Ever since I was a child, I have loved watching cooking shows on television. When I was six or seven years old, my mother introduced me to The French Chef, starring Julia Child. Whenever the show came on, my mom and I would watch it together on our snowy 13-inch black and white TV. We called Julia Child "the messy cook," because it seemed that she was always throwing egg shells onto the floor. (It never occurred to me that she might have a garbage can below the counter, out of the camera's sight.) We also enjoyed The Galloping Gourmet, which I found particularly amusing due to the host's wildly erratic behavior. I didn't understand until years later that Graham Kerr was so silly because he completely soused from the wine he guzzled during the course of each episode. Oh, the innocence of youth.
Back then, PBS was pretty much the only place to watch cooking shows. They carried the various Great Chefs series, Martin Yan's Chinese cooking programs, the pre-sex scandal Frugal Gourmet (with his attractive young "kitchen assistant" Craig), and a succession of Julia Child vehicles. I grew up with these programs, and I loved them all.
When I started college, my roommate thought I was out of my mind the first time he saw me settle in to watch a Saturday marathon of Great Chefs of New Orleans. (Hey, bud, I'm not the one who screams in his sleep.) He seemed particularly offended by the closing tag-line of each episode, "And now, dinner is served." Annoyed by his snotty attitude, I pointedly reminded him that the color TV in the lounge down the hall was free, but he stayed and continued to watch. He emitted the occasional snort of derision, but he held his tongue. Several weeks later, I came home from class to find him watching Great Chefs of Europe. Upon being discovered, he reacted as though I had caught him in an act of self abuse. "There was nothing else on! I mean, um..." I could have embarrassed him further, but instead I simply told him "Wait until you see how this souffle turns out--it's amazing" It was a bonding moment for us, one of our very few.
In 1995, during my last year of graduate school, I had my first exposure to The Food Network. While unpacking boxes in my new apartment, I flipped on the TV and encountered an episode of Emeril Lagasse's first program, How to Boil Water. (Why is that man yelling at me?) Emeril was followed by another cooking show with low production values and a nervous host. Another program followed. And another. Soon it began to dawn on me--this was like MTV for food! From that day I was hooked.
Over the following ten years, my mom and I watched many hours of the Food Network together. We tried out recipes, commented on the steadily expanding waistlines of many of the chefs, and generally enjoyed learning more about cooking. We each had our favorite shows and chefs, but in some ways we were even more tickled by the shows and on-air personalities that we really couldn't stand. Perversely, we just loved being annoyed.
Which brings me to the present. Today when I came home from the gym, TiVo was dutifully recording Semi-Homemade Cooking With Sandra Lee, a show that I truly despise but can't resist. Now that I have laid some groundwork, someday soon I will explore that trashy delight in the detail it so richly deserves.
Making it up as I go along,