Saturday, July 25, 2015

Why I love cooking shows

Other people I know may be addicted to the latest Chinese or Korean TV dramas, getting their fix daily (it's amazing how these dramas can be churned out in hundreds of daily episodes) or buying DVDs and then binge-watching them. I'm sure I would be hooked, too, once I started watching them but my skills at these languages are pretty dismal and I'm usually put off by sub-titles in bad English. I confess, though, that my guilty pleasure, when it comes to watching TV, is cooking shows.

What on earth did I do before the introduction of the Food Network? From Top Chef to Masterchef and Iron Chef, The Barefoot Contessa and Domestic Goddess to Heston Blumenthal and Jamie Oliver, these shows usually have me in their thrall, to the extent that I will watch them religiously when they're in season, or record a whole bunch of them to slowly savor at my leisure.

Jamie Oliver
Why am I so addicted to these cooking shows? Well, I love to eat, and to a lesser extent, I like to cook. Believe it or not, I have actually learnt about different foods and cooking techniques, from watching Jamie serve up a posh version of mac and cheese and Heston making the perfect french fry. Yes, I am on a first name basis with them as well, because they are constantly in my house, teaching me about different foods and how to cook them.

I do love some of the other food shows that combine cuisine with travel. I've been introduced to more exotic cuisines that I probably wouldn't get to experience, in far flung countries like Mongolia and Peru. it fascinates me how a culture can take something like we all eat, like rice, but prepare and enjoy them in such dissimilar ways.

Anthony Bourdain
Most of these chefs go out of their way to sample the native cuisines, and gamely try their hand at actually making some these dishes, although usually it's painfully obvious that they have no clue what they're doing. That's why I especially like Anthony Bourdain. Over the years, his shows have evolved, from more mundane run-of-the-mill food shows to more gritty, hard-hitting pieces. He gamely endeavors to make polite noises in foreign lands where the cuisine isn't at all to his liking, but he usually tries to find some redeeming feature about what he's eating. I mean, who is he trying to kid when he raves about the food in Egypt? But when, for instance, he claims that his favorite cuisine is Vietnamese, I believe him because he's done his research and actually knows what he's talking about. Despite his  being an ornery old so-and-so, I find him quite refreshing amidst all the other saccharinely sweet TV hosts.

Half the time, I don't know what Malaysia's own Axian or Jason is talking about on his Mandarin-speaking food show, but this affable boy-next-door manages to unearth some the best-tasting dishes, whether in restaurants or on the street. No wonder he has such a huge following. Despite not knowing what he's saying, I diligently take down the addresses of his recommendations, promising myself to try them out for myself.

Masterchef Australia
It's some of these other weird cooking shows that I don't get, like Food Network execs are scraping the barrel to come up with a winning concept. Restaurant makeovers? The sandwich king? I mean, how many shows are you going to devote to just bread and filling? I think Americans are way behind the rest of the world when it comes to food. It's so apparent on shows like the U.S. Masterchef where contestants are still making fruit pies and rice dishes. Compare this to the Australian Masterchef where contestants are teasing the palate with exotic ingredients like sea urchin and complicated cooking techniques (I didn't even know what sous vide was until I watched this show!)

My everyday menu is pretty boring, but when I can sit down in front of the TV with my own simple pasta dish and watch home cooks and gourmet chefs churn out fascinating meals, I'm transported into a world of food where all the senses are ignited. It's because of these cooking shows where I've been introduced to these celebrity chefs that make it all the more special when I actually walk into a restaurant of theirs, like Jamie's italian, Daniel Boulud's deli or Wolfgang Puck's steakhouse. I have no idea who the latest Korean heartthrob is, but I do know that I want to try out Susur Lee's latest restaurant, just from watching him on Top Chef!
Susur Lee

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