What was once the providence of Public Television, cooking shows are now as common as commericals. Where Julia Child and Jacques Pepin once defined the genre, we now have a wide array of shows from which to choose, most pure entertainment, few instructional. To the person truly interested in learning how to cook, confusing the two, separating the wheat from the chaff as it were, can be a challenge.
To that person, I’d suggest the following: stick with those shows with the fewest cameras, the fewest “celebrities” and the lowest level of shtick. “Iron Chef”, either the original with all its mystery ingredients and incredibly hoaky Chairman (leather gloves and lace cuffs in a kitchen? huh?), or the American version with all its culinary star power, is about entertainment, not instruction. Same for “Top Chef”…like a poorly made cappucino, it’s all foam, no flavor. And don’t me started on Paula Deen’s sons, Jamie and Bobbie, ok?
So, if you’re learning by viewing, these are my suggestions:
1) anything and everything from Julia Child or Jacques Pepin, dating all the way back to the earliest shows in the 70’s. Now and then they pop up on TV; many are available on CD. Think of it as culinary boot camp;
2) Alton Brown’s show “Good Eats”. Alton went to culinary school only to find he was less interested in
actually cooking than he was in the science behind it. Knowing why you’re doing what you’re doing at the time is critical to your success;
3) Jamie Oliver’s shows, including his latest “Jamie at Home”. In his earliest television incarnation, Jamie’s recipes put me off as most of them seemed to start with “render a pound of bacon”. But he’s taken a very healthy turn and is excellent at combining ingredients in new, fresh ways.
The one thing all of the above have in common is their natural ability to demystify cooking, and to someone who’s truly interested but perhaps intimidated by cooking itself, this is invaluable.
As my culinary school instructor used to tell us “Cooking isn’t magic. But if you’re good at it, it looks like magic”.
Kent McDonald owns Kent Cooks! A Personal Chef Service in greater Phoenix, Arizona. (C) Kent McDonald, 2008. All rights reserved.