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Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch
July 30, 2009 3:41 PM   Subscribe

Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch. Michael Pollan discusses the evolution of America's cooking culture, from Julia Child to Top Chef. [via]
posted by nasreddin (70 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite

 
Lots of interesting points woven into the whole.
80 percent of the cost of food eaten in the home goes to someone other than a farmer, which is to say to industrial cooking and packaging and marketing. [Veteran food-marketing researcher, Harry] Balzer is unsentimental about this development: “Do you miss sewing or darning socks? I don’t think so.”
The notion of what "cooking" is has shifted to include heating up a can of soup, and many people spend more time watching others cook than doing it themselves, thanks in part to pre-prepared food. Then there is the apparent relationship between food preparation and obesity: [David] Cutler and his [Harvard economist] colleagues also surveyed cooking patterns across several cultures and found that obesity rates are inversely correlated with the amount of time spent on food preparation.

To reply to Harry Balzer, socks are not equivalent to prepackaged meals. The alternative to buying a boxed meal or fast food is making it yourself, which can take a few minutes or hours, whereas sewing your own socks would take much longer. Sure, they'll last longer than your meal will, but few people will set aside time each month to sew another set of socks, whereas most people can watch a bit less TV (or spend less time online) and make themselves a meal.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:26 PM on July 30, 2009


I agree that the Food Network seems like a near-total disaster for people who actually cook. The website (and the Top Chef website) are pretty good resources, though, for those of us who get off the couch long enough to want to investigate just HOW to cook that amazing dish the judges loved. Though they could do with a test kitchen, as sometimes the Top Chef recipes are hilariously flawed. (1/2 cup of oil for salad dressing for 2? hmmmm...) Though some celebrity chef cookbooks are equally guilty (I'm looking at you, Food Network Stars...).

But, I don't think that this is all necessarily a bad thing. TV is a terrible format for teaching, teaching how to cook especially so... you get to see it cooked once, just once, and if you blink, well shit. And what are you supposed to do, scribble down notes all episode long? How archaic! Seeing Julia Child cook on TV succeeded in taking the mystery out of it, but if you were serious about cooking you still went and bought her book.

Just watch a celebrity chef struggle to explain a recipe in sound bites... usually accompanied with text at the bottom of the screen, and/or zoom-ins on little glass bowls of each ingredient prepped. The internet does all of this a thousand times better - a blog or youtube can give you a play-by-play complete with photos or videos, descriptions of each ingredient, links to sources or definitions, and a comments thread full of feedback from people who actually attempted the recipe ("I had a hard time sourcing the salt-pork called for in this, but I substituted fresh side pork and salted to taste, and it worked great... you could also just use bacon"). And you can print it out, or just keep it open... it doesn't disappear in minutes to be replaced with commercials (yet).

Food Network et al can't compete with egullet.org or any one of the thousands of food blogs out there, catering to every possible interest... and they shouldn't try.
posted by mek at 4:34 PM on July 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


I thought this article was pretty insulting. I watch Food Network all the time, and try the recipes a few times a week.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 4:51 PM on July 30, 2009


Before discovering the Food Network, I don't think I had any concept of what cooking was, or that it could be accomplished with my own hands.

I still don't do much cooking, but I'm convinced that after enough hours of watching Alton Brown, I'll be able to explode into the kitchen like some kind of culinary ninja, ready for anything.
posted by buriednexttoyou at 5:00 PM on July 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


I haven't read the whole article yet, but for efficiency, I'm going to just start feeling guilty now.

Michael Pollan is so tiresome.
posted by selfmedicating at 5:02 PM on July 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm convinced that after enough hours of watching Alton Brown, I'll be able to explode into the kitchen like some kind of culinary ninja, ready for anything.

I feel the same way watching ESPN. I'm sure we're equally right.
posted by GuyZero at 5:02 PM on July 30, 2009 [4 favorites]


I'm going to just start feeling guilty now.

Chunks of the linked piece describe larger causes that, at least in North America, make "real" cooking untenable:

For many years now, Americans have been putting in longer hours at work and enjoying less time at home. Since 1967, we’ve added 167 hours — the equivalent of a month’s full-time labor — to the total amount of time we spend at work each year, and in households where both parents work, the figure is more like 400 hours. Americans today spend more time working than people in any other industrialized nation .

That's not "you should feel bad", that's "hey, this large social shift is interesting and problematic, check it out".
posted by everichon at 5:12 PM on July 30, 2009


Good Eats is the only "cooking" show I'll watch, because it contains a whole lot more than just how to make a meal. Honestly the show could perhaps even skip the recipes and I'd still watch it. It's entertaining and informative as hell.

Alton Brown makes cooking interesting and takes a lot of the fear and apprehension out of the whole process for me.
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 5:13 PM on July 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


