Television

I Can Almost Taste It

'Top Chef' Chefs

For someone who wouldn’t know my mortars from my pestles, I seem to spend an awful lot of time observing chefs in action.

The classic cookbook The Joy of Cooking has enjoyed 78 years of success, with 18 million copies sold. I think it’s time for a sequel, one that better reflects the times. How ‘bout The Joy of Watching Others Cook?

Cooking shows are steamin’ hot, with Food Network alone reaching about 96 million US homes. My must-sees are Top Chef, Barefoot Contessa, Everyday Italian with Giada De Laurentiis, 30 Minute Meals with Rachel Ray, and Throwdown! with Bobby Flay. In fact, I could eliminate the other 1,950 cable channels and be perfectly content watching Bravo and The Food Network every night.

My obsession with cooking shows makes no sense. Maybe if the food these chefs prepared was magically transported from the screen onto a plate placed before me I could justify watching. Because, while I don’t like cooking, I’m all in favor of eating…often… in fact, more often than not. But that’s not an option, yet.

And so it seems counter-intuitive that I, and apparently millions of others, derive pleasure from watching TV chefs prepare delectable dishes without getting to taste—or even smell—them. Would we want to spend an hour in a friend’s kitchen watching her preparer poulet provencal and apple tartin for a dinner party and not get to sample them? Of course not! Where’s the “joy” in that?

Yet, for someone who a) doesn’t enjoy cooking (baking is another story), b) doesn’t have a particularly refined palette and c) wouldn’t know my mortars from my pestles, I seem to spend an awful lot of time observing chefs in action.

And, when I’m not being tantalized (taunted?) by food preparation on television, I’m subjecting myself to glorious photos of gourmet meals in magazines. I even have a subscription to Bon Appetit! Or, I’m reading sensory descriptions of sumptuous meals in one of the 9,372 books categorized by Amazon as “food literature” -- these include the culinary adventures of restaurant critics in disguise or people who abandon corporate life for a year of torture, er, ‘learning’ at Le Cordon Bleu or those who want to live la dolce vita and move from the states to places like Tuscany, where they do nothing but cook and eat, drink wine, cook and eat some more, make love, cook and eat again, drink Prosecco, lie out in the sun, cook and eat…well, you get the picture.

Perhaps there are those of us who appreciate cooking as a fine art, on par with painting and poetry. Cooking certainly requires inspiration, dedication, creativity -- maybe even a dash of madness. But, one would think that, as with the other arts, the audience would desire the full experience.

After all, when you go to a museum and view a painting—let’s say Van Gogh’s Postman Joseph Roulin at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts—the journey from artist to art to audience is completed. Van Gogh expressed something on canvas, in this case the subject’s surprising soulfulness and wisdom, that was meant to be seen by a viewer (and absorbed and experienced)—and that’s exactly what happens, when standing before the actual painting.

In this analogy, eating and appreciating a succulent rack of lamb prepared by a master chef would be the equivalent of viewing Van Gogh’s painting .. but the tasting never occurs. Therefore, the transaction remains incomplete and, from an arts observer standpoint, is unsatisfying.

So maybe we watch cooking shows not so much for an artistic experience as an educational one. For instance, I’ve learned from Top Chef that the darker the roué, the better for the gumbo. And from Rachel Ray that EVOO means extra-virgin olive oil. And from the Barefoot Contessa that there isn’t a meal in all the world that can’t be improved upon with heaping quantities of butter, sugar, and flour. But, I don’t plan on converting this knowledge into practice, so what’s the point of having it fight for space in my overcrowded brain?

Ultimately, I think that cooking is a spectator sport for people who don’t like to cook and don’t give a fig about field goals and grand slams (I looked those up). And, certainly, the creators of Top Chef recognize this. Let’s consider the last season, which ended in early March.

Lisa of Top Chef

Head Judge Tom Colicchio, as always, played the role of the do-it-for-the-Gipper coach whose approval the competing chefs desperately seek but only occasionally receive (making it all the sweeter when attained). There was the thrill of victory when fan favorite Fabio won a competition by cooking his Mama’s roast chicken to perfection even after breaking his pinky, and the agony of defeat when finalist Carla blew her chance at winning by following the advice of former finalist Casey rather than cooking with l-o-v-e love.

And no sporting event would be complete without some homoerotic towel snapping, in this case by the two European contestants, Fabio and Stefan, who made it plain in every other way, for those who care, that they’re aggressively hetero.

The joys of cooking shows may be vicarious, but they’re joys, nonetheless.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Film

The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.

Music

The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.

Music

Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.

Film

'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.

Music

'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"

Music

Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.

Music

The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".

Music

GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".

Music

Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".

Music

Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.

Music

Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.

Music

The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".

Music

Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin
Music

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.

Books

Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.