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The Pleasures of Watching Food on Television

The best way to spend a weekday evening is with Take Out and the Food Network

On the television cooking shows and celebrity chefs that we can’t get enough of- from Julia Child to Anjum Anand

Why do we watch chefs cooking and talking about food on television? Is it to eat vicariously through the eyes of Anthony Bourdain as he tastes pho in Vietnam and a po’boy in New Orleans? Is it because we want to believe that just like Giada and Nigella we can look like a million bucks even if we add that second spoon of butter to our food? Is it for the way words like “mangoosten”, “bokchoi” or “sous vide” make us feel urbane and cosmopolitan in minutes?

The answer perhaps lies somewhere in between. Food Television today is not dissimilar to the gladiatorial arena of yore (save being mauled by a lion or two), or the circus of our childhoods. You see a consummate professional do something utterly compelling without experiencing any of the heat, the knife cuts or the clogging of arteries. You try not to think about the army of magicians and stylists and dish cleaners behind your “dream kitchen”, and lose yourself in the creation of the perfect “souffle”, even as you eat 2-minute noodles on your couch.

A legion of Indians was first introduced to the idea of cooking-for-entertainment through the not-entirely unappealing sight of Sanjeev Kapoor’s dimples and chocolate cakes on  a Sunday in 1993. But it is only in the last couple of years, with the advent of NDTV Good LIfe, and the hunky Australians from MasterChef on our cable, that watching cookery shows has turned into the kind of fervent activity that watching Ramayana was once upon a time.

Here is a list of some of MBRB’s favourite TV chefs- and a trip down YouTube’s Rabbit Hole as we search for their best videos.

Julia Child- Where it all Began

There’s a reason why everyone loves Julia Child. For one, she is the rare chef who looked like she actually ate and enjoyed her food. For another, there is the sheer joy of cooking that she brought on to her shows. But what we love most about her is the way she introduces difficult techniques -neither simplifying nor unnecessarily complicating them. Just look at her throw the beautiful pan away in mock disgust in this video below! This is a woman who believes in good hearty food without caring too much about the frou-frou around it. And every time you watch her you learn something new.

If you haven’t already spent hours worshipping at her altar, then start with this introduction to omelettes. In just the first five minutes you will know that a teaspoon of water in the egg mix makes them flufflier, and get introduced to the fabulous shaking motion that makes a typical bistro omelette so enticingly soft. And that’s the gift of Julia- a new way of looking at everyday food through her classically trained eyes. Bon Appetit!

Keith Floyd- The Travelling Cook

Keith Floyd was the proto-TV chef.

Just watch him whip up a pizza here. He is personable, and flirtatious (very!!!), and strongly opinionated (sharing-with his heir apparent Bourdain a dislike of all things vegetarian) in the way Television personalities are no longer allowed to be.

He travelled all over the world and cooked in the most romantic of locales, always with a a glass of the red in his hands. Watching him makes you want to go back to “ye olde days” of food programming when everything was not so overtly stylized and polished and scrubbed. As most home cooks will attest, the best dishes are those where you add a little too much salt inadvertently, or leave the pan in the oven for a minute too long. And modern food television is poorer for the lack of spontaneity that Floyd once bought to our living rooms.

Try this classic Floyd recipe of beer-soaked chicken pieces for your next Sunday brunch, or just watch the sous chefs in the background giggle in amusement,  and you won’t be disappointed!

Ina Gartner- The Barefoot Contessa

Ina is more than just food porn, she is lifestyle porn. She brings an effortless Pinterest-board style elegance to your rooms as she takes you through her palatial house, cuts blooms from her garden and lays them out on a table set for four in an impossibly chic patio. Even her casual dressing sense is more of a statement- almost as if dressing up is for the plebeians- and few things on television equal the joy on her face as her cakes rise.

In some ways she is a throwback to an older time when it didn’t matter how much butter or sugar you needed to make your food delicious. In other ways she represents an aspirational modern ideal with her perfect life and perfectly dressed-up cakes. It is a peak into an autumnal glamour that you didn’t know you wanted until you saw it. Unfortunately, most of her recipes on YouTube are hidden behind US walls, but this lovely lemon yogurt cake recipe should tell you all you need to know about the decadence she peddles.

http://youtu.be/z30Vd55woD0

Martin Yan- Master Technician

Yan bought Asian cooking into our houses at a time when even “wok” was an exotic word.  By demystifying Far Eastern cuisine, and playing to the camera with his impish manner he created a different kind of home food watching experience. While other TV  chefs extolled simplicity and using the ingredients in your kitchen cupboard, he forced you to expand your food vocabulary and was willing to let you know that you would never be as good as him. When we first watched Yan Can Cook (right after Santa Barbera and The Bold and the Beautiful if memory serves right), through endless summer holidays on Star Plus, the chop suey from Chung Wah lost all its appeal.

In this video below, where he slices half a cucumber into 51 Deepika Padukone-thin slices, you see every bit of the personality that makes him so famous – his wit, his fondness for show boating, and his immense skills learnt over years of handwork in kitchens across the globe.

Anjum Anand- desi Nigella

You know the first time you see Anthony Bourdain’s episode on searching for food in India? And you realize- all of a sudden- that his perspective remains that of a ‘foreigner’ sampling, and not so much of a ‘local’?  That crushing sense of disappointment you feel at that stage, is how we feel about almost all UK or US born Indian food chefs. But Anjum Anand is different. She looks like a desi Nigella but instead of Nigella’s throwback 50’s style and throaty whispers, is assertive and saucy in a way that’s much more MBRB in nature. We also love how she doesn’t cut back on the spices for the more tender British palette.

And her primer on how to make the perfect nan remains a masterclass, not least because its the only one we’ve ever got right!

Reza Mahamood-The Entertainer

Speaking of foreign-born Indian chefs, Reza Mahammad often falls into the trap of exoticising his country of origin. But his enthusiasm is so infectious that you forgive him his occasional lapse into hyperbole. And his is the rare case of fusion that actually works without offending both the cultures as a part of the exchange. Just sample this recipe of sweet potato cakes by him (a favourite in a house with a toddler); and you will be a lifelong fan of Reza-Prince of Spices (yes, even we think that title is a bit unfortunate).

http://youtu.be/hLg5X-mkJ6c

Tarla Dalal- The Original

Although Tarla Dalal was not strictly a TV chef, we can’t make a list of the chefs that have influenced us without including her in the list. The entire idea of a ‘celebrity’ chef for us began with her books in our mothers’ cupboards. And she remains a pioneer in more ways than one. We loved her interaction with handsome beefcake Sudhanshu Pandey in popular television show ‘Cook it Up with Tarla Dalal’- and we wish that this was a formula that more shows adopted- pitting an amateur with a veteran. It brings an interesting dynamic to the show, and also makes it easier for the users at home to follow the recipes. Here is a video of her making her famous oondhiya recipe (Replicated in many a kitty parties and children’s birthdays) wearing her trademark glasses and smile.

My Big Red Bag brings original content inspired by life’s joys and passions. Check out other articles from our Food issue, and stay tuned to our latest content by following us on Twitter and FB. See you on the other side!

Photo Credit: Thomas Hawk via Compfight cc

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