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Television and inspiration

"Cooking shows have taught us, changed us and changed with us. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, they have evolved to satisfy our yearning for quality, affordable, environmentally and health conscious, easy to prepare yet sophisticated food ... these shows prevail because everyone eats, knows something about food, and can relate to the endeavor." Kathleen Collins

I'm not really allowed to watch TV cooking shows. Well obviously I could record them and watch them sometime during the day or I could watch on a separate television elsewhere in the house. Not that we have a second television. I know lots of people do this, but I do choose to be sociable in the evenings and watch television with my husband. This inevitably, occasionally causes minor disputes about what to watch. When The Big Bang Theory is on for about the thousandth time, I confess I resort to playing sudoku on my iPad. It also means that I don't get to watch some programmes, that I would otherwise watch - besides the cooking shows that is, and probably the same is true for David. But, as I say, we choose to be companionable instead, and usually there are enough shows to please the both of us.

Last night however, and at least once a week - sometimes twice - on the days when I am fasting, I can watch whatever I choose whilst David eats his dinner. Last night I chose to watch the SBS Food Channel, taking pot luck with what was on - and last night I was rewarded - Maeve O'Meara and Guillaume Brahimi on a French Food Safari, and an old Delia Smith program - the first in her How to Cook Programs in which she showed us how to boil, poach and scramble eggs.

It made me realise (a) TV cooking shows have changed, (b) what a lot you can learn from them and (c) how many more good ideas for this blog I can glean.

On this last point, not only did I get today's inspiration, but there was stuff about high end sour dough bread, croque monsieur, terrines, what to do with boiled eggs, how you like your scrambled eggs, croquembouche and various other side issues as well. So I'm tucking them away for later posts. Here are some of the dishes that are potential talking points: Guillaume Brahimi's Jamón croque monsieur, Delia's Scrambled eggs (too runny for me), Delia's Egg and lentil curry with pickled lime and coconut and Croquembouche as made by Jean-François Perron. Not that I am particularly recommending these recipes, but it's just to show the variety we were presented with from basic scrambled eggs to a pastry chef's croquembouche masterpiece, for which one is tempted to say, 'don't try this at home'.

There was so much I could have talked about that I have decided on doing occasional posts on the various cooking programs that exist today. Not that I have seen them all - MasterChef for example. But I should watch at least one program I think. After all it is pretty big on the cookery program scene.

But back to point (a) - how cooking shows have changed. Plus how varied the cooking shows on offer at the moment are. Julia Child is often credited with being the first TV chef. But I never saw any of her programs - just brief excerpts here and there. Doubtless one could find some of her programs on YouTube, and after a quick look, yes indeed you can. Kathleen Collins who wrote that quote at the top of the page, suggests that cooking show presenters have evolved over time to address different modes of cooking in different decades. She has done a lot of research so I don't want to argue, but I suspect it's more down to the particular presenters as to what you get. After all, even today there is an enormous variety in what kind of program you can see. There are the competitive ones, some of which it seems to me are just excuses for dumb blondes to bitch at each other (not that I have watched any of the programs like My Kitchen Rules, which is the top of the tree in this type I suspect). Then there are the combined food and travelogue ones - which Adam Liaw, Luke Nguyen, Maeve O'Meara, Rick Stein and many others do - mostly pretty well. If you don't like the food then you can at least admire the scenery. An offshoot of this is the one in which somebody who lives on a farm also cooks - like the River Cottage guy and Matthew Evans. I guess the French Food Safari series fits into the travel category with its visits to top producers and chefs around France, even if some of the food is cooked back here in Australia - but I guess that showcases the French cooks we have here in Oz - like the guy in Sydney who made a very elaborate rabbit terrine. Then there are the celebrity chefs - Nigella, Delia, Jamie, Gordon Ramsay et al. All quite different personalities and therefore quite different programs. But we watch the programs because of them. I don't know that Delia has made a television show for some time now, so it was interesting to watch her with her How to Cook program - a sort of crusade on her part to take everyone back to the basics and learn how and why to do things properly. It was sort of old-fashioned, and a tiny bit schoolmarmish, but very instructive. I doubt there is much more you could say about boiling an egg. And very English. But then Jamie Oliver is very English too, but in a totally different way. And there were celebrity chefs back in the day too - I remember Fanny Cradock cooking in her cocktail gowns with her husband doing the dirty work, and I believe Robert Carrier was also doing TV programs back then. I never saw any alas and I don't think there are any on You Tube either.

The presenter is really important. Vital even - although not irreplaceable as the debacle at MasterChef has demonstrated.

"Connectivity is what we always look for in great presenters. The feeling that they are just talking to me and no one else.” Melanie Jappy - TV producer

"It’s almost as if that kind of genuine enthusiasm, ability to share and communicate, that level of emotional intelligence is the diametrical opposite to the obsessive archetype that the media has created for its chefs." Tim Hayward - The Observer

Delia may be pretty straight faced and schoolmarmish but somehow or other she is appealing, comforting even. There are countless others who aren't. I have occasionally come across programs which are downright awful, or at the very least, boring, on the SBS food channel. And then there's Jamie, bless him, who seems to be generally on a mission to entice very ordinary people into cooking exciting food, demonstrating that it can be done in no time at all and on a shoestring. Witness his Keep Cooking and Carry On programs which seem to have finished for now - which is very sad. It was a clear demonstration of the 'we're all in this together ethos' that the authorities are so keen to promote at the present moment.

As to the competitive programs - well there are many and I haven't seen any of them, except for a few Iron Chef episodes I saw a long time ago, which were sort of weird fun. I am not at all sure how I managed that. But I really should 'educate' myself into what are the programs with popular appeal and why that is. I guess it's always fun watching a competition, wondering who will win and sort of wondering whether you could do better, or at least as well. But the bitching that goes on in some of them is really not enticing, nor are the sideshows away from the actual competition and the long pauses before some significant announcement is made.

And as I have said before in a previous blog about Tips and tricks, you learn a lot of things about cooking by watching TV cooks. Yesterday I learnt that the cuts that baker's make in their bread, so that you get those pretty slashes in the top, are not just for show. They are essential for the carbon dioxide to escape and if you don't make them then your bread will explode in the oven. Which might be a bit of an exaggeration, although if your loaf is perfectly smooth and contained, as these were, then I guess it might happen. Interesting anyway.

So here's to television foodie programs - at least if I'm going to continue to find new ideas for this blog.

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