I didn't much like this article. There's some lovely writing in it about Julia Child and her influence on Pollen's childhood, but the argument he's making is suprisingly evidence free. I mean, he has a ton of stats on the fact that people cook less, and then he has a ton of wispy speculation (evolutionary phychology is the duct tape of long magazine pieces) and snarking on the food network to explain why that might be, plus his one source of quotes, Snidely Whiplash from the food consulting industry, to come in and twirl his mustache and say things like "It's all because they're lazy! Americans will never cook again! Bwa-ha-ha!" He metions the fact that people work more and commute more, but doesn't really delve into what that means for their cooking --- like, what time is dinner served? And he touches not at all on the foodie backlash of which he himself is a certainly a Blessed member, if not yet actually cannonized --- sure it's just yuppies now with the whole food and the organic this, local that, but yuppies set the trends. You can get sushi in Dubuque nowadays. I just clicked on the food network now; a housewife from Idaho won $100,000 for a thai-stuffed chicken breast on one of those contest shows. The food that people eat is a lot different from when Child was cooking, back when garlic was a frightening foreign innovation for 3/4ths of the country. And he doesn't touch on the price of food, neither ---- back in the day when more people cooked, food was a much bigger chunk of the family budget; people wouldn't have bought a $4 bag of pre-washed baby lettuce instead of a $0.99 head of Romain. And for a lot of peeps back in the pre-war idyll he's so hopped up on, cooking was still something someone else did; up through at least the 1920s and for some groups stretching into the 50s having a servant who did light housework and cooked was a pretty typical middle-class deal. (Think Alice on the Brady Bunch.) This where have all the flowers gone stuff chaps my hide.
posted by Diablevert at 5:13 PM on July 30, 2009 [7 favorites]


This is gratifying. I gave a presentation last semester with similar themes, carping over the higher production values and more masculine speak of Food Network's prime time offerings, as selling knowledge about food without expertise, and thereby demeaning the efforts of actual domesticity as performed in the so-called "dump and stir" shows of the daytime lineup.

Alton Brown, who I would consider the posterboy for this trend is, moreover, none too kind to female figures on his show, either, though later seasons seem to be deliberately less antagonistic. So I made his donuts for the presentation, to make a good showing of my belief: basically that culinary epistemology isn't as appealing as a hot homemade donut.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 5:17 PM on July 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


Alton Brown makes cooking interesting and takes a lot of the fear and apprehension out of the whole process for me.

So what. Has he actually made you cook any more? Has your cooking improved at all? Is your diet better? Are your meals more enjoyable?

The Food Network is at its core pornography. It triggers mirror neurons and makes us feel like we're actually doing something, when what we're doing is staring at a box. It's stimulating to watch but it's not an actual experience. Julia Child was indeed educational. Brown at least aspires to that and achieves it although I think he just appeals to the science nerds among us who like a little deconstruction in our media fare. The rest of the Food Network pantheon? It might as well be hotel pay-per-view.
posted by GuyZero at 5:38 PM on July 30, 2009 [4 favorites]


I love to cook, but I don't do it that often. For one, I hate bulk shopping -- I don't want to stock up preservative-laden food, so I just buy a few things at a time when I go to the store. I don't have a car and at the moment I don't have any supermarkets I can walk to, and taking public transit two ways is time consuming. Also, I live alone and hate doing dishes -- there's no dishwasher in my little rental, and it's just me and the dishes and soapy water with food bits swimming around. All this extra preparation and cleanup makes the few sublime moments of cooking and eating not so worth it.
posted by mirepoix at 5:40 PM on July 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Sorry for using the word "hate" twice; I promise I'm not as much of a kvetch as I sound.
posted by mirepoix at 5:48 PM on July 30, 2009


@Ambrosia:

I understand your criticism of Good Eats and some of the other shows on Food Network, but to tell the truth, it's the only show that has inspired me to go into the kitchen and try some new recipes. I like that he not only explains in detail how to do something, but also explains somewhat scientifically why you need to do it in the first place. My wife doesn't particularly like the show, but she does like that I cook a wider variety of meals on my cooking nights.

And really, AB is pretty unpleasant to most of the characters on his show, not just the women. In fact, I can't think of a single character that he doesn't seem annoyed by... and they usually get the better of him, male or female.
posted by Huck500 at 5:49 PM on July 30, 2009


The rest of the Food Network pantheon? It might as well be hotel pay-per-view.

Giada, maybe. I don't think that's where you want to see Ina Garten, though.

(Both of whom are great chefs with great cooking shows IMO.)
posted by jbiz at 5:54 PM on July 30, 2009


I watch the food network and I find it inspiring. Quite honestly, I DO cook more often now, and I cook things I wouldn't normally try. Even that Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives show that doesn't actually give any recipes showed me the secret to a linguine and clam sauce that my dad has been struggling to deconstruct for years (maybe he's just not that great a cook).

Regardless, that market research guy was right: we are basically cheap and lazy. Cast him as Snidely Whiplash all you want, but he's right.
posted by keep_evolving at 5:56 PM on July 30, 2009


I think the article misses the point entirely. The issue is that it's not that people don't know how to cook - but that more and more - most people don't know how to eat. How discern real food with good ingredients and well prepared. Without the demand side of the equation - why would anyone take the time to cook?

One could argue that Julia Child started us down this slippery slope - making exotic French cooking high entertainment. Has anyone actually tried to cook out of the Art of French Cooking? It's hardly everyday fare.
posted by helmutdog at 6:07 PM on July 30, 2009



The Food Network is at its core pornography. It triggers mirror neurons and makes us feel like we're actually doing something, when what we're doing is staring at a box


Which is why all the TVs in the gym are turned to the Food Network all the time. Like monks with dirty engravings. (It shows the torments of hell! it's totally legit that they're naked and writhing.)
posted by The Whelk at 6:13 PM on July 30, 2009


In fairness to Food Network and its fans, many TV shows follow this model (possibly all of them). HGTV is house porn. ESPN is activity porn. Spike TV is douchebag porn (please ignore any literal douchebag porn, ugh). All of it is designed to create a false feeling of actual activity and participation.
posted by GuyZero at 6:17 PM on July 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


I do not doubt that I'm somewhat the exception, but I have a binder full of recipes from Food Network shows that I make on a regular basis (~4 dinners/week are made at home from scratch). About half are from Good Eats, the rest are split more or less evenly between the other major shows (except Sandra Lee, blech). I learned most of my fundamental cooking skills from a combination of Culinary Institute of America textbooks and recorded episodes of Good Eats.

