It was about twenty years ago when I first became aware of cooking shows on tv. Of course I grew up with Julia Child and the Galloping Gourmet, but those shows were few and far between.
The Food Network was the actual first food channel I think – jumping on the culinary bandwagon to satisfy our love of learning about cooking and various cuisines.
There were so many formats back then to the shows. There was Bobby Flay barbequeing away on his NYC rooftop, everything from chicken to pigs, along with a special pitcher of margaritas made with grilled peaches. There were occasional shots of his beautiful model wife carrying in baskets of jalapeños or roasted tomatoes. (We all know how that ended.)
There was Emeril LaGasse, with his talk-show style cooking show complete with a live audience with a jazz band, like a daytime foodie version of Johnny Carson. And his Bam! that he yelled every time he threw something in a pan caught on throughout the country. It actually annoyed me, so I didn’t watch him.
There was Ina Garten, cooking from her Hampton home, with field trips to her personal florist in a nearby quaint town and to her seafood monger by the sea, so that she could put on pretty parties. She managed to do her whole show in a monotone voice, all while smiling, with sneak peaks at her poor husband, who obviously didn’t want to be filmed, forcing the fact that they really still get along after 50 years of marriage. We believe you, Ina!
There was Iron Chef, the original Japanese version with “Chairman” Kaga, who ordered two contestants to a major cook-off focusing on one ingredient. The “battle” took place in a giant stadium, overseen by the chairman, who seriously looked like he was ready to go to war, with a saber strapped to his uniform. Plus there was color commentary from a man on the ground bouncing between contestants. There were Japanese judges, usually including a geisha who only managed to giggle throughout the show and, mind you, this was all dubbed in English. Even the giggling.
Then there was Sandra Lee. Enough said.
I bring all of this up because for many of us, myself included, this was our first glimpse inside restaurant kitchens and inside the minds of chefs. The shows allowed their creativity to shine, as well as their culinary skills. As impressive as they all were, and are, it actually inhibited a lot of home cooks because they felt that they couldn’t perform like tv chefs.
During that same time I did a lot of cooking demonstrations and gave talks about cooking, encouraging people to get back into the kitchen. I constantly explained that what tv chefs or restaurant chefs do, is nothing like what we do as home cooks. It’s apples and oranges, thankfully, because I’ve never wanted to be a chef.
I think what’s mostly intimidating to people is the way a chef can dice an onion in one second flat while talking to the tv camera. Well if I have a guest in my home who comes at me with a timer, they’re getting kicked out. It’s just not about speed or showing off.
I know we’ve all experienced great messes on our stove when we’ve tried to flip over a skillet of vegetables like they do on tv and half of them didn’t make it back into the pan. Does that make us bad cooks? Of course not!
Following is my public service announcement. It involves a knife. Any knife – sharp or dull. Anything that is done with a knife can potentially be dangerous. Like cutting or stabbing.
Years ago I decided to de-pit an avocado like they do on tv. (I have since come to the conclusion that Bobby Flay uses a stunt double.)
I opened up the avocado lengthwise, held the half with the pit in my left hand, and just like on tv, slammed my sharp chef knife into the pit with my right hand. All it takes is a little twist of the knife and the pit can easily be removed.
Well, except when the knife doesn’t make contact with the pit and instead slips off the avocado and lands across your hand. Fortunately I didn’t have to go to the emergency room but let me tell you – I never did this again.
And definitely don’t think you can stab the damn pit.
As long as I’m discussing lessons learned, a mandoline is also a very dangerous kitchen tool. A couple of years ago I posted a photo of my finger dripping blood after going just a bit too far slicing a potato with my mandoline. You just always think there’s a little more there than there actually is!
My friend Richard recommended a kevlar glove, and it is a lifesaver. Perhaps literally. Even if I want to slice one little carrot, I put on my glove! I will alway be thankful for Richard’s recommendation, and to this day my fingertips are intact.