In this weeks NY Times Magazine section Michael Pollan has noticed that since the advent of the Food Network that home cooking has just about vanished. Many of us in the food business noticed this quite a while ago. It has affected those in the restaurant business as well as those at home.
Trying to hire line cooks who will cook the food that is the signature and style of the restaurant? Good luck. Since the Food Network, they want to be creative, to run free. TV fantasyland has invaded their minds and rather than stay on the job and learn something, they daydream of being discovered as the next Top Chef and have a lucrative career on the tube. Restaurant work is physically demanding, repetitious, and does not pay that well. So they don’t want to stay for long in the working kitchen but aspire to stardom on a TV set kitchen.
Watching the competitions, Iron Chef battles, Top chef melees, home viewers are entertained by the sport, but not really inspired to cook anything. Like Peter Sellars in Being There, they just want to watch. Gone are the days when Julia Child cooked and the home cook watched and then cooked. Now most television cooking is fluff for the mind. Displays of technical derring do! Turbo ovens, whirring machines, Paco Jets, chemical thickeners, sous vide. No one has that kind of equipment at home so why bother??
Cookbooks are still printed but few at home are really using them. Sales for the last five years are down dramatically. Publishers are worried, as are authors and culinary experts who used to write books for people who used to cook. That audience is now buying prepared food at Trader Joes and sending out for pizza. We have become a nation of culinary voyeurs. Some buy books for the photos of food. Food porn for those who dream of cooking while eating mediocre takeout.
Well, maybe after reading Pollan a few people may be sufficiently embarrassed to pick up the saute pan, but will not know what to do with it. Three generations of kitchen absenteeism means that no one at home has taught them how to cook.
Maybe it is time for a grandma who cooks every night at home to show them. Except they don’t like old people on TV. Not glamorous. Not as perky asRachael Ray, no cleavage, no snappy patter and amped up adrenalin. No machines a plenty . No five minute meals. Just cooking common sense in real time for the real world. Anyone ready for that??
I couldn’t agree more! I eat in friend’s homes where I am bemused by food plated in the kitchen into posturing little stacks. Home cooked meals should be lovingly presented on platters from which you can take as much as you like; as many times are you like with no pesky interruptions from a hovering waitstaff.
Home is not a like a restaurant and it never should be. I find the well prepared home table infinitly better! And I might add, most of my well fed friends do concur.
It’s all sad but true, Joyce. As a registered dietitian, I wish more consumers wanted to cook, to become more familiar with food, to know, to even care what’s in their favorite dishes, to want to know how to prepare them. Cooking really has become a spectator sport in this country. I think the best we can do is model cooking behavior and encourage anyone with interest to learn a bit more, taste a bit more, think about food a bit more…
All the banalities reflected by contemporary media….the reality show motif, professional sports, thjird rate back biting, cable media….all seem to have washed over the Food Network like one giant tsunami. As long as TV “cooking” is laced with sports, ego, and other assorted metaphors, the food will remain a prop. I thought there may have been a sliver of hope with the “Top Chef Masters” concept…but alas, it succumbed to the seduction of cheap production values and accompanying shallow content.
My wife and I are fortunate to have a small circle of friends who cook for and with one another on a regular basis. We all cook during the week. I’m somewhat proud to say that he packaged/prepared food isles at Trader Joe’s are off-limits to our shopping cart. It’s not that much of an accomplishment, as we avoided those isles in all manner of grocery stores before, while, and after our children were growing up and living at home.
Food and cooking are integral parts of our basic cultural foundation. Losing touch with the act and rituals ultimately weaken that culture.
I was so amazed too when I visited Dallas friends and acquaintances to see them in their beautiful and huge kitchens with granite countertops and the latest appliances tell me that they never use the oven, or the stove, only the microwave to reheat their take-outs!
Something is seriously wrong with that picture
Well said. And, well, sad. I stopped watching Top Chef a long time ago. It’s all about inter-personal drama and not about the cooking. I have to admit that I got a bit caught up in the romance of being a Food TV star, but my true love is standing side by side my fellow foodies in a crowded kithcen, kibbitzing, noshing, trying this and that, laughing. The sitting at table and digging in to what we just created. Bliss!
I would LOVE to watch a program of Nonna’s showing us the family secrets that have lasted for generations. Providing the experience of tasting something incredibly delicious, knowing a few hundred people before you have had the same experience, is truly the soul of good cooking. Thank you.
Good article. I find preparing and cooking a large sit down meal for my friends and relatives to be a real joy of love. Even if the meal is over in about an hour. And usually something that sticks to your ribs. I never understood why people want to eat out on Thanksgiving. The smell of that meal in your house, Heaven. I just finished reading some of your comments in my local newspaper, The Desert Sun’s weekend addition. Man, you hit the nail on the head. And, sitting down with everybody at the table for a meal is a blast. Pass the potatoes, pass the gravy. Fun!!!!!!!!!
Nice one! If I could write like this I would be well chuffed. The more I see articles of such quality as this (which is rare), the more I think there might be a future for the Web. Keep it up, as it were.
That wasn’t the wisest move on his part, but luckily you were able to get that taken care of.