I think Good Eats is better than most shows in that Alton Brown makes a pointed effort to say "stop buying premade stuff, you can and should make this yourself at home." From Brown's point of view, everything should be homemade, even things that are almost taken for granted as premade these days: marshmallows, croutons, salad dressing, eggnog, mayonnaise, beer, stock, etc. I also appreciate that Brown doesn't sugar coat it: good food takes time and effort. There are short cuts, but not very many of them.

Other shows have their own ways of encouraging people to actually make the recipes rather than merely watching: Rachael Ray says it can be done quickly and easily; Ina Garten says it will impress guests and/or your spouse. Unfortunately, in my experience Ray's recipes can't reliably be made in 30 minutes by most people, and relegating cooking to entertaining and special occasions rather than an everyday activity is (as the article points out) only a step away from ceasing it altogether. So I think Good Eats does the best job of encouraging actual cooking on a regular basis.

It's unfortunate that the Food Network doesn't have a decent online video strategy (they only just got around to putting a handful of short clips on Hulu). Luckily, some living saint has put what seems to be every Good Eats episode on YouTube, and so far Food Network hasn't done anything about it.
posted by jedicus at 6:17 PM on July 30, 2009


In a very literal sense, convenience foods are tools of liberation. If I stop at Trader Joe's on my way home from work and pick up a prepared entree and a bag of salad greens, I've just liberated myself from 45 minutes of prep time in the kitchen. Sometimes that's a third or more of the time I have at home and awake with my husband in the evenings, so it's worth something to me.

I do cook, a lot more often than I stop at Trader Joe's, because that's what adults are supposed to do. But I don't feel particularly gratified or ennobled by it, and I don't think I'd see it as a life project even if I didn't work for a living. It's just food.
posted by timeo danaos at 6:20 PM on July 30, 2009


my wife: "i want to be the next food network star"
me: "you should check out this Michael Pollan article in the times"
wife: "i'm too busy watching food network."

at least fat Mario used to do so motherfunkin' cooking, Ina is great (is she even on anymore?), Alton Brown is super informative, and Giada cooks things i actually want to eat.
posted by frankbooth at 6:23 PM on July 30, 2009


I guess I'd better admit that my views of Alton Brown -- as having created a show that's unneccessarily, and suspected of being oppositionally, masculine (besides the idiot sister et al, see the "guy food" episodes) and of encouraging culinary knowledge as a signifier of high status, discerning consumption, rather than as practical or artisanal instruction -- is cynical, because I myself love his show and follow his recipes often. I just figure this is exceptional as a response to a tv broadcast because of the inherently lazymaking nature of television. However, aside from the shows that tout fast 'n' easy family fare, perhaps, other shows aren't intrinsically more likely to inspire actual cooking, but they don't seem to offer any alternative viewing modes than culinary aspiration; Good Eats does. That gives it broader appeal, and makes it a more successful show (10 years running!) Still, as a female terrific cook, I wish he didn't encourage knowitallism among young Turks, because there's already a ridiculous amount of cultural baggage surrounding food expertise genderwise.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 6:28 PM on July 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Though they could do with a test kitchen, as sometimes the Top Chef recipes are hilariously flawed. (1/2 cup of oil for salad dressing for 2? hmmmm...)

That seems about right, depending on how much salad you're making. Vinaigrette is 3:1::vinegar:oil, so that's 1/6c of vinegar, or about two and a bit tablespoons to start with. You'll end up with a bit left over, probably.

The Food Network is at its core pornography. It triggers mirror neurons and makes us feel like we're actually doing something, when what we're doing is staring at a box.

And yet, it used to have excellent shows. I'm thinking Molto Mario, TASTE with David Rosengarten, etc.. shows that used to exist, and would educate about food (particularly Mario, which a) showed that Italian cuisine isn't all tomato sauce and parmagiano, and b) how scary it isn't to cook) and encourage people to actually make something. I'd also add Essence of Emeril to that list, for bringing a cuisine that most people don't really understand to the (inter)national consciousness. Cooking Live with Sara Moulton, too; showing people that yes you can make great food in an hour--the Wednesday cookalong in particular was a great idea.

Then, sometime around 2000ish, it all changed rather horribly. TASTE, gone. Cooking Live, gone. Molto Mario, gone (and I wept). Essence of Emeril, morphed into a godawful talkshow-esque shambling monstrosity punctuated with an ever-increasing number of BAMs and KICK IT UP A NOTCH and shameless pandering to adding MOAR BUTTER and MOAR PORK FAT (because it RULEZ amirite) and MOAR BOOZE IN THE BLOODY MARYS and MOAR SUGAR AND CHOCOLATE SAUCE ON THE DESSERT and BAM BAM BAM BAM... sadly, not the sounds of gunshots in an alley, disposing of the asshole producers of the show. Before that time, the 'stars' of FoodTV were actual chefs who could cook actual food, plus the occasional really talented amateur. After that time we started getting the Bobby Flays (hiss spit ptui) and Rachael Rays of the world; all flash and no substance; especially in the case of the former; anecdata from people in the know say his restaurants thrive on a combination of name recognition and food tourists who want to say they ate in a celebuchef's restaurant, and while sour grapes may account for some of it, at least one of the people in question--a household name you would recognise--has never and will never open a restaurant. Rachael Ray's uselessness in a kitchen needs no comment. Well, except this: that shrieking fucking harpy should be drawn up on charges of crimes against the stomachs of the world, and forced to eat her inedible pap until she explodes, a la the opening scenes of Se7en. It is well worth noting that she used a cooking show as a springboard into celebrity--oh hey, exactly the same as Bobby Flay did. As an aside, I've often compared the career trajectories of Flay and Batali; one decided to become a chef who happened to be famous and a minor celebrity, the other did the opposite. Take a wild guess as to whose restaurant I would kill to eat in and sell multiple organs to work in.

