tendency of PBS shows to target their desired donor market - upper middle class people who want to live like upper class people, and to show you the lifestyle to which you are likely to want to become accustomed) or music or cute family/friends inclusion unless they are cooking for real. Stop. Don't. Please.
I want recipes, ingredients, and technique. I want fully trained chefs who know cold what they are doing, and who understand how chef-level recipes need to be selected and distilled for average domestic cooks. I don't want restaurant cooking that I am simply supposed to want to go to, because I cannot really make it at home (see lifestyle crap above). I want more than 15 minutes worth in a half-hour program. If you deliver these, your personality is less important.
i've been a long time lover of the foodnetwork...I don't care for all the shows but when one i like comes on I watch it..and when one comes on that I don't like, I just change the channel. Simply put...Everyone that is on TV is one for a reason...they have a fan base somewhere...maybe it's not you but SOMEONE SOMEWHER.
For me...a cooking show has to show me an easy, quick, simple and tastey meals. But i'm the kind of person that watchs the foodnetwork for inspiration, not direction. I tend to watch a show and say "i can make that" and I do so by following the recipes...but the second time I make it I change it up a bit to make it my own.
I also like shows that give me ideas, like the $40 a day show, or Road Tasted, Weekend Getaway...etc. I love to travel so when I'm somewhere that I don't know anyone or anything I look to these shows for ideas of places to go or things to do.
The host of the show has to be likeable...and this is a very hard set of shoes to fill. I've been known to watch 30Minute Meals on mute becuase sometimes Rachel Rays' voice is annoying. But her ideas are good...not every single one but it's the concept that I like.
I don't trust chefs that don't eat their own food and enjoy his/her creations. The best of the best chef in this category is Jacque Pepin. Watching him cook really inspires me. Watching him eat makes me hungry. A close second is Todd English. When he described how he liked sardines you could tell he really loved them. Third is Lydia. She always eats her food. She was demonstrating how to eat fried skate...she put the whole thing in her mouth, slurped it and pulled out the bones. Too bad I couldn't get skates in Missouri.
For me, it's all about the host's personality. I couldn't care less about what they're cooking (I don't actually cook anything anymore and I've never made anything I've seen on television), but I want hosts who are smart and humorous--Julia, for example, or the infamous Two Fat Ladies or Jamie Oliver (pre-sanctimony). So many of the hosts of today's cooking shows (Rachel Ray or Sandra What's-her-face or Giada) are witless--unwitty? sans wit?--or, like Flay (often) or even Bourdain (though he doesn't cook) are just seething bundles of testosterone.
I want humor and intelligence AND good food. Is that so much to ask for?
Julia Child set a very high bar, whenever I see a rerun, or even a cut in something, I am amazed that so many of the things she did so well are done so poorly on some shows. Her off hand comments "...you know you could do this with raisins too, that makes a nice variation, but if you don't have them I think it delicious plain too..." are just one thing that I think is sorely lacking from too many shows/hosts. They get stuck on "the one true way" to prepare a dish. Ugh. When she would demonstrate a technique it was generally photographed from several angles too, not just one that flattered her. It is a kitchen not a catwalk.
The old Great Chefs, on the other hand, had almost no personality of the chefs, but I could listen to Mary Lou Conroy say "now Chef Bouillabaisse flambes the confit" or anything else all day. Smooth as silk. And the kitchens were always empty. The must have shot every showat 8AM on a Monday...
Ah, Great Chefs, what a wonderful series. I have the whole set of cookbooks from them and use them fairly often.
I am with the crew that prefers shows that teach me something. I absolutely hate that FN has become all about entertainment and little about food. I enjoy Dinner Impossible, but as a reality show, not as a food show. I liked the old FN days with Robin Leach, Killer Kate, David Rosengarten, Sara Moulton and even Dionne Lucas. It was really about food then and not a lifestyle network. Oh well, I don't pay the bills, so it means little.
I do like some of the shows on TV currently--Good Eats comes immediately to mind. I also watch Take Home Chef, Ina, Nigella, Mario, Martha, and Giada, even Michael Chiarello from time to time. They all irk me once in a while, and some of them misinform on their shows (not frequently, but it happens, and I have to say it drives me a little batty. I'm known to yell at the TV. Completely irrational.) ETA: I used to love Ming Tsai's show on FN--does he have his own show on another network now?
I like to learn about new foods or combinations, see a technique I haven't practiced before, and understand more about why things work the way they do. I also like someone who's somewhat relaxed or comical. When the host is rushed or frantic, it's no fun to watch.
I prefer shows hosted by chefs who have made an impact in the restaurant world, but where the focus is on the food and not the personality of the chef. Ming Tsai, Rick Bayless, Charlie Trotter and Mario Batali come to mind. Each time I watch one of their shows I feel as if I am learning something from a master. I also like to watch Alton Brown since he delves in to the science of cooking, and as my handle indicates, I am somewhat of a science geek.
Technique technique technique - show me how to do something I don't already know how to do!
Failing that (and it is hard given all the different cooking backgrounds & levels of expertise in the audience), I do like shows that create an ambience. Nigella and Ina come to mind. I like Giada well enough, but by the time they've done their little summary of the recipe I know how to do it already and she doesn't give much other incentive to stick around.
In Canada we have Chef at Home who is annoying, yet, inspiring - his schtick is that you don't need recipes. Anna Olson's Sugar - I don't need to see you make muffins or cake 10 times with different ingredients: I want to see different techniques - working with filo; puff pastry; etc.
Agree with Technique.
Look up any recipe and there's a hundred + variations on ingredients.
For making an Italian meat sauce, for example, I want to know how best to layer the flavors, not what goes in a pot all at once.
In the BBQ arena, many shows simply try and wow you with scenes of the finished products - but the pre cooking stuff is critical. Brining chicken, for example. Creating rubs.
Im still not clear, for example, if and what marinades actually help best prep meats. I'd like to learn more about acids, enzymes, etc. But even then - simple techniques and advice are welcome. Alton, for example, did a great show on BBQ ribs, Every market has them, but few know how to cook them. I have a smoker and have slow cooked them for hours, but his are just as good from the kitchen oven. After grasping his concepts, I've been combining the ideas.
I also love the adventure shows. Bourdain in Asia, for example. Street food there is amazing, and should be exposed. I'd love to see more exposure to markets and simple eats in all cities.
I mostly want to learn something, so I like to see people actually go through the cooking process step by step. Personality is important, but only to the extent that the host is engaged with and passionate about food. I want someone (or ones)really knowledgeable about their particular food interest, who is able to communicate well and has some sophisticated knowledge to pass on. PBS food shows tend to come off a bit better by these criteria --
First and foremost, entertainment. If it's not, it doesn't mater what they're doing, I won't watch. Personalitily from the host is part of that.
Secondly, I want to be inspired. Either to cook what they're making or to try the type of cooking.
Thirdly, I want to learn something. I want to know more about cooking after the show then before it.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not a FTV hater like some out there. I understand the need for shows like 30 MM and challenge shows. The issue I have is that there are too many of these no mind shows. I like shows where I see where food comes from and how it's made/processed. I like some insight into competition cooking. I think people who are afraid to make toast need basic cooking shows to get them into the kitchen. I also think that some of the above genre shows are completely terrible.
We also don't need any "Make over" shows. I hate that they are completely contrived.
I have no problem with the Food Network. I like some shows and don't like others. For me, the host has to be engaging and entertaining (Alton Brown, for example), there should be variety in the recipes and not the same stuff revamped, and I'd like tips on cookware and methods with which I may not be familiar. I also like it when cuisine in various cities is highlighted. Gives me ideas for when I travel.