In this weeks NY Times Magazine section Michael Pollan has noticed that since the advent of the Food Network that home cooking has just about vanished. Many of us in the food business noticed this quite a while ago. It has affected those in the restaurant business as well as those at home.
Trying to hire line cooks who will cook the food that is the signature and style of the restaurant? Good luck. Since the Food Network, they want to be creative, to run free. TV fantasyland has invaded their minds and rather than stay on the job and learn something, they daydream of being discovered as the next Top Chef and have a lucrative career on the tube. Restaurant work is physically demanding, repetitious, and does not pay that well. So they don’t want to stay for long in the working kitchen but aspire to stardom on a TV set kitchen.
Watching the competitions, Iron Chef battles, Top chef melees, home viewers are entertained by the sport, but not really inspired to cook anything. Like Peter Sellars in Being There, they just want to watch. Gone are the days when Julia Child cooked and the home cook watched and then cooked. Now most television cooking is fluff for the mind. Displays of technical derring do! Turbo ovens, whirring machines, Paco Jets, chemical thickeners, sous vide. No one has that kind of equipment at home so why bother??
Cookbooks are still printed but few at home are really using them. Sales for the last five years are down dramatically. Publishers are worried, as are authors and culinary experts who used to write books for people who used to cook. That audience is now buying prepared food at Trader Joes and sending out for pizza. We have become a nation of culinary voyeurs. Some buy books for the photos of food. Food porn for those who dream of cooking while eating mediocre takeout.
Well, maybe after reading Pollan a few people may be sufficiently embarrassed to pick up the saute pan, but will not know what to do with it. Three generations of kitchen absenteeism means that no one at home has taught them how to cook.
Maybe it is time for a grandma who cooks every night at home to show them. Except they don’t like old people on TV. Not glamorous. Not as perky asRachael Ray, no cleavage, no snappy patter and amped up adrenalin. No machines a plenty . No five minute meals. Just cooking common sense in real time for the real world. Anyone ready for that??