For years I have been a late night baker. I’ve spent hours in a fiery rage watching batch after batch of royal icing fail, I’ve facepalmed and cringed as cakes fell flat and cookies burned to a crisp—I think my baking life has been more exciting than my romantic life. But you don’t see me pushing for a cooking show, because I’m not a chef.
Don’t get me wrong, I love food and I have the extra weight to prove it—but there are a few things in food culture these days that just leave a sour taste in my mouth. I’m in love with the notion that food has developed its own weird version of pop culture with celebrities, cult classics, nostalgic fixes and a full serving of entertainment aimed at foodies—but do they all deserve to be where they are?
As food culture permeates American pop-culture, consumers are looking for new outlets to explore all things food, and entertainment companies are cashing in. Everywhere you look there’s a new cooking show with a celebrity who overnight has somehow become an expert on topics such as “organic farming” or “flavor” or my all time favorite: “artisan baking.” It gives me that same strange feeling when you see a celebrity on a low budget made-for-tv movie and you go “how the hell did they get here?”
But when it comes to food, I want proof—I want to know that they’re more than a year contract at a broadcast company. What irks me more is the amount of assistants they have doing the work—but not taking the credit of course. When they pan back to the celebrity after, say, a fondant covered cake and a dozen immaculate cupcakes, you may be looking at the food, but I’m looking for something else. Are their aprons dirty—do they even have one on? Is there food coloring on their fingers? Any sign of life on the cabinets or counters that actual prep-work happened here? If you want me to believe you’re in it for the food and not for the hype—show me the mess.
I don’t want to see your assistant doing the heavy lifting; I want to see things get real. Take the baking championship shows on Food Network. You see stained aprons, messy counters, fingernails that sometimes borderline as frosting carriers—you know these people put in the work and sweat to make their food. This, of course, is a world away from the clean counters and pre-measured and cut world of “what is your assistant doing now” narrated by someone famous.
The reason this is irksome isn’t because of the celebrity; it isn’t because I want my own cooking show (believe me, nobody needs to see that) but rather because creating a meal is a very real process. It’s not perfect, and it’s never immaculate, so why are we trying to make it appear that way? One reason I always fall back to my love of Julia Child is that she wasn’t afraid of mistakes or messes; she accepted food for what it is: a catalyst to create with.
We’re focusing so much on who’s in the kitchen—I mean there’s a new show with Martha Stewart and Snoop Dogg—that we’re sort of forgetting the original reason we wanted to watch in the first place: the food. As food culture becomes more popular, we’re slowly moving away from the heart of it and focusing more on whose doing it. This not only means we’re not paying attention to the craft of food itself but also to food innovation. If innovation is now about putting big names in a kitchen to cook SOMETHING, then is it really about celebrating food, or are we beginning to emulate the rest of pop culture, and celebrating our idols?