Monday, August 15, 2011

Rant: Julia Child on Hell's Kitchen?

Can you imagine Julia Child as a contestant on Hell's Kitchen, being screamed at by Chef Gordon Ramsay? "You call this Boeuf Bourguignon? It is swill, you stupid donkey."

Or Julia Child on Chopped, trying to make a soufflé using Velveeta, paprika, bay leaves and gummy bears?

Today would have been the 99th birthday for Julia Child, an influential and colorful chef, author and TV personality with strong local roots. She helped to demystify French cooking, as well as encourage cooking in general. Cooking shows have certainly changed since Julia Child debuted on The French Chef on February 11, 1963. Her show was one of the first cooking shows, and was successful from the start, airing for ten years. In general, she would prepare a different dish each show and as the shows were taped live, mistakes sometimes occurred, which added to Julia's charm. After that show, Julia would go on to star in a number of other successful cooking shows.

Nowadays, there are probably close to 200 cooking shows on television, on the Food Network, Cooking Channel, Travel Channel, Recipe TV, Bravo, Fox and others. The popularity of cooking shows seems to be at an all time high. Sure, there are still some traditional cooking shows, where a single chef or cook shows people how to prepare a variety of dishes, from many different cuisines. But there is now a wide range of other types of food-related shows as well, including the "competition" shows, where food lovers, cooks, chefs and others compete in a variety of different culinary challenges and contests.

I watch some of those shows, such as Hell's Kitchen, Chopped and Man Vs Food, primarily for the entertainment value. But I wonder what impression such shows give about food lovers and chefs, whether it portrays them in a positive light or not. Does Adam Richman promote gluttony as he demolishes heaping platters of food within a limited time period? Does Anthony Bourdain depict the stereotypical "ugly American" who makes fun of other cultures? Do you really need to scream and insult chefs, like Gordon Ramsay does, to inspire them? Do these food stunts reflect the reality of the life of a chef?

You are seeing more and more chefs appearing on television, including locals like Joanne Chang, Jamie Bissonnette and Jason Santos. It seems to benefit them, to provide positive publicity for their endeavors. So they must consider the trials and tribulations of these culinary competition shows to be worth it. But that is but one element of the equation, and does not say anything about the previous questions centered on Richman and Bourdain.

What would Julia Child think of such culinary competition shows? Would she ever participate on such a show?  Or would she see them as mere stunts, unworthy of her attention?

What are your thoughts on these culinary competition shows? Do they have value beyond entertainment? Do the positives outweight the negatives?

As Julia Child said at the end of every show: "Bon appétit!"


Jason Phelps said...

I don't watch much TV at all and when I do watch cooking shows I don't watch the competition ones, so I can't really say.

I think cooking TV is so different than it used to be. Living in New England as a kid I did watch Julia on PBS with my mother. I learned to cook during the same time and love trying new things here an there as a result. Julia was an incredible personality and clearly enjoyed sharing everything she did.

Happy Birthday Julia!


Natalie Sztern said...

This is strictly my feelings about the topic at hand. When the food network was born its premise was based on teaching us how to cook and Mario Batali had two shows, Puck had a show,Emeril had and even Bobby Flay had a show with an actual sit-in audience who added with their expertise as each had a foot in the food world as butchers or bakers. Hell, even Alan Richman had a show. Back then, when a show like the two fat ladies from Britain came on people were disgusted by their girth and fat laden foods.

Boy have times changed. The food network has become a game show station that promotes theme-based game shows they term Reality and the theme is some kind of event that takes place in the kitchen and we assume it has to do with doesn't.

Thank goodness I was there when the Food Network had shows that taught...expertise is now just a blog and a love of food and chefs want to know why its hard to come by hardworking cooks willing to learn from the bottom up. That is because the 20-somethings young enough to have the energy it takes to make it in this business all think like .... well, let me just say 'The Next Food Network Star' and 'Masterchef'.
(I thought the term Masterchef is achieved by going through a tremendous series of cooking tests for Chefs of aptitude in specific areas and are awarded such a title once this supposedly grueling days of tests has been mastered)

Richard Auffrey said...

Thanks Jason for your comments. Glad to see how Julia had an impact on you.

Thanks Natalie for your heart-felt comments and I am largely in agreement with you.