I recently received an email urging me to try out for the newest reality food show, “America’s Next Great Restaurant”. It is a show to be produced for NBC that presumably makes a “contest” out of several ideas for a restaurant franchise. Like all of these kinds of shows, it is really about the personalities. The looks, quirky-ness and less importantly, the actual skill level of the contestants drive the story; such as it is. During the taping of these shows, the hapless subjects are put in all manner of dramatic situations. During the taping the drama is often ratcheted up with alcohol, sleep deprivation and overwork provided by the production company. Then the contestants (hopefully) burst forth with the pathos and melodrama that the viewing public will want to watch.
Not exactly my cup of tea.
The upside for the people who sign on for this insanity is that sometimes there is a breakthrough moment and the next Food Network personality is born. Most folks however, are abused, embarrassed and discarded as quickly as the next commercial break. It is a sad commentary indeed that producers and networks make so much money on this kind of show.
Cooking shows have been around almost as long as television. When I think of cooking shows, I think of Julia Child, Jacques Pepin, Wolfgang Puck and Emeril Lagasse. Each one of these “personalities” had their fair measure of idiosyncrasies, but the message was primarily about the food. These expert chefs were sharing something of value. Their methods have stood the test of time and the information given was really usable. The first “personality” based television show of this type that I remember was called “The Galloping Gourmet” starring a silly man named Graham Kerr. He was a leading man type, very charming for the ladies (think housewife), and ultimately someone who fell by the wayside for want of true substance. By contrast, you can still see re-runs of Julia Child and Emeril continues going strong because of the message behind the hype: Good cooking is not only a joy to watch, but it is wonderful to make as well!
Now, I don’t want to mislead anyone or misrepresent myself; I like the “limelight” as much as the next guy. I would be happy to do a cooking show, because it would be a break from the daily grind. It would be fun and exciting to gain some notoriety. Also, I am certain that those famous chefs make a whole lot of money and that wouldn’t hurt either. The show might be called, “Southern Cookways”. I’d visit cooks and farmers in the Southeast and show off the food we make down here. That way I wouldn’t have to wander too far from home… Lights! Camera!