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Why do you watch cooking shows?

It seems like a simple question but someone asked me this last week and I found myself really thinking about it. I've always watched cooking shows. As a kid I watched Julia Child, the Galloping Gourmet, Jack Favier (on a local TV show and who may or may not have been a good cook, I can't really remember) and I am sure a host of other cooking shows. They may have first been on because my mother or grandmother was watching them but I always sat right in front of the TV, mesmerized. I didn't care about watching Sesame Street - give me Julia Child! I still watch cooking shows and I think that I am watching for the same reason - I am mesmerized. I love watching those really good cooks take a bunch on ingredients and create something amazing. I think that's really why I watch rather than to get cooking tips and ideas (though I pick up a lot of things here and there).

I have friends that watch Sandra Lee, Robin Miller et al and they just loooove them. They go on and on about their recipes and ideas and can't understand why I don't really like watching their shows. I watch, mostly in horror, Sandra Lee's show just to see what she's going to do THIS time. It is like a Saturday Night Live sketch to me. When I suggest they watch Jamie Oliver (and I know he has his fans and detractors here) they tell me he's boring. They say everything he makes is complicated. It is? Everything? Maybe most people do want Sandra Lee and Robin Miller. Personally, I miss seeing people really cook on a cooking show even if I cook using a lot of shortcuts.

So why do you watch cooking shows? Must run now and set up my tablescape for a southwestern brunch I am preparing. (Kidding!)

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  1. typically for entertainment value, sometimes for menu ideas, rarely for recipes, & never for technique.

    1. I am such a fanatic, but think the best shows were when we were kids. Julia and the GG were really invested in teaching people how to really cook. I decided I would give it a try. It's easy enough on blip.tv-- Faye Delicious

      1 Reply
      1. re: fayehess

        Yes, I think you are right, shows were better back then. Maybe I'm just nostalgic. I can appreciate trying to get people back into the kitchen or bringing cooking to the masses but does it have to involve opening a can of cream of mushroom soup? (And, yes, sometimes I make things in my own kitchen that involve cream of mushroom soup.) I guess it was just a different time. Now it seems everyone wants easy/fast food and are willing to sacrifice flavor for it. But that's really getting away from my original topic.

        I had a look at your blog. Very interesting. I'm going to go dig into the archives.

        I see this topic has been moved. Sorry, I really thought I was on this board when I was posting. I guess I just didn't look.

      2. Many times we watch cooking because there is nothing else on TV, or we use it for white noise. We watch to learn, get recipes, and to get ideas for our own cooking. We watch for the equipment they use, DH loves gadgets and fancy kitchen toys.

        PBS shows are best. NO one can beat Julia Child. I want to see her shows out there again.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Janet

          I enjoy getting ideas for meals and in some cases, such as baking, I do get technique models. DH and I watch some together since it's one form of reality TV we agree on. I enjoy Mike Colamecco's PBS show where he takes the viewer into the kitchen and behind the scenes of restaurants. I learned to cook years ago watching Julia, Pierre Franey, and Graham Kerr.

        2. This is a good question. I'm not sure why I watch cooking shows but I do. I, too, loved Julia. And I'll watch even the shows I hate, such as Sandra Lee's, if that's what's on. I'm just more interested in cooking than I am in the rest of the TV landscape. I do learn technique from some shows. And I get inspired to try things.

          1. Watch because I love anything to do with food. To get ideas. Maybe see a technique I haven't done before. I don't follow the show for recipes but for general ideas. Better than other reality TV and sitcoms or movies on HBO that are old and play every week.

            1. Quite frankly, for me it's food porn. I love to eat, can't cook, and have no huge aspirations to. I am also fascinated by the business aspects of running a restaurant, and am, therefore, very attracted to the Kitchen Nightmares and Last Restaurant Standing type of shows. Even better, are the very infrequent shows about real, outstanding chefs, and filming what they do.

              What would make for a great Kitchen Nightmares episode, in my opinion, is for Ramsay to say "Look, we show you horrible nightmares every week. This week, we'll show you one of my kitchens, and how things ought to be done." This wouldn't be something they do every week; but give us a contrasting view of how things ought to work. Then we can condemn :) the poor wretches every other week so much more knowledgeably.

