Cooking Shows – The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Sep 18, 2019 | Food and Culture

I get asked all the time about cooking shows. “Do you watch Top Chef?”, “Have you been watching the latest season of Master Chef ?”, “Are you into the Great British Bake Off?” and of course, “What’s your favourite cooking show?”. Because I get asked about this so much I thought it was time I did a post about it. So, let’s talk about it.

Today we are going to get down to the nitty-gritty and I’m going to tell you what I really think of modern cooking shows as a whole, cooking as entertainment, as well as what I think actually is the best cooking show out there right now.

This is…

Cooking Shows – The good, the Bad, and the Ugly

The Ugly

Cooking shows are not a new phenomenon. They date all the way back to 1946 when the first-ever cooking show “Cookery” aired on the BBC. It was 10 minutes long and the Chef/Host Phillp Harben, widely recognized as the first celebrity Chef, made lobster vol-au-vents. A few months later James Beard debuted his American cooking show “I love to eat.”. From then on food has been a mainstay on televisions around the world.

The important thing about those original cooking shows, and really all cooking shows up until the late 1990s early 2000s is that they were all about teaching people about food and cooking. They were entertaining, yes, but they weren’t entertainment.

Today, many, many cooking shows, or more accurately food shows, have nothing to do with teaching people about food. They are overdramatized, unrealistic, and create a disrespect of food and cooking which creates an unhealthy relationship with food. You may think that I am being overly dramatic right now, but am I really? Think about it.

The food itself has become entertainment. With that, expectations of what food should be have risen and become unreasonable. Yes, if you are going to a restaurant or hiring a chef, then the food should be amazing. Otherwise, what are you paying for? The problem really starts in the home. We see “chefs” cooking ridiculous things in competition shows. Or we watch a really well-shot video of avantgarde food with dramatic classical music behind it, and it raises the assumption that this is what food has to be. Gone are the days when a well made but simply made shepherd’s pie will suffice. Now, the shepherd’s pie has to have truffled potatoes, with foie gras, and goddamn gold leaf for people to want to eat it. And, because most people can’t make that at home, they just don’t bother trying. That’s a problem.

In Canada right now, 54% of people eat out at least once a week. When looking at just millennials that 54% becomes the number of people who eat out at least three times a week. That’s crazy! Obviously, I understand that there is a lot more going on here than just food tv, but millenials happen to also be the group that watches the most food tv.

The Bad

One other problem that modern food tv has created is what I like to call the oxtail effect. Oxtail is literally the tail of a cow or ox. Fifteen years ago you could buy oxtail for pennies. Very few people wanted it, and so it was classic peasant food. The type of thing that requires a lot of effort but that in the right hands can be absolutely delicious. As I sit here right now, the grocery store nearest to me is selling oxtail for $19.82 a kg. Keep in mind, oxtail is mostly bone and cartilage. So why is it so expensive? Because about 10-12 years every person on the food network, every show, everything was using oxtail. This drove the price through the roof and it has never come down. Now, all those people who used to rely on cheap cuts of meat like oxtail to survive can’t afford it. Now, they are forced to turn to cheaper alternatives which usually come in the form of frozen meals.

Again, I know that food tv is not the only problem here. There are a lot of food security issues that we are facing beyond this. But, it is a contributing factor.

The Good

Okay, so this post has obviously gotten away from me a little bit and has become less about cooking shows and more about societal food issues that we are all facing. I think it is important that we talk about these things because they are happening to us and all around us. But, this post is supposed to be a cooking shows, so let’s bring it back.

Cooking Shows I don’t watch.

If it is a competition, I’m probably not watching it. The only cooking competition show I have watched in the past 5 years has been “The Final Table” on Netflix. Mostly I watched it because a lot of the Chefs are highly regarded and I wanted to see what they’d do. I thought it was okay but I probably won’t be watching season 2.

Chef’s table is a show that I watched the first season of but I can’t watch it anymore. I find it has almost become a characture of itself. Anytime I try to watch it I just think of this…

Shows I do watch.

I like “The Mind of a Chef” though I don’t think I caught the last season. Other than that there is really only one other cooking show airing right now that I watch and in my opinion, it is the best one on tv right on. It is “The Chef Show” on Netflix.

There are a few reasons I like this show but the biggest reason is this, there is no bullshit. All this show is about is Jon Favreau wanting to hang out with Roy Choi and learn from him and cook with him. That’s it. They make good food, you can learn something by watching it. It is entertaining without being entertainment. And, you can tell that they are having fun and enjoying themselves. That’s what food should be about.


Alright, I feel like I have dug myself into a pretty deep hole with this one. If you like food tv and watching cooking competitions, good on you. I don’t want to make you feel bad about that. I just think that it is important to watch those shows with the understanding that their relationship to food and cooking is the same as porn’s relationship to sex. They are not the same thing. They’re barely even related.

All I can say is that as entertaining as cooking shows can be they will never be able to provide the same satisfaction that actually cooking can. Taking the time, putting in the effort, and being rewarded with something delicious at the end, that is much more satisfying than watching Gordon Ramsay yell at yet another unprepared novice on Hell’s Kitchen.



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