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Tuesday, April 14

Food Network Addict's Comments on Mark Bittman's "TV Cooking vs. Real Cooking" Piece in the New York Times

I read The New York Times' Mark Bittman and his Bitten blog this morning on "TV Cooking vs. Real Cooking" and have some thoughts.

Bittman refers to food TV shows as:
"A charade because it's all taped, and therefore not only doesn't take place in real time but doesn't even give a sense of what 'real time' might be."

Is it because some food TV programs are watched by viewers who solely intend to go right into their kitchen and reproduce the recipes that said programs are now bound by a need to present a sense of real time? Does Bittman forget that a large number (I'd guess the majority) of viewers watch to, gasp, be entertained and aren't looking at their watch's second hand to double check that the cooking time the host said he used matched up with the amount of time that passed while we were sitting on the couch?

Does Bittman also complain when watching HGTV's slew of home renovation programs? It would have taken LONGER to tile that backsplash, I imagine him yelling at the TV screen. Would he be any more satisfied if they showed every last, mind-numbingly boring minute that goes into painting a bedroom? Obviously not. So why shouldn't food TV shows be given the same liberties?

If you're so dumb that you don't realize that 35 full minutes don't really pass in-between the shot of Ina Garten putting her brownies into the oven and the following shot of her taking them out, then perhaps you shouldn't be cooking... or getting anywhere near a 350 degree oven. In fact, I'd argue that it was the complaints against real-time cooking and the cheesiness of swapouts ("Here's this other pan of brownies I have all done!") that prompted food tv programs to move more toward time-lapse and interspersed vignettes that flow more logically.

These changes (seen most obviously in the beautifully shot programs of Giada De Laurentiis and Ina Garten) add significantly to both the production value and the time it takes to produce one episode. If modern viewers truly demanded real time cooking shows, why would so many shows go through the labor-intensive process of shooting them like movies with multiple "passes" (wide shots, close ups, etc.) if one, standard & continuous shot would suffice? As much as we might like to give it sole credit, it took more than Giada's cleavage to win her three Daytime Emmys. Everyday Italian looked like a damn movie and it was justly rewarded.

Bittman goes on to complain about the "egregious mistakes" wiped clean from the finished product:
A further charade because when it's taped, all sorts of egregious mistakes can be magically made to disappear."

Hmmm... like all those egregious mistakes that magically disappear when any movie is made? Or any taped and edited TV show? Even "reality TV" has no sense of real time, and oftentimes just the opposite happens with mistakes, as they are magically made more intense and more prolonged. So why should we be any more shocked about this occurrence when it comes to food television?

I guess the mistake arises when one starts to think of anything on television—not just food TV programs—as something resembling real life. I don't think people turn to TV programs that are designed to entertain and inspire to see egregious mistakes. And I'd like to think that people watching Barefoot Contessa don't think that just anyone can open a specialty food store in the Hamptons, sell it, make a few million dollars, and spend their whole day debating about which truffle butter is really best.

I agree with Bittman's statement that the aspiring home cook needs encouragement, but to assume we need to see a TV chef burn a steak to a crisp, lest we get befuddled when attempting it ourselves, doesn't give the home cook enough credit.

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At 4/14/2009 4:05 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

FN had "Cooking Live" w/Sara Mouton back in the day. That was a good show!

At 4/14/2009 5:00 PM , Anonymous Alec Smart said...

Like you Jake, Bittman needs to fill space and perhaps today he was bit stretched. Maybe he is taking shots at FN, maybe not.

His show on PBS probably has it's fair share of outtakes, but the overall product seems to flow quite smoothly.

Cut him slack. His cookbook, "How to Cook Everything" is one of the better ones available and he didn't get to where he is now by being a doofus.

At 4/14/2009 5:10 PM , Anonymous FoodieInDisguise said...

Perhaps a new show format much like in the style of "24". Realtime cooking.

Perhaps Mr. Bittman doesn't think that us viewers don't understand the concept of time. Could you imagine if all movies and tv shows were all realtime - there wouldn't be enough hours in the day!

I like watching my shows and thru the magic of television the dish is done. I know that when I recreate that dish in my kitchen that it will take as long as it will take.

Maybe like tv ratings systems, there should be a food council setup to put up required cooking times and technique listings in the lower left hand corner of the screen that way no one is fooled into thinking that making a stew only takes 3 minutes.

At 4/14/2009 5:28 PM , Blogger Prohomemaker.Com said...

I grew up with Graham Kerr, and the obligatory list of ingredients at the end, while home cooks hurriedly wrote the items down. Times have changed with the Internet, and so have the shows. Though I would love to see Ina say, Oh shit," as I often do when I goof up in the kitchen. :-)

At 4/14/2009 6:30 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

he's right. did you know that on Iron Chef the contestants BEFORE the show airs are given THREE possible secret ingredients to work and practice with??
secret ingredients MY ASS.....
what a rip.