              When I first heard about Rocco and his show (I forget what it was called), I was really interested. Here we were going to see how a world class chef creates a new restaurant. What we got was a circus that perhaps was titillating in watching a car accident sort of way; fun for an episode or two, but then boring. Perhaps that's what we get on commercial TV these days, and we'll have to wait for someone to do something more "educational" on public TV. A mini-series on how a real chef puts together a real restaurant and the ordeals (surely it's hard work and things go wrong) they go through.

              1. I watch for the "tips."
                i.e.

                Coat nuts in flour before adding to cake batter. This prevents them from sinking to the bottom. (Ina Garten, 'Barefoot Contessa")

                Saute onions before adding them to meatloaf mixture. This results in better flavour and texture. (Tyler Florence, "Ultimate")

                Add finely grated carrots to cut the acidity of tomato sauce. (Giada De..., "Everyday Italian") (Incidentally, this helps reduce heartburn.)

                Mash steamed cauliflower in with mashed potatoes to get your children to eat vegetables. (The host of "Fixing Dinner") This actually worked on the pickiest eater I know. He's never eaten much more than ketchup, cheese, peanut butter, potatoes, noodles and rice. He refused to eat meat as an infant, and he still won't touch it.

                I guess you could call them techniques, but not really. I love these tips. I'll leave the shows on as basically white noise while working on my computer, and perk up when I hear a "tip."

                1. I think one of the big differences is that alot of the really good shows were and are on PBS. They do not have the almighty dollar to worry about as much. When I see product placement on FN, I tend to just change the channel. I must admit, I do get alot of great ideas from Ina, The Hearty Boys and Chiarello.

                  1. I asm another one that felt the older shows are much much better. Jusdt goes to show that I am old.

                    The PBS show: The Great Chefs of (Name a city) was great because it was just simple narration, some cool jazz music in the background and the action was watching somebody who is really good at what they do. These guys had some chops!

                    I really enjoyed The Frugal Gourmet. I just liked the cultural aspects that he would put into the presentation, it was the same kind of learning I get from Good Eats. When he started to travel, it was awesome, it was the great precursor to the travel/cooking show.

                    Burt Wolfe. In the later episodes he simplified the cooking parts way too much but early on it was very very interesting.

                    I used to watch Julia if she happened to be on, I always learned something yet I wouldn't go out of my way to watch it. Just wasn't mature enough for the show I guess. Plus, after seeing the Dan Ackroyd caricature, I can't stifle my gaffaws.

                    1. Seriously because I'll watch anything food related. I like looking at food. I like to watch those stupid Magic Bullet informercials because I like watching them make quesedillas and pasta and nachos.

                      At the very best the shows will teach me something or at least give me some new recipes or recipe ideas. Often they can entertain me. I love the train wreck quality of Sandra Lee. Whenever I see her show I think, "What ridiculous thing will she do now?"

                      At worst, they cook things I really don't like (like seafood) and I don't watch.

                      1. It depends on the show. These days the only show I watch is Iron Chef, and that's pure entertainment. When my daughter was little and I was home more during the day, I watched some of the shows that were on FN in the middle of the day -- Molto Mario, Sara's Secrets -- which tend to be more cooking-focused than what's on later in the afternoon and evening, and I got some good recipe ideas from them.

                        The old shows were better, from the point of view of people who are serious about food and cooking, because they were more focused on method and technique than on being "entertaining" in a generic sense. On FN now, "entertainment value" comes at the expense of everything else. As a result, I don't find most it very entertaining.

                        On the other hand, if it weren't for Alton Brown, I might never have taught myself to use the pressure cooker someone gave us as a wedding present. I didn't learn much from the show, but it did get me interested and convince me that it wouldn't take much effort to learn how to use it.

                        And I, too, have picked up quite a few tips (e.g. holding the food processor blade in place from the back while you pour out the contents; washing herbs and wrapping them up in damp paper towels so that they last longer). As for technique, my scrambled eggs are much better now, thanks to Wolfgang Puck.

                        So it's a mixed bag.

