Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Theoretical cooking in cyber space

In as far as my cooking prowess is concerned, it falls into the average category. My best dish is roast beef accompanied by crispy roast potato quarters and cooked vegetables. Let's just say I'm a basic cook - nothing fancy - down to earth type fare. Perhaps this is the reason for my attraction to cooking programs on TV. It's so easy to sit back and watch - and criticize - everyone else as they do the work turning out visually perfect dishes.

When it comes to things kitchen-related, Martha Stewart still has this area covered but there is something somewhat  disturbing about perfection in action. Watching her work methodically is in my mind, reminiscent of the females depicted in the movie, "The Stepford Wives."  For the uninitiated, the wives in the movie had the perfect demeanor, focusing their entire being to retain the consummate feminine image while keeping the ideal home and cooking up quintessential meals and retaining the perfect personna. There is something about watching her work that makes me wanna say: "c'mon Martha - show us just one little mistake" or hope to see one of her cakes that doesn't rise up as they are always prone to do. Hardly since the woman would never allow a baking glitch to be seen by the public. Martha takes the most complicated desserts to a new level. The woman doesn't care how many bowls she uses to mix her ingredients or how many baking pans she has to wash because she doesn't have to wash anything like we normals do! A bowl for her dry ingredients and then another bowl to mix her heavy cream, still another to cream her butter and so on. The bowls, baking pans and extensive, most up-to-date equipment pile up but it's doubtful if not impossible that her hands touch water or the dish washer buttons? Be that as it may, she's obtained a level of ease and perfection that's hard to dispute - darn it!

The arrival of the food and cooking networks offer viewers a plethora of interesting choices ranging from how-to genre to those with a competitive edge.

"Chopped", consisting of four chefs whose full time job is working in restaurants throughout North America competing against each other for a $10,000 prize, is a personal favorite. In three rounds from entree to dessert, the competitors cook up meals encompassing unusual ingredients or a melange of unusual mixture choices that don't usually go together. The end result of their efforts is gauged by four well-known judges, some of whom are successful restaurant owners or are recognized for their expertise in the kitchen. One chef is eliminated after each round until the final victor is declared. In describing their dishes and techniques,  fancy cooking terminology is tossed around when really, plain ordinary words would suffice. Then again, it would take away some of the mystique connected with their technique.

"I made for you today," they may explain to the judges, "an abbatis bien cuit in a chiffonade of lettuce avec frites."

It's so much more impressive than merely saying a serving of giblets of poultry winglets, well done and wrapped in lettuce with fries on the side. Too mainstream and boring.

On occasion and under a time limit, competitors misjudge the amount of time it takes to cook a dish. Rarely has anyone used a microwave oven to semi-cook a dish and hurry the process. Perhaps it's just not done but speaking as one who endorses this type of meal production, seems the logical solution. Stick in the food, press a few buttons and voila! But I digress.

After each round, the judges taste the competitor's dish followed by commentary on the appearance and overall flavor of the dish. In cooking shows as in life there are winners and there are losers and on occasion, there have been sore losers who visually express negative reaction to the judges decisions while departing the Chopped kitchen. Makes for good TV.

Some might call him bombastic, loud and he definitely has a way with words most of which are bleeped out, but one thing that can be said about Gordon Ramsey is that he's a showman. Why chefs allow themselves to be put through the ringer in front of a TV audience on the "Hell's Kitchen" show and be insulted by Ramsey is a mystery. Presumably they're hoping that by being part of his circus, they will earn a place on his staff at his many restaurants located throughout the world. Even more interesting is that he is treated with hallowed reverence as he screams profanities at them and insults their cooking techniques. Most likely he would have most people in tears, at least me anyway, within the first five minutes. It does, however, make for an interesting show if one keeps the volume down.

Although I've rarely watched the show, the host of "Diners, Drive Ins and Dives", Guy Fieri is the personable host who roams the U.S.A. and beyond, in his search to find the hidden gems in the form of small eateries. Over time, he has acquired a loyal following of viewers who seek out regular, dishes following familiar home-style recipes. At the end, Guy digs in juice and gravy dripping down his chin as he offers his unabashedly positive opinion critiquing the dish while wiping it away liquid with a napkin. Guy is mister everybody who enjoys plain, good cooking.

When it comes to baking cakes, "The Cake Boss" has this area sewn up. As the owner of Carlo's Bakery, the affable Buddy Valestro and his group of able assistants has turned his aptitude for baking and turning out exquisite and definitely complicated cakes into an art. Most impressive, at least in my eyes, are the way he creates huge cakes to fit the taste and requirement of his clients that come to him with complicated requests, all of them filled and then some. Watching him ice cakes with ease while carrying on an easy-going conversation, it's like he's actually communicating one-on-one with viewers, showing them how it's done. Don't I wish!

Really, there's a show to fit every taste ranging from designer cupcakes, candy concoctions...you name it, chances are somebody somewhere has a TV show focusing on that particular aspect of cooking. Too bad they haven't created smells to accompany the meals but give them time, chances are somebody will come up with that one day.

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