Before the Internet and YouTube, if you wanted to get the recipes of a cooking show, you’d have to have on hand your pen or pencil and pad paper. Otherwise, you’d have to write the TV channel to give you the recipe, and good luck if the producers ever answer your mail.
In order to jot down the whole recipe as you watch, you’d have to be a speedwriter, or have a good memory to catch up with the enumeration of ingredients. So what was one to do? Just enjoy the show and hope there is a book you can refer to later. This is why my attitude towards cooking shows was as entertainment rather than as cooking class.
It really began with Cooking with Nora which I watched with my grandmother who didn’t wield paper and pencil either. There was no Food Network or lifestyle cable TV channels then, so there were very limited cooking shows on television.
Memorable for me was Wok With Yan that ran from 1980 to 82, mainly because Chinese cooking always mystified me. Stephen Yan was the host, a Canadian, whose aprons sported such hilarious lines like “Wok’s New Pussycat,” “Raiders of the Lost Wok,” and “Wok Up Little Suzie.” I had to look those up because I couldn’t recall any, no matter how much I laughed then. And maybe everyone like me who watched wished they were in the studio with Yan because he always had one audience member taste what he cooked.
The other Yan was Martin who also cooked on TV beginning in 1984 with Yan Can Cook. Not as funny as Stephen Yan, Martin seemed adept at teaching how to cook. I found out later, when he came to the Philippines in 2011, that he was an instructor at the University of California Davis, the Culinary Institute of America, and many other cooking schools. During the cooking demo he did at the Edsa Shangri-La, he chose me to demonstrate how to make dimsum, pleats and all. Although I am hopelessly inept at wrapping food, he nevertheless stayed with me through every step and gave me confidence to finish the project. The nervousness I felt, alas, finished my dream of becoming dimsum queen.
My belief in cooking shows as entertainment was further reinforced by Emeril Lagasse whose Essence of Emeril first appeared in 1994. His signature “Bam!” that he shouts when adding some spice to his cooking or presenting the finished dish is pure showbiz. My choice of his show is because New Orleans, which his cooking represents, is one place on my “to visit” list.
Another Chinese cooking show host is Ming Tsai. Again, it was Chinese cuisine that attracted me most to his show, but also because his cooking adapts ancient recipes to modern times with corresponding wine pairings in his Simply Ming. I first met Ming Tsai in Philadelphia when he did a demo for a Nutritionists’ Conference. Then when he visited the Philippines in 2009, he had a Filipino dinner experience at Edsa Shangri-La’s Heat covered exclusively by FOOD Magazine. “But where is the chicken adobo?” That was his question because none of his hosts cooked it for him.
Readers may well ask if Julia Child’s cooking show The French Chef circa 1963 was ever broadcast here. Not at that time, but episodes are now available on YouTube. It is the funniest cooking show I have ever watched.
Child had so many hilarious comments. Example 1: “This is a piece of lettuce (huge head) and this (wilted smaller piece) is after I tortured it.” Example 2: “Somebody said a whole suckling pig is so impressive but I don’t know who said it.” Example 3: Here are three kinds of brioche—baby brioche, mama brioche, and papa brioche.” Her high-pitched voice and mannerisms seem “not made for TV” today. And her show wasn’t sanitized, so all the mistakes like her unsuccessful flipping of an omelet or throwing away a wrong bowl that she chose were included in the final cut. Comedian Dan Aykroyd wasn’t too far off in his parody of her in a now-famous Saturday Night Live skit.
In contrast, Martha Stewart was one lady who didn’t know how to act excited, and who smiled sparingly. All her dishes and cakes looked superb that one wondered if she ever made a mistake. The perfection of her table fixtures seemed unattainable. That subjected her to being parodied, and one of them was the book, Martha Stuart’s Better Than You Entertaining by Tom Connor. Notice how her surname is misspelled. Connor worked on the premise that Stewart’s Entertainment book series have no people, and so he decided to add people in the photos of his book, including the Pope who attends the “First Communion” party of a boy.
Today’s Martha Stewart Bakes portrays a more relaxed woman but who still will not make small talk. Oh well, the resulting cakes and pies are worth drooling over.
Nigella Lawson, on the other hand, communicates a more informal hostess whose languid manner contrasts with Stewart’s formal persona. Her recipes seem easy enough to do though not any of those have been tried in my kitchen. She guested in Manila in 2015 for a pasta and olive oil brand, her complexion too fair for words, and there was a rumor that it took several hours to do her makeup. Food writers and chefs were grouped for a cooking contest and my team won. Not that I did anything beyond chopping the onions.
Rachael Ray I always watched when I could. She made cooking seem easy and all done within 30 minutes. What a boon to working moms who have to go home to cook dinner. For some of us, it was a lesson on how to cook on the fly, though not that we would do those recipes, but it was enough for us to know that it is possible. Ray should have just stayed as cooking show host because she was a disaster as talk show host.
And to cap my list of old cooking shows is a not-too-early Two Greedy Italians, a BBC television series. It had Italian chefs Genaro Contaldo and Antonio Carluccio going around Italy to tackle questions like “do grandmothers still cook?” or “what are the young chefs cooking?” The two senior chef hosts cook a traditional dish at each show’s finale that they do so easily you are tempted to try it.
So, what is your favorite cooking show?