At 4/14/2009 7:00 PM , Blogger Lana said...

Anon 6:30, you may have been sucked in, but the rest of us realize that Iron Chef is t.v. entertainment and not a reality show.

J, Bittman went wrong in assuming that cooking shows have the intention of displaying reality too. They don't! Nor should they.

All I want is the highlights, a few tips on cooking methods and techniques, and let me finish the rest on my own.

I can't recall a time when I've EVER followed a recipe exactly to the measurement and cooking times described.

Like the Pirates' Code of Parlay - it's more of a guideline than a code.

At 4/14/2009 10:10 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon 6:30, you really thought they were able to plan and execute all those dishes in an hour? Really? And all the exotic ingredients they ended up needing were just magically there? Kinda naive, aren't you?

At 4/14/2009 10:54 PM , Blogger Karen said...

I thought Bittman's column was kind of silly. I've found that most of the recipes on the Food Network can be made at home, although maybe not in the time it takes to watch the TV show. (Rachael Ray has said that she tests her recipes to make sure they can be made in 30 minutes with no tricks.) I don't think anyone expects Iron Chef to be realistic, but I've made recipes from Giada, Ina and Giada and they've all turned out. (You might need a luxury budget to make any of the recipes from Barefoot Contessa, but they are reproducible.)

At 4/15/2009 12:51 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I liked Bittman until his latest show with Mario and the jail bait Spanish girl he fawns over. What a dirt old man. I that cooking? Another real time annoying real time event is watching Giada make a dozen of anything. Watch her make the first, then the second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, etc. we get the idea. (Bittman must love her show) Another thing Mr. Bittman should be looking out for is when "The New York Times" goes under (make that New York Real Times) he may be looking for a boring cooking show of his own! In all seriousness I like Bittman and his books and columns, but some times he should eat more and keep his mouth shut. :)

At 4/15/2009 8:49 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good comment with the Giada's cleavage! It's funny and it's true. Let's be real here.

At 4/15/2009 10:54 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Karen, if Rachael Ray tests her recipes to make sure that they can be made in 30 minutes, how come no one, including professional chefs have been able to make a 30 minute meal in 30 minutes? Even starting with totally prepped ingredients, it still takes them an hour or two. Do you really think she can get everything done she claims to during those commercial breaks?

At 4/15/2009 1:46 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree you CANNOT make a 30 minute meal. Tried and tried. Doesn't happen unless you open a can of soup and make a sandwich!!!!!!!

At 4/15/2009 2:11 PM , Anonymous TEN said...

Jacob, you're right that since you don't cook and you're watching these shows simply for entertainment, then the whole time element doesn't matter. But you need to lighten up and stop worrying about Giada's boobs and emmys. Bittman cooks, and so do a lot of people who watch FN. Bittman makes an important point about some of these shows. When Ina mixes butter and sugar for five seconds and they're suddenly light and fluffy without saying something like "this will take 3 or 4 minutes," or when Giada whips cream in 15 seconds on the show without telling you how long it really takes, that is an issue. When food browns magically in 10 seconds? Give me a break. It wouldn't kill them to be a lot more careful about things like that. Why don't they tell us this meal took me X time to make? It takes Y time for this to chill in the fridge? I mixed the butter and sugar for Z minutes? Obviously, it's in the printed version of the recipe, but you could get a good idea for the time and then decide if you want the recipe if they'd spend two seconds giving you the information on TV.

I also think it would be wonderful to see them make some "common mistakes" and then show you how to avoid or fix them. I loved it when Julia Child made mistakes and fixed them. You learn a whole lot more that way.

Anonymous 10:54 am: I can make Rachael's meals in 30 minutes. If a professional chef can't do it, then you should eat somewhere else.

At 4/15/2009 4:14 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

@ FoodieInDisguise (Perhaps a new show format much like in the style of "24". Realtime cooking.) Didn't Sara Moulton do that a few years back? I could swear she had a show where she cooked in real time and made mistakes and the whole works. And it disappeared. Maybe if she ditched the chef's jacket and said something like yummo and e.v.o.o. a lot... Doh!

At 4/16/2009 12:46 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

TV is entertainment. If you are watching it purely to learn how to cook, watch PBS or Good Eats. The Good Eats recipes actually work, as long as you follow the directions to a T.

I think the problem with most people new to cooking is that they think they can work outside the box. Don't work outside the box until you understand the inside of the box.

At 4/22/2009 9:03 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

An inside the box person. You should stay there. Such insight.

At 4/25/2009 1:21 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

want to know what makes Aida think she is qualified to answer questions on TV, when she doesn't even know what type of chili she is using?


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