                        1. It's entertaining, it's a distraction, it takes you away from the world we live in with all its problems. On 9/11, the FN stuck to its original programming, and it was a nice, safe haven to retreat to on a day when we sorely needed one.

                          Oh, and I love to cook and eat.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: gloriousfood

                            I actually started watching FN right after 9/11. It was a great distraction. Come to think of it, my interest in cooking and food definitely took off after 9/11. I also took a lot of comfort in HGTV. Anything but CNN. I read somewhere soon after 9/11 that people were predicting that Americans would return to a more home-oriented pasttimes like cooking, knitting, spending time at home with family. I thought it was ridiculous until I looked down at my knitting needles (gave that up soon after) and yelled to my husband and daughter that dinner was ready. It happened really soon after with me and has for the most part, stuck with me. That's why I need FN to get better again! I've come to rely on it for mindless entertainment.

                            1. re: southernitalian

                              Yes, I also watched HGTV a lot during those days. Those two channels were like cocoons for me.

                          2. jfood started cooking as a teenager in 1971 when Momma Jfood became a single mom. Thank you Joy of Cooking.

                            Fast forward a few years and jfood in a toe to hip cast for 12 weeks in front of a TV. Choice was General Hospital or Galloping Gourmet. You guessed which won. Then Jeff Smith and Jfood's favorite series on PBS, "Great Chef's of..." and Julia.

                            Jfood watches for the technique on some, recipes on others, and theory on others. Some are just mindless and some are just plain unwatchable.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: jfood

                              How nice of you, jfood, to help out with the cooking. I wonder how many teenagers would crack open a copy of Joy of Cooking now with so many convenience foods available? I think that's the time to learn - and get into the habit, if you will, of cooking.

                            2. As a kid, and even as an adult, whenever I had a "sick day", I spent the day on the couch watching cooking shows. I don't even remember which ones, all that mattered was that they were cooking.

                              Now, at nearly 37 years old, I have (finally!) enrolled in culinary school, and am actually about to graduate! Juggling a family (a 4 year old & a 7 year old) has left little time for TV, but what I do still watch is Iron Chef and Alton Brown. I really think Alton Brown makes me a better cook, by explaining why things work the way they do, I've been able to incorporate his reasonings and improve my technique, usually in more than just the ingredient he's using at the time.

                              And Iron Chef I watch just because it's so damn innovative. (Plus my 7 year old watches it with me...he loves the cheesy drama). I remembered being floored the one time they made tempura egg yolk.

                              ((seriously??? tempura egg yolk???? I'm still floored....))

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: dagwood

                                Congratulations on the impending graduation! Nice to finally be able to find and follow a dream. :)

                              2. I started watching cooking shows like you did back with the Galloping Gourmet. He was very entertaining and I learned something. Sort of a Dick Cavett in the kitchen, but with plenty of wine. And Julia Child was like watching your mom or your grandmother poke around in the kitchen -- if your mom really knew what she was doing.

                                I started watching the Food Network late in 2001 when it was the only respite from all the 911 coverage and I got hooked. I loved some of the goofy concept shows (Doorknock Dinner and some weird competitive show that preceded Iron Chef American and pitted three chefs with the same ingredients in 30? 60? minutes -- anyone know what it was called) and then I started watching Sara Moulton and then Alton Brown and really getting inspired by the recipes and what I could create.

                                These days I like to compare my skills and my knowledge against theirs, although I watch a lot less Food Network and a lot more Top Chef.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: chicgail

                                  I kind of miss Doorknock Dinner....and Ready, Set, Cook - was that the name of it?

                                2. I think the first cooking show I watched was the Galloping Gourmet. Wasn't it him who started a recipe with "First you take a leek... (conspiratorial pause) " (get it?) I think he even got in trouble with the network for that. My, how times have changed. I love the pseudo-drama of Top Chef (and esp the Anthony Bourdain epsiodes). I Love anything with Anthony Bourdain. I LOVED the original Iron Chef. The sheer audacity of some of the meals that were prepared - and the judges??? Hirouki Sakai was my favorite. The Mighty Orange-Clogged One - hunger inducing television. The egotism of Bobby Flay. Older Emeril. The magic that was Julia. Food television is entertainment, but it's nice to pick up a new tip or some inspiration once in a while. I find it to be very relaxing to watch. And as far as Sandra Lee, I have managed to watch for about 5 minutes once or twice then just couldn't handle more. Boudleaux - remember, if you are doing a tablescape, then your outfit absolutely must match;)

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: Mothership

                                    Oh, I laugh/snorted just now at the leek joke. Thanks!