In a weird way, I blame the original Iron Chef for some of this change. It was the first show to really introduce spectacle into the food television genre in a way that had instant appeal, most especially to those who like to think they know food.

And now.. now we have Top Chef (which I confess I love), we have Nigella Lawson (who I also love, but she's not even pretending it's not about her general smouldering zaftig frame, pouty lips, and such), we have Paula freaking Deen, whose food I would love to eat once in a while but really is about sheer butter pornography. The list goes on. While I love Alton, he appeals to three very specific market segments: as GuyZero said, "he just appeals to the science nerds among us who like a little deconstruction in our media fare," to those who think, as above, they can explode ninjalike into a kitchen and yet somehow never do it, and finally (the smallest group, IMHO) to people who actually want to cook and understand more theory, especially the explosion of various stupid kitchen myths. Heston Blumenthal, who I worship as a genius, also fits into the porn category, as does Ramsay's shows.

In fact, I am seriously hard-pressed to think of shows on nowadays that are primarily about actual real cooking. Laura Calder's show (probably not available in the USA) is very, very cooking-focused in an old-school way.

What's needed, really, is for shows to:
1) make use of the fact that more and more people have PVR, and (as Alton sort of does) post freezable segments of the show with full ingredient lists and brief sections of the recipe
2) Integrate better with online full-recipe content (that does NOT, and I am looking at you FoodTV, disappear or become fiendishly difficult to find) and show snippets of technique--why every TV show doesn't have 'For this steak recipe, please visit www.thisfoodshow.com/steak' prominently at the end I have no fucking clue
3) Demonstrate recipes in chronological order, and ideally at the end of the show demonstrate two or three ways to plate it--after all, many cooking shows are aimed at those who wish to entertain at home

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how to prepare haricots a la penser de trop.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 6:36 PM on July 30, 2009 [10 favorites]


This is a great post. I have been on the road and probably would have missed this. Julia rocked my world, first through my mom, and then personally. She did change the landscape about how America approached cooking. People take for granted so many foodie aspects of their lives without appreciation of from whence it came. California is a hotbed of cuisine. I doubt that ever would have happened without Julia. What a force she was.......
posted by caddis at 6:38 PM on July 30, 2009


An interesting note about The Food Network as a whole is the way the shows are never pitted against one another, and any viewer is not merely permitted, but encouraged to identify with multiple stars/chefs, and how that carries over to their merchandising. Each star has their cookbooks for sale on the website, and certain specialty cooking implements affiliated with them, with appliances understood to be more or less universal bearing instead, the Food Network brand.

The website is tremendously useful as such sites go, and seems to be one of the clearest demonstrations of the network's earnest intention to encourage some form of foodie lifestyle, despite the diametrical opposition of AB and Sandra Lee, for instance, in its one-stop-shoppery over food-pornery. The word "network" is even de-emphasized. Clearly, the site is for doers, not mere watchers.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 6:40 PM on July 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't think that's where you want to see Ina Garten, though.

I worship Ina and would quite happily live in her basement crawlspace if she would let me cook with her.

Has anyone actually tried to cook out of the Art of French Cooking?

This may be relevant to your interests. Start at the beginning.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 6:41 PM on July 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


some kind of culinary ninja

It's late. You go into the kitchen to get a snack. You open the fridge, take out the ingredients, put them on the counter, and then turn around to close the fridge.

Behind you there is a sudden rush of air and a "whoosh" sound, and then only stillness and silence.

When you turn around, all that remains on the counter is a red pepper diced into small cubes that have been formed into a miniature replica of a Shinto temple...and a single slice of prosciutto folded into a perfect crane.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 6:42 PM on July 30, 2009 [5 favorites]


@ frankbooth - Ina is still on. Her show is "back to basics" now -- focusing more on easier, everyday recipes -- which airs on the weekends. There are still reruns of the earlier Barefoot Contessa seasons during the week, too. She's earned a Tivo season pass and I usually catch up with them on the weekends to help come up with ideas on what to cook the following week.

I also digest food blogs and videos and what not during the week (I just discovered Food Wishes this week -- and just tonight I successfully made the pizza dough that's currently on the front page, which was fantastic.)
posted by jbiz at 6:47 PM on July 30, 2009


So what. Has he actually made you cook any more?
Yes?

Has your cooking improved at all?
Yes?

Is your diet better? Are your meals more enjoyable?

Wha... This is like asking if I'm any better at fishing or agriculture after watching a documentary on the Satoyama region of Japan. I watch Good Eats primarily because of the interesting information and stuff I learn (recipes are included among that stuff), I'm not looking for a quality of life changing experience, here.

