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While TV cooking shows have been extant for nearly half a century, it is the last two decades that have seen a proliferation of the culinary arts on the airways. I believe TV food shows are an effective medium for teaching people how to cook. Not only can you be exposed to novel dishes and ingredients, you can observe first hand how they are fabricated and coalesced into the final dish. It was the Food Network, and particularly Chef Michael Lomonaco’s series “Michael’s Place,” that stimulated my initial engrossment in cooking. I would watch him concoct something I never made before, procure the ingredients and try it myself. To this day I watch several cooking shows. Even if it’s a dish I’ve produced countless times, I’m always eager to see how another chef does it. Like all human endeavors, you never stop learning.
People frequently ask me which cooking shows I watch. Usually they query about the latest reality show or the ones geared for people who recoil at cooking, but wish to learn how to make diner in a half hour. I detest the reality cooking shows. I loathe all “reality” shows simply because they aren’t reality. They’re packaged, scripted, and edited just like any other show and they exist purely for entertainment, not culinary instruction. As to the “quick meal/semi-homemade” shows, they certainly have their place. There are throngs of Americans working demanding jobs and raising a family who have no deep interest in, or time for cooking. Nevertheless, they have to put food on the table and shows aimed at cooking with expediency and simplicity are right up their alley.
But as a professional chef I am not piqued by the latest food cook-off. If I want to watch fake competition I’ll turn on wrestling. I’m also not interested in the cheapest, quickest, short-cut-laden method to make beef stew. I like to watch real chefs making real dishes from scratch. I want to actually learn more about cooking, not how to combine canned and boxed ingredients to shave two hours off my pot roast. So, for those of you who are more serious about cooking, I present to you some of my favorite cooking shows. As you will note, they are chef-driven, not hokey concept driven.
Jacques Pepin Jacques Pepin is a master chef, indisputably one of the best in the world. Classically trained in France from adolescence, he is now a Dean at the French Culinary Institute in New York City.
Jacques Pepin is considered the “Master of technique.” His book “Complete Techniques” is indispensable for any culinary library. His show “The Complete Pepin” first aired on PBS in 1997 but reruns abound. His current show “Jacques Pepin: Fast Food My Way” currently airs on PBS.
Ming Tsai Ming Tsai is an extremely intelligent (Bachelor’s from Yale, Master’s from Cornell), and talented chef classically trained in France and equally skilled in both French and Asian cooking. I swear this man could simultaneously make spring rolls with one hand and coq au vin with the other. His fusion style of cooking is by no means the scatter-brained and discordant mélange that normally typifies fusion cooking. He knows what ingredients work well together and his skill and knowledge are exemplary. His shows include “East Meats West” on the Food Channel, “Ming’s Quest” on the Fine Living channel, and “Simply Ming” on American Public Television.
Lidia Bastianich Lidia Bastianich is a Croatian born chef and expert in Italian cooking; real Italian cooking. She owns a number of Italian restaurants throughout the US. Her family-oriented, homey approach exudes warmth and exemplifies the love and togetherness that defines the Italian family meal. But make no mistake about it; she knows her ingredients and techniques like the back of her hand. She has had three shows on PBS, the current one being “Lidia’s Italy.”
Rick Bayless Rick Bayless is the foremost American authority on Mexican cooking, and again let me emphasize real Mexican cooking. We’re not talking tacos and enchiladas but authentic Mexican ingredients and dishes. Rick Bayless spent years in Mexico immersing himself in the country’s culture and cuisine. He has two top-notch restaurants in Chicago and is well known for his TV show “Mexico: One Plate at a Time” on PBS. He is a superlative chef and has a gentle, friendly and welcoming personality which adds to the enjoyment of his show.
Alton Brown Alton Brown, a graduate of the New England Culinary Institute, is the host of the hugely successful Food Network show “Good Eats.” This is entertaining education at its best. Brown is basically a genius who delves into the science of food and cooking. But his shows are also fun; containing all kinds of whimsical vignettes and a humor that makes learning delightful. He is intelligent, engaging, personable, enthusiastic, and skilled. Alton Brown has it all.
America’s Test Kitchen “America’s Test Kitchen” is the PBS television show of Cook’s Illustrated Magazine. This is serious culinary education. The test kitchen chefs painstakingly test innumerable permutations of recipes until perfection is achieved. They thoroughly explain the rational of their procedures and highlight the pitfalls of some of the alternative methods. Each segment includes a blind tasting of products and a review of kitchen equipment. Even experienced chefs could learn a thing or two from America’s Test Kitchen.
Mike Colameco Mike Colameco is a multi-talented graduate of the Culinary Institute of America. He has been a marathon runner and boxer, holds a black-belt in martial arts and plays the guitar, not to mention being a superlative chef. He worked at a number of prestigious restaurants in New York and ran one of his own. Now he produces “Colameco’s Food Show,” on PBS, which is basically a culinary tour of some of the best eateries in New York City. The show delves into the culinary workings of the establishment and includes cooking demonstrations by the head chef of the spotlighted restaurant, or by Colameco himself. He is unpretentious, friendly, and engages the viewer in a comfortable manner.