Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Julia Child, the original celebrity chef and what she hath wrought

Julia Child, the original television celebrity chef, would be 100 hundred years old today. Her show on public television, The French Chef, broke ground for everything that has followed.

Of course it is remarkable that her show even happened. And if it had been a commercial station or network, rather than what was called at the time educational television, it probably wouldn’t. She was most likely not what CBS, NBC or ABC had in mind as a female television host – even one doing a cooking show. She didn’t look or sound like Bess Myerson or Harriet Nelson. She was tall, had that voice and cooked with abandon.

But the show was a success, first on WGBH Boston, and later on what became PBS.
Her success spawned other cooking shows, initially on public television stations but later as cable TV developed on commercial cable channels as well.
The French Chef and the subsequent shows she hosted, as well as the other cooking/food shows that came were essentially cooking demonstration programs. Here is the recipe, here is how you do it.

That has all changed. There are still the recipe demonstration shows, but in addition we now also have the challenges: groups of cooks vying to for this championship or that. It started with the Iron Chef franchise. There is an American version, but the Japanese original was quirkier and funnier, partly because it was dubbed – the dubbing itself was humorous.

We also have the restaurant makeover shows, Robert Irvine and Gordon Ramsay, etc. Bobby Flay even has one about helping people – who have no idea what they are doing – open a restaurant in 3 days.

Now the cooking challenge programs have gotten even more strange and extreme. There is the not so exotic, Grill Masters Challenge on the Food Network, that takes place on a dusty street in a western movie set town. But you have others that put people in extremely difficult cooking situations the middle of a jungle, in the water, hiking into the back country to cook.

I keep waiting for what it next. I imagine programmers sitting around a cable channel office trying to think up even stranger formats that involve food (I haven’t even mentioned Anthony Bourdain). Perhaps “Desperate Housewives in the Kitchen – I leave that to your imagination.

As I have said, I am a foody and I love watching cooking shows. I even watch some of the ‘challenge’ ones. But there is a limit for me and I do draw the line.

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