The rest of the Food Network pantheon?
There is nothing more to the Food Network than Alton Brown, as far as me and my TV are concerned. What the hell else would I watch on that channel?
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 6:48 PM on July 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


dirtynumbangelboy, you forgot the best part of Paula Deen, the episodes when her son is on and the whole thing turns into a passive-aggressive southern-gothic playlet.

Also, I used to watch Sandra Lee. A lot. I wanted to see the moment when her smile snapped and she went all Mommie Dearest on the cameraman. Alas, the closest we got was Kwanza Cake. Still, you have to admire that wasp waist and heavy pour with the liquor. Girl could give Betty Draper a run for her liver.
posted by The Whelk at 6:49 PM on July 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


One thing I did learn from watching chefs cook is that I don't need a lot of specific cutting/chopping/dicing tools if I have halfway decent knife skills and an understanding of how fruits and vegetables and meats are put together. So now when I look through the shiny shiny Williams Sonoma catalogue, I feel less tempted to indulge in fancy specialty tools.

Plus, I did pick up a couple of Ina Garten's cookbooks after watching her show and am amazed at how good every recipe is. Plus, I want to eat or try all of them and how often does that happen when you buy a cookbooks?
posted by Mouse Army at 6:53 PM on July 30, 2009


you forgot the best part of Paula Deen, the episodes when her son is on and the whole thing turns into a passive-aggressive southern-gothic playlet.

Bwahahah. A friend of mine has the biggest crush on her sons..

One thing I did learn from watching chefs cook is that I don't need a lot of specific cutting/chopping/dicing tools if I have halfway decent knife skills and an understanding of how fruits and vegetables and meats are put together.

Quoted for truth. Most kitchen gadgets are substitutes for a sharp knife and a relatively deft hand. That being said, I desperately want a good mandolin, because julienning anything is just annoying.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 6:56 PM on July 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think the article misses the point entirely. The issue is that it's not that people don't know how to cook - but that more and more - most people don't know how to eat.

I think perhaps you miss the point of the article. Michael Pollen has already elucidated the problems we have with eating. The point of the article is that cooking is by and large an integral part of eating right.
posted by snofoam at 7:32 PM on July 30, 2009


Understandably it's a long article, so lots of people are having trouble RTFA, they just get to the part where he disses food tv and driveby the comments.
posted by mek at 7:44 PM on July 30, 2009


Or, y'know, some of us just felt like commenting on that bit. This is allowed, you know; we don't have to comment on the entire article.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 7:55 PM on July 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Ramsey's the F Word is actually a pretty great show. It combines some of the spectacle - watching a usually untrained brigade try and serve out 50 apps / entrees / desserts - and has the information - throughout the show Gordon teaches you recipes ( the video of which is available online at the beeb ). Throw in some competition between Ramsey and celebrities trying to make their best dishes, and the season long story arc of him raising and eventually slaughtering and eating livestock and it's become one of my weekly watches.
posted by cloax at 8:04 PM on July 30, 2009


The F-Word is brilliant food television. I even love Janice Street-Porter despite her hate-on for the Queen (stapling an ASBO to Prince Charles' door, however, was sheer genius).

I do believe, however, that his competitions are largely staged in order to take the perception of his arrogance down a notch or two. He loses too often. Yes, some of that can be accounted for by people going for the more 'homey' versions of the various dishes, but let's be real: these are the type of people/foodies who have gotten into his restaurant for the filming. Most of them should be relatively familiar with high-end food.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 8:10 PM on July 30, 2009


I find that the shows on PBS are a lot better. When I lived in Portland, they had a good lineup on Saturday afternoons, with Caprial and John, America´s Test Kitchen, and some others. I picked up a lot of techniques that I could adapt to other recipes.
posted by concrete at 8:14 PM on July 30, 2009


Thanks for linking that, nasreddin. Otherwise I wouldn't have read it, and it's a much more interesting article than I thought.

Much to think about there. One thing that struck me forcibly was this line, which explains a lot to me about why tv is such an unnecessary wasteland (ie, it doesn't have to be a wasteland, but people at the controls are consciously making it a wasteland):
Erica Gruen, the cable executive often credited with putting the Food Network on the map in the late ’90s, recognized early on that, as she told a journalist, “people don’t watch television to learn things.”
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:19 PM on July 30, 2009


And yet, it used to have excellent shows....Then, sometime around 2000ish, it all changed rather horribly. TASTE, gone. Cooking Live, gone. Molto Mario, gone (and I wept).

You realize there are only 3 of you, right? I mean, I'm right there with you, there's not much on food network I like to watch anymore except maybe Anne Burrell's Secrets of a Restaurant Chef. (I like America's Test Kitchen and Lydia, myself.) And I was bitching about this very subject the other day, the fact that the shows have been so dumbed down. But cooking hobbiests are thin on the ground in this country, as Pollen points out. Food Network's a lot more popular dumb. They're never going back. And while I would like to eat at Babbo, Batali's smug as all hell. Watch a couple episodes of Molto Mario and you start to pick up this "the Comic Book Guy as Chef" vibe.
posted by Diablevert at 8:26 PM on July 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


Exactly, Diablevert. Metafilter can be pretty guilty of being an echo chamber on subjects such as these. It's not like a bunch of mefites are going to show up and admit they eat McD's 5 nights a week.
posted by mek at 8:38 PM on July 30, 2009


I'll freely admit that I eat shit food from time to time, and frankly the last thing I want to do after getting home from working in a kitchen all day is cook more food. Dinner tonight was a peanut butter sandwich and an Oreo, for example.

