Jerry Nelson: Cooking aspirations
You should never watch a cooking show when you are hungry.
This maxim has been proven true time and again during this stay-at-home pandemic winter. Those who ignore this rule do so at their own peril and that of their bathroom scales.
The proliferation of televised cooking shows has proven problematic. There was a time when there was really just one TV cook, the redoubtable Julia Child. Julia’s unique style and voice – it was often difficult to tell if she was speaking or yodeling – educated millions of viewers on the art of French cooking.
I liked Julia because she would own up to her flubs. Her attitude was “whatever happens in the kitchen stays in the kitchen.” So what if you dropped the roasted chicken on the floor? That simply adds to the terroir. Brush off those dust bunnies and serve it with a smile!
These days, TV cooking programs are as common as cat dander. There are so many culinary shows that an entire cable TV channel has been dedicated to this topic. Imagine how healthy our teeth would be if there were a Brushing And Flossing channel.
In the midst of this vast ocean of gastronomic entertainment, there came a foreign invader called The Great British Bake Off. It pains me to admit this, but my wife and I sampled that particular show some years ago and quickly became addicted. There’s no such thing as a tiny bit of the GBBO; its sugary confections and dreamy sponge cakes and the disarming accents of its judges and contestants made it impossible to resist.
This despite the glaring flaws that the show puts on public display. For example, what the English refer to as a biscuit is, in fact, a cookie. The deep-fried potato foodstuff that the Brits call “chips” are very clearly French fries.
But what do you expect from a people who can’t even spell their own language correctly? Some examples include writing “theater” as “theatre” or dropping a totally unnecessary “u” into random words such as “flavour.”
The main problem with watching cooking shows is that they can cause you to fantasize that you can also cook like the host of the show. But what we don’t see is that the host has a large production staff that includes people who specialize in hunting down weird and esoteric ingredients. The sort of ingredients that can make a commonplace dish such as pancakes seem like an exotic delight that softly whispers a sumptuous foretaste of Paradise.
Watching a cooking shows can also make the food that was once good enough seem suddenly revolting.
This is similar to when I was a kid and thought that the gold standard for spaghetti was the stuff that was manufactured by Chef Boyardee. But then I dined at an Italian restaurant and tried their homemade spaghetti and meatballs. It was a life-changing experience. I swiftly came to believe that the prefab pasta was about as appealing as a can of worms.
Cooking shows can change your food expectations in numerous ways. Some years ago, the host of a cooking show I was watching waxed eloquent about a mysterious substance called okra. The next spring, I purchased several okra plants for our garden even though I didn’t have the foggiest notion regarding what okra was. You could have given me a pinecone and told me that it was okra and I would have believed you.
The okra plants grew lush and bushy and produced numerous thumb-sized pods that contained tiny seeds. I was at a loss as to what to do with them. Does one eat the seeds? Or the entire pod? Despite these questions, I felt that our home dining experience had been somehow elevated.
The culinary spirit recently moved me after spending an afternoon watching the likes of Rachel and Ree. I began to scrutinize the contents of our cupboard.
“Do we have any free-range organic olives that were hand-picked by cloistered monks on the island of Limnos?” I asked my wife. “And where do we keep the artisanal ricotta cheese that was made from humpback whale’s milk? I want to make that super-deluxe chip dip I just saw on TV.”
My wife rummaged in the cupboard and extracted a small container.
“Here’s a tub of French onion sour cream dip,” she said.
“I suppose that might do,” I replied hesitantly. “Were the chives watered with cheetah tears? Were the onions serenaded by a flock of specially trained meadowlarks right before they were harvested?”
“I don’t think so. But wouldn’t it be good enough?”
Suddenly realizing that I was no barefoot contessa, I decided yes, it was plenty good enough.