From the cozy, folksy appeal of Ree Drummond sharing her favorite down-home recipes on “The Pioneer Woman” to the intense, edge-of-your-seat excitement of competitions like “The Great British Baking Show,” “Chopped” and “Food Network Star,” cooking shows offer the perfect blend of ingredients to capture our attention and our hearts – so their immense popularity is no surprise, especially now.
The cooking show phenomenon dates back nearly a century; one of the first television cooking shows, “Cook’s Night Out,” premiered on the BBC in January 1937, with chef Marcel Boulestin demonstrating how to make an omelet. The breadth of viewing options has certainly grown since then, and a wide variety of food-related viewing options available on network TV, streaming, YouTube and cable – including multiple channels devoted entirely to the culinary arts – means there truly is something for everyone.
Viewers can learn about the science behind food from Alton Brown’s “Good Eats”, and shows like “No Reservations” hosted by the late Anthony Bourdain or Guy Fieri’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” let us “visit” new places we aren’t able to get to in person right now. Celebrity chefs such as Martha Stewart and Ina Garten have turned to Instagram to engage their audiences during the pandemic, fostering an even deeper sense of connection, and a number of professional chefs host their own YouTube channels.
Everyone from seasoned home chefs to folks who would rather not spend time in the kitchen can find enjoyment in the predictable, comforting and satisfying nature of step-by-step cooking shows, which this writer calls “the emotional equivalent of a home-cooked meal.” What’s not to love about watching Giada DeLaurentiis sharing her chicken piccata recipe or Rocco DiSpirito whipping up his 22-second omelette?
Residents of Lexington Square senior living communities in Elmhurst and Lombard recently enjoyed their very own Food Network-style meal preparation demonstration – only one step better. Not only was footage streamed to residents’ apartments of national award-winning chef Andrew Coates preparing a three-course fine dining meal, these same dishes were delivered to residents’ apartments in advance so they could simultaneously view the preparation and enjoy the finished product! The demonstration was so well-received, the experience will be replicated for residents quarterly.
Competitive cooking shows offer an appeal all their own. On one end of the spectrum, they offer viewers the opportunity to watch experts excel at their craft, and to marvel at the sheer creativity of some of the endeavors. Who hasn’t wondered how the competitors in “Chopped” would manage to incorporate ingredients like dried fermented scallops or ostrich tenderloin to concoct a delicious dish for the judges? Several years ago a young Elmhurst cooking enthusiast took his skills all the way to “Top Chef, Jr.”, and some families have even embarked on their own “Chopped”-style cooking competitions to keep busy and learn new skills during the pandemic. Shows like “Nailed It” spotlight the flip side: people who are fully aware of their shortcomings in the kitchen and are willing to be filmed learning from their mistakes.
Regardless of the type of program, cooking shows provide food for thought in so many ways. If you don’t already have a favorite or two, here are some top picks you may want to check out this winter to “stir things up” a little – or as famed television chef Emeril Lagasse would say, “kick it up a notch.” Happy viewing!