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Food Programming Through the Years

Thursday, February 07, 2013

It was some time during the mid to late nineties that our family made the switch from local television to cable.  With (at least) one channel available for every type of interest out there, it's probably no surprise that I became good friends with the Food Network.  Having been around for about five years, the Food Network already had a good deal of chefs that had celebrity status.  Emeril Lagasse was known for his New Orleans cuisine, Jacques Torres was the chocolate master, Sara Moulton was the executive chef at Gourmet Magazine, Mario Batali was the face of Italian cooking, and Wolfgang Puck was the beloved Austrian restaurateur.  TV personalities from the Food Network's first generation were people who already devoted years and years to the culinary profession, gained enormous success, and were now interested in sharing their knowledge with the home chef.

Flash forward 10 to 15 years, and we're now presented with something completely different.  Many shows have jumped on the reality show bandwagon and have lost the valuable insight on cooking techniques that once existed.  Many of the original stars have either been let go or have left on their own, while a surge of new shows has been hitting the network for years.  Last year alone there were over twenty new shows added!  Big name chefs who were natural on TV are now being replaced with (many) celebrity-hungry individuals who are trying to get their start.  I'm not trying to hate on this new pool of personalities (there are some new shows that I really enjoy); I just feel that quality has gone down while quantity has gone through the roof.  Needless to say, my Food Network watching days more or less ended when this switch was made.

So now what do I watch?  Since giving up living with a TV after high school  I now watch my shows online through sites like Hulu and Netflix.  Below is a list (in no particular order) of past and current series and documentaries that I've enjoyed and highly recommend.

  • The F Word (2005 - 2010, free on Hulu) is a British cooking show that stars the well known Gordon Ramsay.  Although I believe Fox has completely ruined his image in the States, this series shows what he's really like in and out of the kitchen.  Although I'm only on the first season (being that this is my newest find), I'm impressed by how much is packed into the hour.  During the show, a three-course meal is cooked (and taught by Chef Ramsay through extremely informative clips), guest celebrities are brought on to show off their culinary skills, home cooks are given private cooking lessons at their homes, and appearances are made by his family.  If you end up giving this show a try, I also recommend Gordon's Great Escape (another British show that's available on Netflix) which showcases cuisine from different countries.

    • Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home (1999 - 2000, free on Hulu) stars the legendary Julia Child and Jacques Pepin.  Each week they make several dishes that highlight a new ingredient or cuisine.  There are two main reasons why I got hooked on this series.  First, you could tell that there was actual cooking going on.  If something went wrong, you got to witness it and see what they did to recover.  Second, the unintentional natural humor is amazing.  I promise you'll be smiling and laughing throughout each episode.

      • Take Home Chef (2006 - 2008, available on Netflix) is a TLC original hosted by Australian celebrity chef Curtis Stone.  During the half-hour show, Curtis surprises someone new in a grocery store and offers to cook a surprise homemade meal for them and whomever (their spouse, friends, family, etc.) at their house.  Although the whole surprise aspect can get a little old, the cooking that goes on is really well done and informative.  During the dorm days, my roommate and I watched this show religiously.

        • A Cook's Tour (2001 - 2002, free on Hulu) is actually a Food Network original that showcases chef and author Anthony Bourdain as he travels to various exotic countries and gets immersed in their cuisine and culture.  For those familiar with his Travel Channel show No Reservations, this is a similar series that came a couple years earlier.

        • Wisconsin Foodie (2008 - present, free on wisconsinfoodie.com) is a Wisconsin Public Television (WPT) series that gives us a unique look at the individuals behind some of the best foods from Wisconsin.  Host Kyle Cherek travels to various farmers markets, family farms, small scale operations, and restaurants to get an inside look at day-to-day operations and why supporting local producers and businesses is so important.

        • A Matter of Taste: Serving up Paul Liebrandt (2010, available on Netflix) is an HBO documentary that follows Chef Paul Liebrandt for ten years in various New York City kitchens.  He is without a doubt one of the most determined individuals I've ever seen.  Throughout the decade that this film highlights, Liebrandt holds several  positions that all lead up to his goal of becoming executive chef and owner and getting the respect from the New York Times that he's striven for his whole life.  Whether you're a foodie or just a fan of documentaries, this is definitely a must-see.

        The previous six shows are only a sample of what I'm watching nowadays.  How many of you have seen one or more of them?  What other shows or documentaries have you seen that you recommend?

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        1. No mention of Alton Brown or Good Eats here?! I discovered a couple months ago that pretty much every single episode of GE is on YouTube for your viewing pleasure... great show!

          1. Alton is definitely always going to be one of my favorites. The previous six shows were just a list of some favorites that I felt were a little less well known by most. Also, glad that you pointed out that GE is on YouTube; his lessons are awesome and have given me inspiration for many previous posts.