And while I would like to eat at Babbo, Batali's smug as all hell. Watch a couple episodes of Molto Mario and you start to pick up this "the Comic Book Guy as Chef" vibe.

I don't think you could be further off the mark if you tried. The person I mentioned above who talked about Flay also talked to me about Batali, who they have met and worked with on occasion. Batali's just this guy who fucking loves food.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 8:42 PM on July 30, 2009


helmutdog: "Has anyone actually tried to cook out of the Art of French Cooking? It's hardly everyday fare." I've a whole repetoire of Julia's recepies. But the best thing she did was to teach the cooking methods. Once you have those, you can be creative with ingredients. And, yes, they do become everyday fare.
posted by path at 8:59 PM on July 30, 2009


Batali's just this guy who fucking loves food.

If you haven't read it already, Heat is required reading if you're interested in Batali at all.
posted by Cyrano at 9:15 PM on July 30, 2009


Batali's just this guy who fucking loves food

I'm sure he does. Buford's Heat certainly potrays him as such, and it does seem like he would liven up a party. But the man has never made a qualified statement about Italian culture. Qualified in the sense of "most" or "many" or "in some places" or "people tend to." It's all, In Italy, they do it like this. They serve this like that. The Italians feel this, they think that, they believe the other thing. All Italian think X. Mario knows. By god I love a dictator in the kitchen --- my admiration for Lidia Bastianich knows no bounds --- but even she doesn't present herself as such an absolute authority on Italian culture.
posted by Diablevert at 9:37 PM on July 30, 2009


Has anyone actually tried to cook out of the Art of French Cooking?

Someone who has is discussed in Pollan's article, starting in the 4th paragraph, complete with reasons why someone might go back to Julia Child's recipes. I'm just saying...

Masterchef just finished it's first season here in Australia, and it was a prime-time ratings winner. It blew all the other recent reality shows out of the water, about as huge as Big Brother used to be. Water-cooler discussions about who did well last night, who over-reached their skill-level, whether or not you'd go to their restaurant if they opened one.

And yet I don't see stacks of people doing more cooking. My broccoli-and-cream pasta is still oohed and aahed over when I bring in leftovers for lunch, but when I offer the (ridiculously easy) recipe, people say they don't have time to cook. I love to cook, but it's still a hobby for me. I'll go for takeaway or beans on toast if I'm not in the mood/am too tired/got home late from work.

Pollan is right - it's not that we don't like the idea of cooking, it's that we're too tired from working too hard. And a lot of the skills have been lost because of food-porn focused on eating and spectacle rather than instruction, and the insidious infiltration of processed food to replace actual food.
posted by harriet vane at 2:29 AM on July 31, 2009


I must admit I'm quite taken with the idea of the cook-it-yourself diet proposed in the closing paragraphs.
"You want some crisps? OK, get out the mandolin and start heating up some oil..."
posted by primer_dimer at 4:50 AM on July 31, 2009


It's something I've sort-of been leaning towards with my own hobbyist cooking, too. When I'm cooking at home, I put in as much cream, butter, bacon, whatever as I like. At least I know I've bought good quality stuff and haven't included any HFCS, MSG, preservatives or colourings, whatever. When I'm eating at work or out and about, I try to make healthy choices (unless it's a special occasion).
posted by harriet vane at 6:04 AM on July 31, 2009


I watch the Food Network. Far more than I probably should, actually. My impressions of it are... mixed. There are far too many shows that focus less on the preparation than on the presentation - I'm thinking about all of the "challenge" shows, reality shows, etc. Those shows won't teach a person how to cook, but they are useful for providing a certain amount of inspiration, in a sort of "I didn't know those two things could go together!" way.

Alton Brown's show was incredibly helpful for me when I was learning to cook, simply because of the semi-scientific way things are presented. Right off the top of my head, I learned from that show how to care for my knives and how to properly sear a steak. And that's an excellent springboard - if I can sear a skirt steak, then what about a pork chop? What if I add some green beans to the pan? Hey, a potato can go in the microwave while this is cooking - now I have dinner in a half hour. Then you go from that to taking the rendered bacon fat from breakfast and pan frying pork chops and breaded green beans and it just goes from there.

I think a lot of the problem that exists with learning how to cook is a fear of failure, or having an unacceptable amount of risk. If you try something new (which, when learning, is basically everything), there is a chance that it's not going to come out right, or even be edible. There are consequences for cooking a bad meal - you either don't eat, or you've blown a significant portion of your food budget for the week after you take into account the chicken breasts you carbonized and the pizza you had to order to replace them. Predictability is a good thing to have often.
posted by backseatpilot at 6:13 AM on July 31, 2009


I started to write a long comment about how ultimately people don't rate food quality very highly. About how home cooks who frankly didn't really care that much about flavour and texture were 'making from scratch' mediocre food 60 years ago simply because there weren't the easy alternatives we have today. About how making everyone care about good food is akin to making everyone care about your favourite band. About how people will eat rubbish as long as rubbish is the easier alternative, because cooking just isn't an interest of theirs enough to pursue the more difficult option.

