Friday, December 14, 2012

Why we watch cooking shows but don't cook anymore

My kitchen after baking.

I love to watch the Food Network Cooking Shows and get inspired but all the great recipes and I have been watching cooking shows on TV since I was a kid and would watch Julia Child and the Galloping Gourmet and whoever else was on cooking something fabulous.  I learned how to cook things I have never even eaten or had in my home by watching these shows on tv.   I learned how to make Spaghetti properly,  something my mother could never master.  She would rinse the pasta and let it sit and then pour a greasy meatball laden tomato sauce on top....only to watch it slide off the pasta and leave a puddle of oil on the plate.  Luckily I had many Italian neighbours and liked to watch cooking on tv more than I liked cartoons so I learned how to make Italian food the right way.   From my neighbours I learned what real Italian food tasted like and what it really was and from watching people cook Italian food on tv I learned the proper cooking methods for cooking Italian food.  Just watch Lidia Bastianich for a while and you will be able to cook like a good Italian Nonna even if you are an Irish man.

But here's the thing.  While I learned a lot of techniques and what the food should end up looking like I was still not able to make the food without leaving a trail of destruction after cooking one of these recipes.  The food never looked as pretty as it did on tv but most of the time I could master the taste if I had the right ingredients with a lot of effort put into it.   But mostly I just watched the shows and would be inspired and then just do something similar with what I had or what I knew I could do.

A friend of mine has been urging me to post videos of me preparing some of the recipes I make but to tell you the truth there are a couple of reasons I haven't done this.  Firstly, I don't have a video friendly voice and image that I am comfortable looking at on video all the time.   Secondly, it's not a pretty sight when I cook.  My kitchen will look like a 2 year old had a food fight in there afterward.  I am one of those cooks who puts all my energy into getting the recipe done as quickly as possible and getting all the elements done right.  I haven't mastered the trick of being able to wash the dishes and clean up while I am cooking most of the time because I tend to make multiple things if I have gone to the trouble of taking a bunch of things out of the fridge and already sparked up some of the tools.   I tend to find other things that need to be made at the same time.

Back to the reality of why people watch TV cooking shows more than they actually cook at home these days.   The real reason is that watching food shows is like watching Food Porn in a way.  You watch all these great chefs whip up all kinds of drool worthy foods that you would kill to have passed through the tv and on to your plate.  What you don't see is what it takes behind the scenes to make those recipes look the way they do.

What you don't see is a staff of people that shop for the ingredients and have a fully stocked kitchen with every tool and all the foods needed to make a recipe on a dime.  There is someone to shop for an abundant amount of food to make in case they burn something and have to make it again.   The advantage of editing is that if they do make a mistake you will never see it and the only ones that will know is the chef, the crew and the editor.  it gets left in the edit suite.

The other thing you don't see is a food stylist that will take the recipe and probably spend hours making it look perfect for what they call the money shot, the final filmed version of the recipe.   Also what you only see is the ingredients already ready to go in beautiful containers that magically dispense the ingredients for the chef to use.  Herbs nicely nestled in a glass of water already ready to pick from,   Potatoes all cleaned and ready to chop,  time consuming ingredients pre prepped or measured.

Do you think the TV chef is doing all the prep work before the "dump and cook" version you see on the show?  Nope... there are a bunch of chef elves who behind the scenes are the people who put the ingredients into the containers, or pre measure, or wash and pre prep the foods so that they can magically be transformed on tv.

I like watching shows like Chuck's Day Off mainly because you actually see Chuck making most things from scratch and doing a lot of the prep work but even Chuck doesn't do it all.  Chuck has a full staff of chefs who take care of the food inventory and clean and store all the food for him.

