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Four Reasons Why Cooking Shows Just Don’t Cut the Mustard

Old Prof takes a look at why he doesn’t like cooking shows. Is he right?

When I was young, in our family a birthday was a special day. We were far from wealthy, but on their birthdays children were Kings or Queens. We did not receive lavish gifts, but the one gift we all prized was that we could set the entire menu for the family get-together. Main course. Dessert. Everything. And, traditional family as we were, grandma and mom always came through.

Food was valuable. In our blue-collar family, it was the focus of celebrations and relationships. It was, for sure, one time each day we got together to just hang out. We talked; we listened. Food was a thing.

These days Food TV is a thing. TV is buffeted with cooking competitions. But, the one thing I notice is that you seldom see anyone actually eat. You see people taste – and judge – and made to feel less-than. And, in every show except one, you see people being asked to give their apron back and sent away, heads lowered. How rude: you can’t even get mad, take your own toys, and stomp home by your choice. Someone else decides you should drag your steak knives outta town.

That’s the general tone of the shows I see. But, here are four specific reasons why – for me – cooking shows just don’t set my table.

Reason #1: In Cooking Competitions, You Cannot Taste The Food.

I hear that if you want to sell your home, when people come view it, bake bread. Really, the two best things about food are smell and taste. Ironically, those are the two things you can’t enjoy on Food TV – you can’t smell it and you can’t taste it.

You can watch people cook; you can watch people blend; you can even watch people taste – but, you can’t taste the food yourself. With food, that seems pretty fundamental. It’s like watching The Voice without sound. Until they figure out how to help the home audience taste and smell – and I can’t see that happening soon – competition cook-offs just don’t work.

Reason #2: Cooking Competitions Are Overly Dramatic.

Come on: think about it. Aren’t the sets of cooking competition shows like ancient Roman arenas where the Gladiators fought to their deaths? The safe ones look down on armed combatants fighting for their lives, gasping in horror at the spectacle.

I even saw one show where attention was drawn to a failing gladiator who was making creme brulee the wrong way. OMG. Cameras riveted to close ups of custard setting (or not setting), music rising dramatically toward a final countdown – then the moment. OMG. Raoul’s crème didn’t brulee, to the horror of others. By the looks on the faces of those safe above the arena, you would think a kitten was being crushed by a bulldozer. A bit over dramatic for my taste – sorry, remember we cannot taste.

Reason #3: Cooking Competitions Teach People To Kiss Up To Authority and Learn It Is OK To Yell And Be Yelled At.

When my children were growing up, the family of Jean Pare’ of Company’s Coming cookbooks were family friends. One thing we knew was than when Jean was testing recipes for a new cookbook coming out, she gained lots of weight. Food can do that.

But, who are these skinny people who sit in a row [all on one side of the table, like Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper painting – what’s that deal anyway. I’m used to sitting around a table.] and openly evaluate the way people stir soup? And, who made the rules that judged whether someone’s mayonnaise was too close to the left side of a plate?

When I remember cooking competitions, I recall the scene. Uniformed subjects, standing at attention, following someone else’s orders, working against a clock, hoping for positive comments from a judge’s final authority. And, even worse, evaluating their own worth against such judgment: “Go home. You just didn’t measuring spoon up.” How many times have I heard the admission of the alienated, “I just wasn’t good enough.”

But here’s the tough question: Given the value attributed to the experience by the losers, how many will go home and yell at their kids? I’m thinking they believe they have learned the value of living in a particular way.

Reason #4: Cooking Competitions Make Sure You Never Relax Around Food Again.

In a beautiful Danish movie titled Babette’s Feast (1987), a housekeeper, for years only known as a refugee but in reality a former head chef in Paris, wins a lottery and treats her gloomy employers and their friends to a beautifully-prepared dinner. The movie shows how food engages, breaks barriers, and builds relationships and conversation between people. In the end, someone at the table remarks that food “enchants the angels.”

The point is that one true value of food is that it relaxes and brings people together. This is not the reality of Food TV. Indeed, cooking competitions do the opposite. Can you imagine sitting at your home table and having each person evaluate the food and the work of the person who prepared it?

Sure food is good or not good, and Mom and Gramma sometimes overcooked the turkey. But, remembering my joy as a child choosing my own menu for my birthday, I never once remember that the food wasn’t good. I do remember times around the table and the family joys those times – and the food served – brought. That was my reality.

Food TV reality is different. And, this kind of reality TV just doesn’t taste that good to me. Just sayin’.

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