But then I was reminded of my favourite cooking show, Food Safari, and wasted 2 hours watching their online clips.
posted by teem at 7:01 AM on July 31, 2009


Julia Child also opened my eyes to cooking and eating better, but not through her TV show but through Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I was never much of a watcher, but I've always consumed books at a prodigious rate. When I was a teenager I brought her cookbook home from the library and read the thing from cover to cover. I was stunned. My mother's cooking consisted mainly of hamburger in some form; Kraft Mac N Cheese; and canned, stewed tomatoes. Since Thanksgiving was looming, I begged my mom to let me try deboning the turkey. I was amazed by how good, how moist and succulant and flavorful the turkey was, nothing like the particle board turkey I had always dreaded. This, this was what food should have been and should always be.

35 years later and I still borrow a cookbook from the library once every week or two. You think Rachel Ray's TV show is bad--you should read one of her cookbooks! Hilarious. However I am happy to report that most cookbooks are worth the effort of checking out; I'm always discovering new techniques and trying out new recipes. This week's book is Cooking Know-How and the Chicken Vindaloo recipe nearly made my husband weep with joy.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 9:25 AM on July 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


I love Food Network and I frequently cook Ina Garten's recipes and I own two of her cookbooks, although I think she uses too much fat in her cooking. I like Tyler Florence; The Neely's have good recipes but I find them unbearable to watch, up there with Sandra Lee and Paula Deen. I've become of a fan Anne Burrell. I've never gotten into Giada but that may be my bias against someone who only tastes food but doesn't actually eat. I like Alton but he can makes things overly complicated allthough his two day coq au vin is incredible.

I don't watch any of the challenge or traveling/on the road type shows. I used to be a fan of Rachel Ray, whom everyone likes to hate on, but her early shows were much more earnest and real even if they weren't really doable in 30 minutes. It seems like she got too busy with her 'on the road' show and the talk show so now she just throws darts on the wall at ingredients.

I was a big fan of cooking shows on PBS - Julia, of course, but also The Frugal Gourmet, Jacques Pepin and Lydia. Jacques should never have brought his daughter on the show, she was so stupid in the kitchen she seemed retarded.

The real thing missing from Food Network is ethnic cooking. (Italian and Mexican don't count even though Mexican isn't really covered either.) But I'd love to see Indian/Pakistani food, Ethiopian, Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese, etc. Asia is pretty much ignored and the ingredients are pretty widely available now. Baking isn't covered well either.
posted by shoesietart at 10:05 AM on July 31, 2009


I have to agree that there isn't much good baking or ethnic on the various food networks, but I love shows like Barefoot Contessa for tips on how to make stuff. But then, I love to cook, and already have a good knife and a planetary mixer, so anything she can come up with, I can probably duplicate and fine tune to my tastes.

I love the TopChef Masters shows because I love seeing these world class chefs get tossed challenges that are so outside of their comfort zone, and seeing how they recover.

I agree that a lot of food network stuff is crap; like Ray's stuff...good god her recipes are awful...but then again, she started her career as a food demonstrator at a grocery store, not as a CIA grad. Her recipes are tuned for people who don't know how to cook, to allow those folks some success in the kitchen; thereby emboldening them to try more and more difficult recipes.

My fascination with cake decorating was because of tv shows showing these people creating this huge, complicated sculptures...and I thought: I wonder if I can do that...and as it turns out, yes, I probably could. It would take years to get that good, but the concepts...sure I get how they're doing it. I learned a lot about rolling fondant, mixing colors and molding chocolate from watching people under time pressures doing it.

I dunno, just like any teaching tool, you take away that which is valuable to you.
posted by dejah420 at 10:32 AM on July 31, 2009


There is nothing more to the Food Network than Alton Brown, as far as me and my TV are concerned. What the hell else would I watch on that channel?

.....I like Ace of Cakes.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:02 AM on July 31, 2009


I like Ace of Cakes.

Bah. Duff ruined my wedding cake. Fuck that guy.
posted by electroboy at 11:22 AM on July 31, 2009


I just want to say that this photo, which accompanies the Pollan article, is ten thousand kinds of awesome.
posted by dersins at 11:30 AM on July 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


Bah. Duff ruined my wedding cake. Fuck that guy.

Aw shoot, sorry.

I think for me, it's that on TV Duff strikes me as the kind of boss I'd love to have, because everything looks so one-big-happy-family and goofy, but if I were honest with myself he'd probably piss me off within a month and a half if I ever actually did work there in reality because "WHY THE HELL CAN YOU NOT JUST MAKE A SIMPLE PLAIN BASIC CAKE NOW AND THEN FOR GOD'S SAKES THERE IS NO REASON WHY I SHOULD HAVE TO CONTACT AN ELECTRONICS SHOP FOR A BIRTHDAY CAKE mother of god...."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:35 AM on July 31, 2009


Nah, it's cool. I bitch about that neckbearded bastard like it's my job.

It wasn't so much "ruined" as just "way below standards and more resembling a grocery store sheet cake than some artistic creation". Fortunately the foodie aunt that was picking up the tab shamed him into giving it to us for free.

These guys, on the other hand, totally delivered.
posted by electroboy at 11:47 AM on July 31, 2009


The real thing missing from Food Network is ethnic cooking.

Back in the early days, they had a series called Melting Pot, with all kinds of cuisines from around the world. I can't find any clips, though.

I grew up on a steady diet of Food Network (ha!), but came of age as a chef right as food blogs started to pick up and I left college. The DIY ethic on Alton Brown is vital for me as I live abroad now and can't really access things like a Weber grill or even a food processor that easily. My whole family always cooked, but I was the first person to leave home in the move-far-away-at-18 sense, so I never really matured in those skills. Cooking/food shows opened my eyes to new ingredients, food destinations (tasty tasty Singapore!), and techniques like making pan sauces.

