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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Couch Potatoes a la Gourmet

Do you have a television in your kitchen? I was just wondering. You see, I don't. Never have, never will. I don't know anyone who does. However, that doesn't mean it isn't so. If you do, or you know someone who does, I would really like to know. Why? Well, today is the birth date of not one but two TV cooking personalities. Graham Kerr who was born on January 22, 1934 and Jeff Smith, also born on January 22 in 1939. Yes, it's true, The Galloping Gourmet and The Frugal Gourmet were both born on the same day. At first, I was going to explore television chefs and cooking shows in general. When was the first, who was the first, and quite frankly, why do they remain to be so popular? I had to "can" that because 1) I don't watch television cooking shows 2) I don't have a TV in the kitchen. It just seems to me that in order to be able to "follow" along, you would at least need one more pair of hands. I remember reading once that eventually food broadcasting would be more interactive. At the push of a button, we would have televisions in our kitchens with access to a broad scope of techniques and recipes. Who knows, a question could be asked and answered right from the stool of your kitchen counter. Perhaps, I'm really out of touch, perhaps, TVs are in the kitchen and everyone is chatting away except me. If that be the case though, then wouldn't televisions in the kitchen be replaced by computers? That! I could handle.

If I had to guess, I would think, cooking programs really gained popularity in 1960's. Julia Child's, The French Chef, made its debut on February 11, 1963. It wasn't the first cooking show on TV but it was most influential. The French Chef introduced French cooking to the United States at a time when it was considered expensive and not suitable for home cooking. The show was done live and videotaped from start to finish. Mishaps on the show were recycled into teaching lessons. The influence Julia Child's French Chef had was a telltale sign in supermarkets and groceries. They often ran out of the whole, fresh ingredients that were featured when an episode aired. I don't remember my mother ever watching Julia Child. I don't remember watching The French Chef either but, I suppose I wouldn't after all, I was only...For some reason, I do have a vague memory of The Galloping Gourmet (1969) and I definitely remember The Frugal Gourmet. I may have started and stopped watching TV cooking shows with the demise of The Frugal Gourmet. For my own sentimental reasons, I still have my library of Jeff Smith's books. I rarely refer to them for recipes but then, I rarely refer to any of my cookbooks for recipes. Even the set of Time-Life Foods of the World books I have, I rarely use. I have even thought about donating them to the new culinary school just finished in Riverhead. But, like the Time Life books, The Frugal Gourmet cookbooks offer such a wealth of historic information, I just never know when I might need them. I don't feel that way about the one lone Graham Kerr book I have.

There's no doubt that Graham Kerr knows his way around a kitchen. Kerr's father was a hotelier, so young Graham's playground was usually the kitchen of his father's London hotel. there, he mastered puff pastry by 10 and turned out ''good tournedos'' by 12. His formal culinary and management training began at age 15, when he became a manager-trainee at the Roebuck Hotel in England. He spent five years in the British Army as a catering adviser with a captain's rank, and returned to the hotel business to become general manager of England's Royal Ascot Hotel when he came out of the service. His TV show The Galloping Gourmet was not his first reflection on the screen. He had been on television in New Zealand, in 1958, and also starred in a successful cooking show called Eggs With Flight Lieutenant Kerr in Australia. His media career blossomed in the early 1960's when after sharing his recipes on the radio and in magazines a broader based book was published titled Entertaining with Kerr which is said to have sold out in its first eight days. In 1969, The Galloping Gourmet was produced in Canada by Kerr's wife Treena. It became so successful, that it earned Treena two Emmy nominations. Unlike Julia Child's shows, Graham Kerr's Galloping Gourmet was difficult to take too seriously. Although his demonstrations were also "performed" in front of a live audience, his antics were sometimes very distracting. Viewers must have liked it though. It is said that The Galloping Gourmet had 200 million viewers in 38 countries. A serious road accident in 1971 interrupted Graham Kerr’s career and, although he eventually made a TV comeback in the US with low-fat cookery and a Christian message, his British glory days were clearly behind him. source

It's probable time to clarify something. I'm not broadly entertained by television. Like most, I do have my favorite TV shows. CSI Miami, Don't Forget the Lyrics, Deal or No Deal and my very best favorite EVER! Sex in The City. Off hand, I can't think of any times where any of these characters or hosts have elevated the school of cooking to any great heights. Sex in the City may be responsible for bringing the martini back to life, but, I don't really consider that cooking. It's probably just my choice in programming. There must be other shows, besides the tantalizing Food TV shows, that inspire cooking rather than eating. Wait, let's mention sponsorship. Most cooking programs have commercial sponsors. I found the following information in a back issue (1993) of The New York Times. I make reference to this issue because it also states the debut of The Food Network.

