Since we’ve been up in Maine we’ve spent a number of evenings watching competitive cooking shows. There are two reasons for this. First, our cable provider offers a surprisingly limited number of options. And second, there’s just something pleasing and comforting about competitive cooking shows that seem to fit well with the crazy period we are experiencing.
We’ve watched and enjoyed Guy’s Grocery Games, Chopped, Big Time Bake, and Beat Bobby Flay. The shows all follow a kind of playbook. The contestants are introduced, we learn where they are from, and we hear about their backstory and what they are going to do with the money if they win the competition, so “rooting interests” can be established. Then we meet the judges and see what curious culinary curveballs are going to thrown at the contestants — who must try to whip up an entree that uses, say, pickle-juice popsicles or ingredients that they can balance in a pizza delivery box. And, of course, the competition proceeds pursuant to a clock countdown, so there’s always the risk that a contestant will fail to get their food on the plate before time is called.
Why do we like these shows? For one, the contestants inevitably end up impressing you with their know-how, poise, and creativity, whether they win or lose. You can pick up some useful cooking tips and techniques along the way, too. But mostly, for me, there’s a comfort in the fact that the shows and contestants are all good-natured, nobody takes the competition super-seriously, and the stakes just aren’t that high. The contestants would all like to win the money, or the trip to some tropical location, sure, but they are going to do just fine, regardless. And they are working on food, not life or death scenarios — and most of the dishes they produce look pretty darned good.
It would be interesting to know whether the ratings of cooking shows has increased during this crazy time. And I also wonder: when the world does return to normal — as it will one day — and we get back to a more robust cable system, will we still watch these shows, or will the need for the simple comfort they provide have vanished?