In the interest of full disclosure, I do not work for Public Broadcasting, or any of its affiliates, heirs or assigns. I just love it. I also have no personal axe to grind with The Food Network, aside from the fact that, as a foodie, I feel completely ripped off in every possible way by their programming choices. I know I have ranted against them before, but this time I actually have an alternative to offer, which has become my Holy Grail and gold standard of instructional cooking programming: “Create” from PBS.
The Food Network seems to believe that it is necessary to compete with network reality shows by presenting during prime time an array of competitions involving cakes, burgers, pizzas, and candy. There is a moment in every one of these shows when its not clear who the judges will choose (notwithstanding the fact that the contestants who will win the top three prizes are the only people profiled during the show) or a peril-fraught movement of a giant cake, Christmas tree or ice sculpture from work area to display table. They have even institutionalized this mentality in shows like Bobby Flay’s “Smackdown” in which the eternally smug Mr. Flay either deprives some old lady in Maine of her rep as the best pie baker on the island, or loses to the local and sulks. I can only believe that this is meant to stimulate in the viewer the same kind of breathless suspense created by, say, Brett Michaels selecting his bimbo of choice on “Rock of Love,” or the learning the outcome of the votes on “American Idol.”
The thing is, if I want to watch reality TV (which I don’t), I know where it is, and it’s everywhere. If I want to learn how to bone a haddock, or make pasta from scratch, I require no suspense, no gimmicks and no clips of interviews in which contestants snipe about one another or their fondant. I just want to see someone cook something I’d like to make, and get some basic information about the best way to get through the tricky bits.
Comparisons are tough, because “Create” includes travel, craft and home & gardening programming, but looking at two hours of evening food-related viewing I have the following choice:
Tonight’s lineup on The Food Network includes
9:00-10:00 “Challenge: Gilroy Garlic Cook-Off.” I have already addressed my objection to these contest shows, although this one is unlikely to involve the necessity of moving a giant and precarious garlic sculpture.
10:00-11:00 “Dinner Impossible” which involves no recipes, and no instruction, just a great deal of running around and creating kitchens out of twigs, bolts and farm implements.
On “Create” I can see
6:00-6:30 “Simply Ming”
6:30-7:00 “Lidia’s Family Table”
7:00-7:30 “Hubert Keller” Secrets of a Chef,” and
7:30-8:00 “Gourmet’s Diary of a Foodie” with Chef Jose Andres in Barcelona
There is no choice there. Other food programming on “Create” includes “America’s Test Kitchen with Christopher Kimball,” “Best Recipes In the World” and “How to Cook Everything” with Mark Bittman, “Chef’s Story,” “Chefs A’ Field: Culinary Adventures That Begin on A Farm,” “Jacques Pepin: Fast Food My Way,” “Master Class at Johnson & Wales,” and many others. There are multiple shows focusing on Asian cuisines, at least three presenting Italian recipes, and a number of programs revolving around vegetarian and/or healthful cooking. There are no contests or competitions, no Personalities, no shows about how to cook without actually cooking…this is the real deal. There are also no commercials, and it is truly family viewing. Often, when the food shows are done, we stay and watch Rick Steves and Rudy Maxa travel, which is considerably more entertaining, educational and appropriate than an evening of sitcoms. (Although we watch some of those, too. And “American Idol,” although I’ll deny it if you quote me).
If you can’t get “Create” where you live, call your nearest PBS station and plague them. Last year, our local PBS station chose to replace twelve out of the daily 24 hours of create with public affairs programming, and in response to constant (but pleasant) harassment from people like me, they have given it back to us. Get “Create,” watch it, support PBS, and maybe, just maybe, Food Network will get the message if they lose viewers and sponsors. Maybe they’ll put actual cooking shows back on prime time, or actually any time other than Saturday and Sunday morning.
Lidia Bastianich or Rachel Ray. Hubert Keller or Sandra Lee. An interview with Charlie Trotter or a Disney Princess Cake competition. The choice is yours, and if it isn’t, work on it.