Bring Back Food to Food TV
By Chef Tim Tibbitts - Courtesy of Freeport News
Jul 25, 2013 - 2:20:47 PM
It was in 1993 that I decided that being a chef was a good idea. I was working as a baker in a small donut shop and wanted to do something else, something more creative. It was also the same year that the Food Network first made its appearance on television. In my early years, the Food Network made a huge impression on me as a cook because the shows that it featured then focused on actual cooking. Emeril Lagasse was actually a really great chef before he became a cartoon of himself and a catch phrase. One of my favorite hosts from that era of food network was a chef named David Rosengarten.
David hosted over 2500 episodes of Food Network in various show forms, my favorite being called Taste. He also wrote some excellent books. One of which I still use frequently: The Dean and Deluca Cookbook. It’s a great book with tons of recipes that actually work. Between David and Emeril I learned the basics: knife skills, sauces, emulsions, thickening agents, the difference between sauté and stir frying, between stewing and braising, and between roasting and baking.
That was what Food Network was supposed to be about. Teaching viewers about food. Making food more accessible to the masses and bettering the food culture of North Americans who for all intents and purposes were far behind Europeans in food culture. Then came along Iron Chef.
When the Japanese version of Iron Chef made its debut on Food Network I was overjoyed. It was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen. It brought skill, precision, and an insane list of new ingredients to my tv screen. All of those things shaped me a lot into the chef I am now. However, the downside is that it also brought drama for the first time to the Food Network. That was the beginning of the end.
Now I hardly ever turn on the food network. It barely has any shows about food on it anymore. Instead reducing our passion and our profession to a series of bad reality shows and “mommy cooks” who show you cheat ways to turn canned food into something to eat. The stars of the new Food Network are, by and large, clowns. With over the top personalities that are simply abrasive and ridiculous. Case in point: Paula Deen.
Among the many sad things the Great Buttery Meltdown has illuminated is how the Food Network is mostly about buffoonery and faux-personality-driven infotainment these days, with a couple exceptions. Iron Chef still remains about skill and shows chefs at their best: under pressure. Chopped could also fit that bill and usually showcases unknown working professionals and gives them a chance to showcase their skills.
Other than that I would find it hard to watch almost any other shows on food tv. That being said, I could sit and watch online cooking demos for hours. The greatest chefs on earth all share a common thread: the ability and desire to teach. If you can’t teach, you can’t be a chef in a restaurant. It’s that simple. Your job as the head chef is simply to teach those around you how to make your food and execute it daily to your standards. That’s why cooking demos by great chefs are my new Food TV. For example, the dean of classical studies at the International Culinary Center in SoHo NY, Andre Soltner, is now 80 years old. He possesses more food knowledge than most of us will ever gain. He also can teach. He also lacks any of the buffoonery that Food Network chefs all share. He gives a superb overview of how to bake a tomato-cheese-spinach terrine in three layers, trim the leathery skin off a monkfish tail, assemble a rhubarb tart and caramelize sugar and butter for a strawberry coulis to sauce it and, most impressively, make spaetzle in mere minutes. He passes along tips like how to measure salt in your cupped hand and why to swab the last bit of white out of every eggshell with your thumb (you'll get the equivalent of an extra egg out of every dozen). And, in his Werner Herzogesque voice, he threads in background, like how cooking fats vary from region to region in France (his birthplace, Alsace, is partial to lard). Through it all, he moves slowly and deliberately (when a student asked him why he closed his restaurant, he just said: "Look at me. I'm 80!") And while he told some amusing stories, like how he passed on an opportunity to introduce the food processor to America and how cooks when he was apprenticing snuck the wine meant for the sauces, he was basically serious as stone. What he was doing and saying was all-important.
And what was most amazing is how all the students in the theater were as absolutely rapt as I was. He was making classic dishes, with no bells and whistles and definitely no clown chatter, but his aura and his confidence communicated. The two-hour demo ran over as students peppered him with questions like whether his restaurant Lutece was recreated for Mad Men and whether he had cooked at the White House ("I've cooked for many presidents. Especially Mr. Nixon" he replies) It would all make lame television, given that rodeo cowboys do attract advertisers. Good thing the future of communication is online.
And so, if you are looking for new food inspirations, look no further than your computer. Just Google anything you might be interested in and there it will be in streaming video for you to absorb. All my favorites are there including old Japanese Iron Chef, Top Chef, Top Chef Masters, Masterchef: The Professionals both from the UK and Australia, (I’m partial to the Australian version) along with countless demos and showcases from the world’s greatest chefs. It’s like you can go to all the best restaurants in the world for private lessons. There are hour long lectures by the current #1 in the world Juan Roca and the former #1’s Rene Redzepi and before him Ferran Adria. These chef’s understand the power of food tv so they get on camera as much as possible but never reduce themselves to being a cartoon character. That’s the stuff I want to see.
Until then, remember, there’s more to food than cooking and eating.
About the Author: Tim Tibbitts is the chef and owner of Flying Fish Modern Seafood in Freeport Bahamas. Flying Fish is the #1 rated restaurant in the Bahamas on
tripadvisor.com. You can see what Flying Fish is all about at
flyingfishmodernseafood and follow Tim on twitter @flyingfishfreep
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