The Comfort Of Cooking Shows

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.

1407187942730We’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?

The Comfort And Safety Of The Food Network

Over the past year or so I’ve been in several different waiting room settings where there are televisions playing to entertain those who are waiting.  The one common characteristic has been the TV channel playing in every waiting room:  The Food Network.

Why is The Food Network seemingly on every waiting room TV set?  It could be because little elves creep around at night and change the default setting, or it could be that businesses consider The Food Network to be the safe choice when you are offering a generic option to help diverse people, all of whom would rather be somewhere else, pass the time while they are waiting.  In a group waiting room, where most people would never presume to get up and change the channel to their personal choice, most businesses aren’t going to risk picking a channel that might unduly bore, or deeply offend, one group or another.  Fox News or MSNBC or The Jerry Springer Show are going to rub some people the wrong way, and the appeal of the Romance Channel or the Sci-Fi Channel is pretty limited. Hence, The Food Network.

This makes perfectly good sense, when you think about it.  We all have to eat, and The Food Network programming consists of a lot of smiling people, of all sizes and types, who are enthusiastic about all things food.  They’re either going to some beautiful setting to eat it, or preparing it using carefully pre-measured ingredients and colorful bowls and gleaming aluminum utensils, wearing spotless aprons like the Mom in a ’50s sitcom, chattering happily all the while, and when the dish is finally prepared it inevitably looks mouth-watering.  Even the “reality” programming, like Chopped, is pretty low-key as reality shows go — no tantrums or personality clashes or scheming to undercut other contestants, just hopeful people who are passionate about food racing against the clock to prepare appealing dishes from bizarre ingredients and win some money.

People who regularly entertain know that guests who come over for cocktails or dinner are likely to congregate in the kitchen.  Why not?  It’s clean and warm and comforting, it usually smells good, and it’s a relaxed place — not stiff and formal like the dining room or the living room.  The Food Network is like the American Kitchen of the Airwaves.