The production team and hosts earn their money from sponsorship financing and sometimes from cookbooks sold over the air. The cost of producing a 26-week series varies widely depending on how ambitious it is. The general range is $250,000 to $1 million. In some cases, all of the budget goes toward production costs, with nothing paid to the host, whose profits are derived from book sales generated by the show. Better-known hosts, however, can sometimes command $100,000 or more for a series. source

This recipe for Crepes Fitzgerald, a specialty at Brennans, New Orleans, is from the above Graham Kerr Television Cookbook. (click to enlarge) I've been known to look up a recipe online rather than "hitting" the books or the TV. I even know the one recipe I look up more frequently than any other. It's white sauce. For the life of me, I can never remember the ratio. Should I put the TV in the kitchen in hope that one of the many "celebrity chefs" will just happen to be preparing Béchamel sauce that day? I would consider adapting my Mac to a shelf in the kitchen, however, I would still need another set of hands. Let's do a quick run through. I wouldn't need to turn to any screen to gather my ingredients. Butter, flour milk, got it. I know you have to melt the butter. Okay, I'm already stumped. How much flour to how much milk? I think I get confused because there's different ratios for different blends. There's thin white sauce or medium white sauce. Heck, I think there's even a thick white sauce. I think you use the thick white sauce when preparing croquettes but, don't quote me on that. Of course, I could refer to my Book of Sauces by James Peterson but, first of all, the book is huge! Second of all, it's in PA. Finally, I need it NOW! Don't get me wrong. The Book of Sauces by James Peterson is the best! I believe it won the James Beard Cookbook of the Year Award in 1991. Like I said, it is huge. I think there are over 500 pages, probably closer to 600. (mine is in PA remember:) You would think such a large book would be intimating but it isn't at all. As a matter of fact, it's quite inspiring. It really does get those creative juices flowing. I guess this is the perfect time to make an analogy. IMHO, Peterson's book could be compared to the kind of cooking show that should engross the viewer enough to "get those creative juices flowing." The photography in the Book of Sauces is quietly attractive and simply exquisite which makes for solemn entertainment. I, quite possibly, may be able to sit through a cooking show of such nature. The recipe below is for Pork Chow Yuk. It isa Chinese recipe from the above Frugal Gourmet Cookbook published in 1977.

My grand daughter Tabitha, who is 5, watches Rachael Ray when her mother lets her. Sorry, I don't know what the name of her show is. My grandchildren aren't big TV watchers either. I think they are "allowed" to watch maybe 1 hour of television daily. Most times, the shows Tabitha chooses to watch are Rachael Ray and Curious George. Noah, my grandson, nixes the Rachael Ray show and surprisingly sits quietly for the Curious George show. I must admit though, I am happy Tabi has discovered Rachael Ray because she has never had much of an appetite and I'm hoping watching Rachael Ray will stimulate that. Sound the alarms! That's it! I guess I needed to write it before I understood it, "Different shows for different folks". Which reminds, I did like the Great Chefs series that once hit the airwaves. I may even have a couple of the follow-up published cookbooks.

For the first time ever, viewers were watching over the shoulders of the Great Chefs as they worked and chatted, explaining their techniques, the secrets of how they work their magic. To set the mood, the background music featured jazz and other artists, from the Dukes of Dixieland to Charlie Byrd, Bobby Short, Bela Fleck, and Kapono Beamer. source

I'd venture to guess, Food TV will probably always remain an avenue of cooking relations. As the British say, before there were celebrity chefs, there was Marguerite Patten. And even before her, England had concocted recipes for TV success. There was Fanny Cradock, Philip Harbin, and a host of others.

There have always been cooks on television. The very first, in 1936, was Moira Meighn, author of a guide to Primus stove cooking entitled The Magic Ring for the Needy and Greedy. A year later, the restaurateur Marcel Boulestin launched the first ever TV cookery series, but the Second World War put a stop to all that. source

Here in the US, we've had our senses touched by quite an assortment of TV personalities. Dione Lucas was the first woman featured in a cooking show on television. Her cooking show To The Queen's Taste was broadcast from 1948 to 1949 from her New York restaurant, The Gingerman. She had another show in the 1950s. Silly me, I should have mentioned "The Father of American Gastronomy," James Beard. James Beard had a TV cooking show which premiered on August 30, 1946. I know, I should have given him top billing. Now, a cooking program with James Beard as host, I could definitely handle that; on the television, on the computer. I'd even put a TV in the kitchen for him! There have been many TV cooking hosts and by no means are the following the complete list. We've had Alma Kitchell, In The Kelvinator Kitchen, (1947-1948) the Mystery Chef, Chef Tell, Madeleine Kamman in Madeline Cooks and "Cooking in America" with the late New York Times columnist Pierre Franey.

Resources

  • 1) Graham Kerr's Jambalaya
  • 2) Nathalie Dupree 's blog
  • 3) Celebrity Chefs
  • 4) TV Chefs Through The Decades (British)
  • 5) Sex in The City Martinis
  • 6) A Day With Television (Time Magazine January 19, 1948)
  • 7) Top Ten TV Chefs: Present and Past

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