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TV Chefs Should to Stick to Boiling Water, Not Walking On It
February 10, 2017  | By Tom Brinkmoeller  | 28 comments

I watch a lot of cooking shows — though anyone who ever has eaten my cooking would doubt that. It’s an occupational thing, this cooking-show anomaly: My wife, a fabulous cook before a disability, loves watching cooking almost as much as she once loved the actual process. I can’t help but see some of those programs.

That cleared up, it’s time to list some of the foolishness that parades through many of the commercial and non-commercial cooking programs that over-populate our TV set. The following could be classified as the rant of a frustrated curmudgeon, but I’m sure I would react in a similar way, even if my cooking chores ever became inspired.


•  Many a TV cook has said (sometimes on subsequent episodes), “It doesn’t get any better than this!” (Always with the exclamation point.) Two conclusions that can be reached from this oft-repeated phrase: Either the speakers are liars, or — if the dish in question truly does rest at the top of the heap — why watch any more episodes? Do you really want to admire potholes after seeing the Grand Canyon?

•  “Everybody loves. . . “ (insert an ingredient or dish). How often, I wonder, does a vegetarian viewer respond, “Not true,” when the video cook ends that sentence with “a good steak,” “a roasted chicken” or “bacon on a Sunday morning.” What about the lactose-intolerant person in the audience who rejects the phrase when it ends with words like “a great big milkshake” or “a New York-style cheesecake”? Chef, there are more exceptions than your perceptions.

• “Most People.” The two words preface proclamations such as, “. . . crack their eggs on the edge of the bowl,” “. . . think they can get by using parmesan lookalikes instead of the real thing,” and “. . . leave the cake in the oven too long, resulting in disasters like this one.” Unless these proclaimers have been peeking in windows all over America and recording everyone’s cooking habits, they are simply engaging in what we all now know as fake news — or maybe alternative facts.

• “Nothing worse than. . .” fill in with "not enough Hors d'oeuvre,” “a deflated souffle,” "an over-ripe banana” or any other mountain-out-of-a-molehill appraisal of the imagined life of a myopic TV cook. Lots of things worse in the world, chef, and even the non-renewal of your series ranks low on that list.

Useless Redundancy:

People who have had colleagues, editors, copy editors and more-enlightened letter-writers correct their use of English usually carry those scars for years, and the wounds hurt most when they hear others mangle the language with no repercussions. “Add in” may be the worst. If one adds something “out,” it is not added at all. “Reduce down” finishes, in my mind, in the place position. Anything that reduces up on television, probably is doing so on a “Twilight Zine” rerun. “Blend through” is the show horse: “blend” says it all.

Certainly there are more of these wasted words being used by people have become known as (mostly in their own minds) “celebrity chefs.” It makes one think that perhaps culinary schools ought to make an English Usage course mandatory.

Culinary Snobbery:

The frothy fervor of those who live for food has, in my opinion, taken on the aspects of many a bad religion. The strict rules, the lockstep opinions, the harsh condemnations of those who don't believe -- it sounds like the makings of what I always heard tent meetings were like. Can it be long before Mario Batali begins laying on hands and casting out demons in the cause of gastronomic correctness?

Having watched the phenomenon develop, I think I have tied down the movement's commandments:

• Thou shalt use only the finest olive oil (chocolate, brandy, etc.) -- whatever is an insignificant purchase to you because of where you live (e.g., East Hampton) or the size of your TV show's budget (e.g., any of the thousand or so Bobby Flay programs). Ordinary people don’t have access to a monetary cornucopia; we are fine with less-than-perfection.

• Thou shalt use only unsalted butter -- smacks of an illegal boycott.

• Thou shalt use only fresh lemons -- not that stuff in a bottle, which is worse than carcinogenic.

• Thou shalt use only unbleached flour -- next immigration ban: Users of bleached flour.

• Thou shalt throw out all those outdated dried herbs and spices -- ignoring the logic of “If it has lost some potency, just use a little more.” Makes one wonder if the authors of this commandment might have stock in Spice Island or McCormick.

• Thou shalt use only fresh herbs, never that stuff in a bottle or can -- anyone else notice the contradiction in these two mandates?

• Thou shalt use only flat-leaf parsley -- that curly stuff is full of yucky cooties

• Thou shalt use only parmigiano reggiano and never that green-can stuff -- Statistics show that many of the people who have died since the inception of Kraft ate parmesan cheese from a green can at least once in their lives.

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