The other day I was in IM with someone I know who is a professional chef. I told her that I had become addicted to Food Network Canada. She asked what I liked to watch, and I mentioned shows like The Next Iron Chef and Chopped. She said, oh, you like the competitive ones!
It's true. I rarely watch instructional cooking shows. I'll be at the gym on a cross-trainer, listening to music but with TVs in front of me with closed captioning on. On one, Rachel Ray will be whipping up some meal with serious amounts of fat in it, but I just don't find it that interesting. I'm sure I could learn a lot from the shows that demonstrate making a dish. And I like some that I've seen, notably one by an Indian woman who makes a kind of Indian-Latin fusion (I can't remember her name). I used to watch Emeril Lagasse and Martin Yan back in the day, and I'm sure I picked things up from them. I've certainly learned from Jamie Oliver.
But curiously, since I am not very competitive myself, I favour the competition shows. I might well get sucked into Top Chef Canada, which is about to start. I haven't seen much of Worst Cooks in America, but the last one I saw really engaged me. One of the most interesting shows on right now is nearing its end. It's called Recipe to Riches. The President's Choice label is sponsoring a contest in which ordinary people bring a recipe of their choice to the show in any of several categories (such as appetizers or desserts) and compete to make the one chosen to become a President's Choice product.
Maybe I could learn more from the demonstration shows, but I have way more fun watching the competitions. And I think I learn from those as well. I get ideas. I watch techniques. I'm less into following someone's recipe than I am about learning what's behind different recipes so I can come up with my own and improve what I already make. I'll hear a word like "gastrique" and I'll go off and research it. The competitive shows might not teach me directly but they certainly spur me to learn more.
And really, it's the human drama that I find so compelling. People competing with each other. People working against the limitations of required ingredients and the ever-present clock. People struggling to prove to themselves and to others that they can do what they had previously been incapable of, or thought themselves incapable of. That last one is certainly the appeal of Worst Cooks in America. In the episode I saw recently, it seemed to me that both young women, the one who won and the one who didn't, came through the experience fundamentally changed. They not only realized their capabilities in the kitchen. They realize how much more they could do in life than they had ever thought.
Lest you think I watch only the competitive shows, I also like to catch Eat St. I love seeing all the different food trucks! But it's not just entertainment. I pay attention. That might be my future.