Food on TV

February 3, 2009 at 4:00 am Leave a comment

While an entire cable station has been devoted to food-related programming since 1993, it’s not until recently that food-centric shows have spread beyond the boundaries of The Food Network.

Due to the nature inherent to learning how to cook or watching others learn how to cook, early every food show I’ve come across is instructional or reality-based. A September 2008 article on TIME’s Web site mentions the origins of reality-based programming, citing the cheapness and easy of production for the currently widespread trend. This seems to be true of the popular TV shows on other cable and network stations. Bravo’s Emmy-nominated Top Chef is in it’s fifth season, and it gives thrills by placing strict restraints on competitions and by having it’s pretty host somberly announce at the end of every episode, “Pack your knives and go.” I think Top Chef appeals not only to the guilty pleasure a lot of people have at watching someone “get voted off,” but it also appeals to our taste buds with enticing food descriptions  (for example: Seattle Salmon Roll With Ginger-Blackberry Coulis and Sesame Apple Salad) and macro shots of carefully styled plates.

Food-based programming isn’t exempt from the schticks found in other reality TV shows. The aforementioned Top Chef plays a very Survivor-like/American Idol-style card by emphasizing competition. Taking a cue from the popular show The Apprentice, a very Donald Trump-esque Gordon Ramsay screams at scrambling chefs on FOX’s Hell’s Kitchen. The Learning Channel’s Take Home Chef emphasizes looks: The host, Curtis Stone, is a thirty-something beach blond Australian who combs supermarkets to find people (always women, always young) and offer to help them make dinner that night. What ensues usually involves a lot of flirting.These shows are continually renwed by their respective networks because their schticks succeed at being entertaining. Sure, you can watch these shows to pick up tips about improving your at-home kitchen skills, but playing up the drama and and emphasizing the exotic, elegant aspects of cooking keep bringing in the viewers.

Perhaps the increase in food television shows relates to the celebrity status many of the shows’ hosts have attained. Dining at five-star restaurants owned by acclaimed chefs has always been an upper-class custom, but with chefs like Bobby Flay and Giada De Laurentiis popping up on TV screens in everyone’s home, people rush to celebrity-chef-owned eateries and buy cookbooks from Paula Deen and Sandra Lee. As a result of their on-screen popularity, these famous chefs have built lucrative empires. De Laurentiis currently hosts five shows on the Food Network, owns her own catering business and has four cookbooks to her name.

Just like with any TV genre, I think the networks will continue to develop Top Chef spin-offs until the interest (and thus the ratings) dwindles. For now, it’s fun to watch the different twists and angles executive producers can come up with to spin a new food show.

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Entry filed under: Food and Pop Culture, Food on TV.

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