Recently I was on an airplane with access to television shows, and so for two hours I sat and watched. I watch TV but my programming usually centers around HBO series and Law & Order. And although I’ve watched Top Chef before, I am not a regular viewer. Watching them back-to-back for a couple of hours was very interesting and got me thinking about the impact of this incredibly popular show on the home cook. And although it is highly entertaining television, does it help get people in the kitchen or improve their cooking? Here’s why I don’t think so –
1) It’s not educational, nor is it trying to be. In fact, you have to be fairly well versed in the culinary vocabulary just to keep up – rillette, torchon, and pate all being tossed around with ease.
2) Which can lead into this false sense of being able to judge what is good. Don’t get me wrong, this show features some extremely qualified judges. These judges know how to cook and how to rate a dish. But it is easy for the viewer to take the next logical step when agreeing with these judges that they too know quality, without having any credentials or ability. Just because you find Tom Colicchio’s assesment of a bland gastrique sauce reasonable does not mean that you know how to judge a similar sauce. Is it helpful for anyone for everyone to be a critic, especially a critic that may not have any actual experience other that watching television?
3) Which can lead to a reluctance to trying new dishes or techniques. The last thing most home cooks want is an assessment of their efforts at the dinner table. Just ask someone with kids how welcome their children’s critiques are. I have experienced critiques on my cooking in both the professional arena (a separate subject entirely) and when cooking at home. It’s part of the job at work, but at home it can be infuriating. “Thank you” is the best response as far as I can tell when anyone cooks anything for me.
4) Often we learn, grow and are inspired most by what we participate in, rather than what we observe. For cooking, EATING is the best motivation and what is most lacking by watching Top Chef. In all the dramatic silences on the show I am often wondering what the food tastes like – I want to chew! All in all, I say let’s watch less television and cook and eat more…