The Joys of Cooking
Now that the holiday season has been thrust upon us, everyone’s going to be spending more time in the kitchen. Even if you’re not the one cooking the ham or the turkey, the stuffing or the mashed potatoes, you’re peeling the potatoes, taking out the garbage, or at least giving the family chefs company as they slave to uphold the most classic of American traditions—overeating. All this time in the kitchen means spending a lot of time talking about cooking, which, these days, means spending a lot of time talking about celebrity chefs.
Due to the advent of reality television, the Food Network, and the enormously popular Top Chef, cooking shows have undergone a transformation. They used to air only on PBS and star motherly figures like Julia Child (host of the first nationally televised cooking show in America, The French Chef), relying strictly on the viewer’s enthusiasm toward the culinary arts to attract an audience. These days, cooking shows tend to focus on entertainment, which makes them sexier and faster-paced, and allows them to attract not just home-schooled chefs but the everyday eater. And there’s a celebrity chef for everybody.
Of course you still have your classic motherly figures like Rachael Ray and Martha Stewart, but there are many other options. For the cosmopolitan traveler there’s No Reservations host Anthony Bourdain, a traveling celebrity chef who visits other countries and eats things like spleen and live sea urchin; for lovers of the deep-fried southern cuisine, there’s the bubbly Georgian chef Paula Deen; and southern barbeque specialists, Patrick and Gina Neely who sing and dance around their kitchen, telling raunchy jokes while they cook; if you want to get rowdy there’s the “culinary rock star” and game show host Guy Fieri; and Gordon Ramsey who brings out the nasty restaurant drama wherever he goes; and, of course, for those who live for competition, there are the game shows Iron Chef, Top Chef, Top Chef: Texas, and much, much more.
Why are people all of a sudden fascinated with cooking shows (because, come to think of it, isn’t it boring just to sit there and watch someone cook)?
One reason is that people like to eat more than they like to cook. As Michael Pollan reported in 2009, the Food Network shifted the content of its cooking shows from the instructional to the entertaining in the late-‘90s, because let’s face it, when you turn the experience of watching a cooking show into something akin to watching a sports game, more people are bound to tune in.
An alternative and more recent explanation relates to economics. As Martha White puts it, people are “cooking and eating at home in lieu of dining at pricey restaurants,” which makes a lot of sense given the economic recession. Most people can’t afford to frequent high-end restaurants, but they can afford their cable bill, which allows them to usurp Jaime Oliver’s dicing technique, and Wolfgang Puck’s recipe for coq au vin. Everyday people can still feel as if they’re living the high-life they’ve always dreamed of, and for dirt cheap.
Also, don’t we have a strangely intimate relationship with those who feed us, nurture us, keep us healthy and safe? Devotees to celebrity chefs feel that these culinary masters improve their quality of life—it’s kind of like having a crush on your doctor or yoga instructor.
Whether you love Bobby Flay or Rachael Ray, you need to be prepared to talk about a culinary guru with your family. So that you can join in on that holiday banter, here’s a rundown of some the biggest tong-wielding stars.
1. Guy Fieri, Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives & Guy’s Big Bite
Persona: The party guy (with frosted hair and a dyed goatee) who can cook his ass off.
Culinary Style: Deep fried fusion.
Hip Kitchen Comment: “That Guy could deep fry a Caesar salad!”
2. Giada De Laurentiis, Everyday Italian & Giada at Home
Persona: The girl of your dreams (cleavage and Italian accent included) is making you dinner.
Culinary Style: Americanized Italian with a Roman flare.
Hip Kitchen Comment: “It’s always hot in her kitchen!” (sexual) . . .“She reminds me of my last trip to Italy . . .” (nostalgic) . . . “What’s pancetta, again?” (confused).
3. Jaime Oliver, The Naked Chef & 30-Minute Meals
Persona: Classy British guy.
Culinary Style: Italian, but the dude can do anything.
Hip Kitchen Comment: “The David Beckham of cooking.”
4. Patrick and Gina Neely, Down Home with the Neelys
Persona: Southern charm and a whole lotta love.
Culinary Style: Soul food all the way.
Hip Kitchen Comment: “Those who cook together stay together.”
5. Ina Garten, Barefoot Contessa
Persona: Snobby Long Islander (she’s based out of the Hamptons and her husband is a professor at Yale).
Culinary Style: Comfort food influenced by New York City.
Hip Kitchen Comment: “Did you know she worked in the White House?!?”