The Case for a Kinder, Gentler Kitchen


The tools of civility, not combat.

I just saw a promo for a new tv cooking show where, once again, it’s some kind of culinary competition. This one will allow people to cheat, lie and openly sabotage the work of the other chefs. Charming.

I think it’s great we have entire channels devoted to the joy of food, but really folks, does it all have to be some kind of subhuman, gnarly race against time and technique? Why the hell does everything have to be a knock down, drag-em-out fight?

It’s cooking. It’s not the Roman coliseum.

This is what happens when you combine so-called reality television (a continued blight on our collective houses) with the planet-wide pleasure of preparing a meal. You get shlock…pure, unadulterated shlock. Is this what it takes now to hold the interest of an audience? You need to ratchet up the drama. You do serious harm to the dignity of the people on the screen by gratuitously dramatizing their back stories. (Of course, people go willingly into these things.) We all have crises in our  lives…but I don’t need to see any of it on a cooking show. Some of the most obnoxious personalities possible are now standing there, raging at the tv screen.  There’s Wagnerian music…slam dunk editing…phoney-baloney timelines.  The shows are over-produced and completely (if not clumsily) manipulative. In short, it’s garbage.

We have ourselves to blame. We have taken one of the great, bonding universal survival skills and turned it into theatre of the absurd. Time in the kitchen is supposed to nourish both the body and the soul. I don’t want to be screamed at, denigrated, humiliated or defeated.  I want to sample some sauce and sip some wine.

I want to come to the table renewed.


11 Responses to “The Case for a Kinder, Gentler Kitchen”

  1. Food for thought, indeed. 😉 This is an interesting take on cooking competition shows, and I cracked up when you wrote “It’s cooking. It’s not the Roman coliseum.” Gee, I never looked at it that way before, and yes I admit to watching quite a few of the cooking shows. I must say that I will watch with a different perspective from now on!

    Out of curiosity, which shows are you referring to exactly and why are you watching them? I’m guessing the Gordon Ramsey shows are on the list, but I think Top Chef and Master Chef are fine, although you’re right about the back stories, editing and timelines. The viewer isn’t always clueless on those points, however. We’re very aware of the manipulations but tolerate them just to see the end product, namely the food. 🙂

    • Vickie, I’m insulted by the shows that pit one frantic cook against another…with goofy ingredients, or under impossible timelines. Those dinner party shows where homeowners are trying to outdo one another…all the while trashing each other’s efforts behind the scenes. Gluttony shows where a guy stuffs his face with a hundred pulled pork sandwiches or even cake or cupcake shows (what..did we have half a dozen of those at one time?) kinda drive me nuts. I don’t learn anything from those shows. They seem so phony and uninspired. But I’m an old coot now who still remembers the joys of watching Julia or Jacque or even Graham, when the strangest thing you might have seen was his leap over a coffee table with a glass of wine.

      • What, you think it’s unreasonable to give two cooks a basket filled with geoduck, Kraft dinner, sardines, Hershey’s kisses, and a sea urchin, then ask them to create a scrumptious and sophisticated dessert in 20 minutes? 😉 I do it all the time….. 😀

  2. John Currie Says:

    Is, “reality television”, not an oxymoron in the first place. I have no time in my life for their reality when there is so much in mine. When I am in need of some drama I tend to start a verbal exchange with someone who has different views from mine and either watch them implode or learn something from the exchange myself. Guess its an, “old guy” thing.

    • You’re absolutely right, John. There’s damn little reality in most reality shows. It’s just a plotline being advanced by producers…and you can tell that most of the subjects are simply having lines fed to them while they look into the camera. The reason we have it is because it’s cheap. It costs little to produce..and it brings in a big audience. You can’t argue with that from a business perspective. The biggest shows on television are the talent shows…and those were some of the very first shows when television started. New ideas are expensive and new ideas involve risk.

  3. Hello Dave – I hear that the chefs that have put in their time, working their way up “the ladder” to be able to own & operate their own restaurants are having a really hard time finding talent today – apparently the “new” chefs out there are watching the food channels and are thinking that as soon as they spend a couple of years at college, that they think that they can get immediate celebrity, without the “due diligence” – most of the shows that highlight restaurants that you may watch today, are no longer in business – these food challenges that you write on do nothing to encourage any home creativity – I have learned that it is best for me to leave the fancy stuff to the experts – I am trying to focus on the “real” goals, which means comfort food, home cooking, Elizabeth Baird comes to mind, she is awesome – my most favourite is Lucy Waverman, she will put a recipe out now & then that I can try without a lot of fancy ingredients that I’ll only use once – I used to wander the streets & stores of London looking for the off the beaten path ingredients, only to have everything except for 1 tablespoon go bad in my fridge – no sense in that either – thank you Dave, great topic for me to think on as I nosh my lunch today – you’re THE BEST!

    • Thank you Karen. I can completely understand how the popularization of the culinary world has polluted the minds of the young. I don’t think there is anything quite so gruelling as earning your stripes in the professional kitchen. It takes years to get to the top. And it should. It reminds me of an expression about broadcasting interns we used to see at the various tv stations where I have worked. Some of them want to be Barbara Walters..even if it takes all week!

      • Pollution is a perfect way to express this – and you are right, it should take time – when I went to the EatVancouver show, it was for their cooking class on how to crack an egg and I joked around at work about how I didn’t know how I managed all these years without the proper training – and when I did get the Pacific Culinary School training for that hour or so, I realized that the way that was demonstrated was with intent to not have the potential bacteria on the hand that would be handling other foods – fascinating! – well worth the price of admission, and with a Momosa (spelling?) for all participants, to wash down the smoked salmon eggs benedict that we made – please excuse me as my mind wanders back to that awesome event – I’m leaving the hollandaise sauce to the experts, the Chef at this course used my attempt as an example to the other participants on how to correct your hollandaise sauce – I did my best, and to bow gracefully, when I was singled out was how I answered that – it was a great time, lI’m eaving the sauces to the experts after that, I’m pretty sure that you can make a hollandaise sauce from what I’ve seen you write on, sometimes men really do make the better chefs, that would be you, especially compared to me – I’m a cook, not a chef, and I know it!

      • Well, I have often tried to stretch myself beyond my abilities in the kitchen and have paid the price. And, speaking of disasters, the best thing I ever learned about hollandaise was to whip a small ice cube into it if it separates…and the smoothness instantly returns.

  4. Hello Dave, thank you, maybe that was what the fellow from Pacific Culinary School said to do as well? – it seems as though I will remember your guidance on the fix here, your stories tend to stick in my mind for some reason – my question is who does the dishes? – when my better half is being creative, I am in the sink cleaning up as he goes along, and then for the next dy after that – I love it though, and I’m thinking that Angie does too – thanks again for the “ice” fix, now I feel like making eggs benny this weekend or how about maybe to Cora’s then a nap?

  5. I find it sad that any reality tv passes for entertainment, I am however grateful that none of it resembles any part of my reality! I do come to the table glass in hand, tv off.
    That said ,
    miss you on the morning show TO, can’t bear to watch it any more.

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