What ambrosiavoyeur said above about gender being a hidden trope through these shows also applies, I think, to age - young people were never really held up as good at much in the kitchen at all, and moving into an apartment with three other busy 18-year-olds meant a lot of quesadillas and EasyMac...and we probably would have stayed that way without the impetus of seeing our peers use cooking shows as a catalyst to become better at cooking. Potlucks were really important, too.

If anything, the rising foodie consciousness has opened my eyes to all kinds of new ingredients and techniques I'd never seen before, and as I try as hard as I can to cook homemade meals as often as possible - I'm at 6 nights a week right now! - I can't begrudge the Food Network much. Did I see that it was time to move on when extra-virgin olive oil became EVOO? Yes. But I just looked elsewhere for that food knowledge, and I found it, luckily, just as lots and lots of new stuff was coming online.

Now I'm living in a country where the food culture is much like that described in a great comment by Dee Extrovert in this old AskMe post. The culinary culture is so indigenous that even six and seven-year-olds know when strawberries are in season. Older people preserve food in the cellar for the winter. Local food isn't an expensive option for the elite - even people of modest means (*raises hand*) have access to the best of domestic produce. The things which grow or can be raised here better than others - like beets, potatoes, dairy products, and pork - are the things that people really, really know how to use well in the kitchen. As I learn to use these ingredients better, I'm humbled and amazed by my local peers, who, even at my relatively young age, are able to whip up the most amazing food after visiting what looks, to me, like a half-empty produce stand.
posted by mdonley at 2:13 PM on July 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


my husband regularly references The Art of French Cooking, as much for guidance on techniques as for specific recipes.

just last night we had braised chuck roast (with carrots and onions) with some very yummy garlic mashed taters. yes, its a time commitment but its incredibly delicious and there a lots of leftovers (I had mashed potatoes for breakfast today!)
posted by supermedusa at 2:43 PM on July 31, 2009


Has anyone actually tried to cook out of the Art of French Cooking? It's hardly everyday fare.

whoa, missed this earlier (thanks dnbb). Yeah, I have made a ton of those recipes, and was noted earlier, the most important part of a book like this is the techniques, how do you prepare a dish, how do you spice it, etc. Most of the recipes are not exactly complicated. Even all these years later I still find interesting stuff in there when searching for something different to tempt the palate. Anyone who lacks who seriously likes to cook needs these books in their library.
posted by caddis at 7:24 PM on July 31, 2009


But then I was reminded of my favourite cooking show, Food Safari, and wasted 2 hours watching their online clips.

All of you who'd like to see more ethnic cooking should follow teem's lead and go watch some Food Safari. It's a great show.
posted by harriet vane at 10:46 PM on July 31, 2009


But then I was reminded of my favourite cooking show, Food Safari, and wasted 2 hours watching their online clips.

'Waste' is the wrong word, it was 2 hours of paper-writing time well spent.
posted by teem at 11:12 PM on July 31, 2009


> There is nothing more to the Food Network than Alton Brown, as far as me and my TV are concerned. What the hell else would I watch on that channel?

Do they still show the original Iron Chef episodes on the Food Network?
posted by archagon at 11:39 PM on July 31, 2009


dirtynumbangelboy: "It is well worth noting that she used a cooking show as a springboard into celebrity--oh hey, exactly the same as Bobby Flay did...

In a weird way, I blame the original Iron Chef for some of this change.
"

Isn't that how Flay achieved his celebrity? He beat Morimoto on the original Iron Chef, and acted like a braying jackass?
posted by team lowkey at 12:26 AM on August 1, 2009


Pretty much. He had a TV show before that of course (random beautiful people hanging out in 'his' loft while he cooked and was generally douchetastic), but yeh.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 2:41 PM on August 1, 2009


EmpressCallipygos: .....I like Ace of Cakes.

BAH! Do NOT talk to me about Ace of Cakes! They took away my Good Eats 8:00 EST time slot! Now he's only on at 11 at night!
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 2:55 PM on August 1, 2009


Who cares, no one seems to cook anymore anyway? - Pollan.
posted by caddis at 8:37 PM on August 1, 2009


Who cares, no one seems to cook anymore anyway? - Pollan.

...Wasn't that where we came in?...

>Alton Brown makes cooking interesting and takes a lot of the fear and apprehension out of the whole process for me.

So what. Has he actually made you cook any more? Has your cooking improved at all? Is your diet better? Are your meals more enjoyable?


Honestly? Yes. Yes, they are. Alton doesn't just give you recipes -- he often will feature a single ingredient, and show you tricks for how to process it for future storage. How to freeze fruit for later, say. Or how to get the pips out of a pomegranate. Or in one episode he'll show you how to make your own tortillas -- and store them for the future, in fact -- and then in a follow-up episode will show you how to make things out of leftover tortillas.

In the blueberry episode he had a trick concerning blueberry pies - partially cook up some blueberry filling, then lay some plastic wrap in a pie tin, pour in the filling, and stick it in the freezer for a day; then take out this pre-frozen pie filling and bag it, and stick it back in the freezer. Then, all you had to do when you wanted blueberry pie was get your crust ready (he probably thought "from scratch," but the supermarket kind would no doubt work too), put it in the pan, take out one of these pre-frozen filling discs, and drop it right in the crust and then bake it. Boy HOWDY am I gonna try that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:42 AM on August 3, 2009


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