So when you watch a recipe that looks like a 5 minute recipe on TV, you can count on taking an hour to make that same recipe at home.  Don't forget to factor in the time spent going to the grocery store and picking up the ingredients and standing in the checkout line, then loading it into your car and then driving home to unload and put it away in your pantry and kitchen.   Then when you are ready to cook you need to take some of those items out of your fridge and pantry and organize and wash any fruits and vegetables, dispose of the unused bits and then prep the ingredients.  Get your mis en place (everything in place) ready to actually cook the recipe.   Then you have to get your cooking utensils organized.  Then you can finally start to actually cook or make your recipe.  Then you finish your dish and have to plate it and serve it if you are feeding anyone else.   Then after all of that you have to go back in your kitchen and clean up all the mess you made making that one meal.   Phew.. are you tired just reading this?   Well that's why people watch other people cook on tv but don't actually step into their kitchen and make those same recipes.  I can probably cook about 75% of the recipes that I see on TV but in actuality I probably only cook something similar maybe once a week if I am lucky and most likely on a sunday afternoon when there aren't a lot of other distractions.

People are busy, the are tired but the still want to eat well.  I like watching , Jamie Oliver, Chuck's Day Off, Pitchin In,   Chef Michael Smith and the Iron Chef to be entertained,  they are all really entertaining to watch and sometimes they inspire me to get off the couch and actually go into the kitchen and make something that I see.

I just made Gordon Ramsey's scrambled egg recipe that I saw on his Christmas special.  Simple ingredients,  Eggs, butter, chives.   But it still took me about 15 minutes to make and left a pot, plate and utensils to clean up afterward.

This is what the result looked like.  It was delicious and it was a great technique and worth making this way.

But that was a simple breakfast dish.  What happens when you decide to do some holiday baking and you are a messy cook like me. Maybe I should change my blog to the Messy Cook instead the Starving Foodie.

Then I made Gordon's recipe from the Christmas Special for Brussel Sprouts,  it took him about 5 min to make on TV but it took me about an hour or so,  maybe a bit more.

Here's what my end result of the Brussel Sprouts looked like:   Forget about the mess it left afterward.


Well think about all the things that go into baking which is a lot different than actually cooking a recipe that doesn't have to have exact measurements.

When you bake you need to use at minimum these things:

Measuring cups
Measuring spoons
Wooden Spoon
Spatula
some sort of mixer sometimes like a Kitchen Aid stand mixer or hand mixer
Bowl(s)  you could use many for one simple recipe if the ingredients have to be done in steps.
Cooking pans, whatever they may be,  cookie sheet, muffin pan, loaf pan etc.
Oven mitts,  you could use a towel but then you can add a tea towel to your list.

I could go on depending on the recipe but you get the idea.

Case in point....

The other day I made 2 different recipes but I plan to try and bake a few recipes over the next week or so.  So to prep I pulled out all of my baking supplies to do an inventory of what I actually had to see what I might be able to make.

I had lot's of coconut oil because I kept buying it when it was cheaper.   Now all of this stuff is still sitting on my counter because I haven't finished baking and don't want to keep climbing up on a ladder to keep taking it all out of the cupboards.   I have a small apartment kitchen and because I am short I have to use a step ladder to reach some of my ingredients.

Moving on.... I decided to make a batch of Brownies because I had a craving for some and thought it might be nice to make little food gifts.   I used a really great standby recipe from Fry's Cocoa and added my little twist of adding a bit of Marshmallow fluff into it at the end.  I was hoping to get a white swirl in the middle,  that didn't happen but it did make the brownies moist.

Here's the end result,  it's sprinkled with a bit of glitter sugar.

This Brownie recipe is made in a sauce pot and then cooked in a square baking dish.

It still left a trail of flour and cocoa scattered around the kitchen.


After that I decided to make a gingerbread cookie recipe.   This time I had to use the Kitchen Aid mixer and then you have to put it in the fridge and chill and then you can roll it out and make the cookies and bake them.   I haven't made the cookies yet but the dough is ready to go in the fridge.

Now look at what my kitchen looked like afterward:   Not exactly how it looks on tv is it?  And this is only a bit of it.

So I wish I had the cooking fairies in my kitchen to help me look like a TV chef and have the perfect looking kitchen and end result.
But at least I can say I did it all myself and it tasted fantastic.  I still wish I had cleaning elves to clean up after me though.

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