Whatever happened to the days when you could turn on the TV and watch someone teach you a recipe? Maybe something you always wanted to learn or something you might actually want to eat? And they listed the ingredients, and how much, and they went slowly so that you actually had half a chance of following along.
Oh, how I miss the good old days of REAL Food TV.
Julia Child, The Gourmets (both Galloping and Frugal), Jacques Pepin and the later educators were all slowly squeezed off the air when the Culinary Circus came to town. Apparently, learning to cook wasn’t entertaining enough or even popular anymore. Viewers wanted more sizzle with their steak, so TV producers did what TV producers do when audiences wane and ad revenues fall.
Education becomes entertainment.
Real food shows became Reality food shows. And one of the biggest culprits was the Iron Chef series and (sorry) Emeril. Cooking shows became versions of prime time and late-night TV with culinary hybrids of Survivor-like shows (which believe it or not is in its 15th year and 30th Season).
Food shows were never the same again.
A decade later, we now (by recent count) have at least 337 food-related shows to…ahemmm…digest. When I first entered the world of cooking in the mid-sixties, it seemed like a noble, rewarding and rather safe profession. What was the worst that could happen? A cut finger, a burn, I’d get yelled at for a fallen soufflé?
Nowadays, reality food shows give you nightmares (Kitchen Nightmares), all sorts of hell (Gordon Ramsey’s numerous Hell’s Kitchen spinoffs), the impossibles (Dinner and Restaurant Impossible), and wars (cupcake and others). Not only do we get to see the Worst Cooks in America, but we get to see them Chopped and Cutthroat(ed).
Finally, if you’re a real Glutton for Punishment, you’re in luck. That’s also in the lineup.
No Reservations TV network executives, who have a huge stake in all of this, seem to have a genius for knowing the viewers’ appetite for the next adaptation of food nonsense, and I’m sure the craziest ideas are still yet to come.
Children are now in on the act. So, I’m fully expecting another reality food show spin-off not too many years down the road, bringing back the winners of these Master Chef Junior contests to see who really made it and who didn’t quite have the stomach for it all.
And as we wait for that day (and believe me when I tell you it’s coming), I can only imagine what we’re in store for.
I see competitions between rival prison inmates competing for early paroles, doing their best to make a $3 meal with a mystery basket of government subsidized foods with no sharp implements (except for shanks hidden in their socks). Or maybe we’ll have chefs creating the best gourmet dog food (judged by dogs, of course). And can Road Kill Warrior Chefs be that many seasons off?
Misery loves company.
I guess people enjoy watching other people under an enormous amount of duress. Maybe they enjoy watching them screw up dishes just like they do in their own kitchens when the kids are screaming, they don’t have all the ingredients and their kids want dinner NOW! Parents’ fates are probably even worse than the reality food contestants they watch because they know that no matter what, they WON’T get Chopped, and they’ll HAVE to come back for another brutal episode the next day.
Maybe they’re living their own personal food reality show hell and they can completely relate to what they watch on TV. Yeah… I think that’s it.
I know some people just can’t resist watching a train wreck, even if it’s a staged one. But when it comes to Food TV, we’re dangerously close to slipping from viewers to gawkers. And I can barely stand to watch the hellacious carnage.
What’s your take on reality food TV? Do you watch it? If you do, what’s your favorite show, and why?