                                    I was wearing my ten gallon hat and gingham dress with cowboy boots when I was arranging my tablescape! I like to keep it real.

                                  2. This is actually a great thread, and while it seems that many of the posters are a little older than me (I dont' remember the Galloping Gourmet when it was new) I loved watching Graham Kerr when Food Network showed the repeats.

                                    I watch tons of food tv...mostly on the food network. At first I hated it, because it seemed like Emeril was always on, and I've tried his recipes and they pretty much always suck. To be honest, when he makes them they don't look that appetizing. Saying Bam and Oh yeah, doesn't make it taste better I've found. But I will give Emeril this...he's the reason Food TV has taken off. I watch different shows for different reasons

                                    Dinner; Impossible, Iron Chef, Iorn Chef America, and Throwdown I watch for the shear mouth watering entertainment. Tyler's Ultimate & Good Eats I watch for the knowledge. Rachel Ray and Sandra Lee for quick fix ideas. Jamie Oliver was my favorite when I started watching a few years ago. I couldn't get enough of the Naked Chef, and then he got big. I've been told in England for a while, he was like the Beatles. I think he takes fresh ingredient (some a little pricey for my wallet) and combines them for nice clean flavors. I've tried to recreat a few of his dishes and they were excellent. To be honest, in one of his books he has this ridiculous Botham Burger recipe. I tried it, and it was one of the best burgers I ever made.

                                    I also like the travel shows. Cook's Tour, and Now No Reservations are great. If I ever get a chance to travel, they will definitely be a guide as to where to eat., Bourdain loves food so much. He's willing to experiment, he's willing to dive into a culture, and he's honest when it just isn't that good. Andrew Zimmern is entertaining, but how many epsidoes of bug eating can you watch?

                                    Recently the addition of the eye candy has also brought new fans. GIada and Ingrid are stunning women, and have some flare, but alas, I'm not watching Food TV to look at melons, unles of course thye are the secret ingredient.

                                    Right now I have to say my favorite show is Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. It takes a look at real, everyday food, that if you live near these places are the places to go. It shows how things are made, usually showing the love that goes into them. And finally it has Guy Fieri. He's got so much charisma, he's lovably goofy, and he is a true foodie. His sincerity shines through when he likes something and you can tell when he's being polite. Is he a good chef? Maybe, but who cares.

                                    I have probably watched more food shows than college basketball this season. And for me, that's insane. Just don't tell the fellas!

                                    1. I watch cooking shows for the same reason I love to read cook books. Mother had the Bett Crocker circa 196X edition and I used to read it as a small child. My mother & grandmother came from Hungary and living in Central Ohio, I wanted to know more about American cooking. While my friends envied us for having bakery Vienna bread, and lots of homemade food, I wanted TV dinners, Wonder Bread and Skippy. Grandma lived with us until I was 11, many happy moments watching Julia Child and GG.

                                      I watch food TV for instruction, whether it is knife skills, baking tips, menu suggestions. Sandra Lee is a joke to me, don't get me started on her cocktails and tablsescapes. It is a skit from SNL, pure comedy relief. I learned from the best, Julia Child, Natalie Dupree, Pierre Franey, Jacques Pepin, even the Frugal Gourmet was pretty good.

                                      Food Network TV was pretty good 10-15 years ago when they were just starting out. They borrowed the PBS format and put real people on who knew how to cook. Today it is E!FoodTV with melons that are not recipe ingredients but show props nonetheless.

                                      1. I watch to learn a new recipe or an old recipe with a new twist. I am not a RR or Sandra Lee fan, in fact 5 minutes of either is too long. I'd rather do something else with my time than watch them open packages and cut carrots.

                                        I won't bash FN but lets say they lost me as a viewer. I want more from a food channel, so I tune into local pbs or the discovery channel when I think about it.