Thursday, February 26, 2009

Cooking Shows to Inspire Creativity

I'll admit it -- I get hooked on reality shows. Some good ones (Amazing Race), some horribly embarrassing ones (Rock of Love, anyone?). One genre of reality shows that always catches my eye is cooking competition shows -- like Top Chef, Chopped, Iron Chef, and Hell's Kitchen. I like each of the shows for different reasons, but realized there is one similar thread to my enjoyment -- trying to figure out what I would do in each situation.

I remember when I first saw Iron Chef -- the original Japanese version -- about 5-6 years ago and couldn't believe my eyes. I had never seen many of the ingredients used on the show and all of the foods they were preparing looked slightly inedible from a Western food perspective. Now when I see some of the old shows, I'm pleasantly surprised that I now recognize and have eaten many of the foods. It's nice to see what a few trips to Asia can do with regard to opening up one's eyes and palate.

When watching the American version of Iron Chef, I enjoy seeing the chefs from Food Network and great restaurants, but the highlight is Alton Brown's commentary. I think watching this series was the first time I started trying to figure out what I would do with the mystery ingredient while viewing master chefs at work.

Top Chef (on Bravo) is another great show for testing out what I would do in similar situations. Their quick-fire challenges are especially interesting. Plus, I love it when Anthony Bourdain pops in as a guest judge -- they should really try to get him as a full-time judge.

I just watch Hell's Kitchen for Gordon Ramsey. I have no desire to put myself in that kitchen or to try to butcher a whole slab of beef or shuck thousands of oysters. I don't understand how the contestants can have so many issues in the kitchen . . . maybe I'm missing something since I have never worked in a professional kitchen . . . but it doesn't seem like it would be too difficult if you have prior restaurant experience.

Chopped, the latest in this genre, is on Food Network and probably most closely resembles what goes on in my house on a regular basis. On this show, there are rounds of cook-offs. Each round showcases 4 ingredients that must be used in the dish. Of course, the ingredients don't go together intuitively and there are often ingredients that make the chefs cringe -- canned cream corn, cream of mushroom soup, fruit punch -- that sort of thing.

Currently, I'm trying to destash the kitchen and use up all pantry items, both as a way to make sure I use items before the expiration date and to save some money in the short term. I kind of like seeing what is already in the kitchen and coming up with a new creation. Fortunately, I was taught at a very young age general cooking techniques, the advantages of being creative, and that recipes are guidelines, not laws. As a result, I love reading cookbooks, but find it nearly impossible to 100% replicate a recipe. At some point in the process, I always find some extra ingredient or spice that will make the dish better.

I'm grateful that I was brought up to not be scared to try new things in the kitchen.

1 comment:

Glenda said...

Top Chef is my most favorite reality show ever -- this season and last season were especially enjoyable because there was a higher level of cooperation amongst the contestants -- I like seeing people work *with* each other, even if it is a competition. My favorite guest judges are the ones who offer constructive criticism -- Eric Ripert has been one of the most positive judges they've had. (As an aside, did you see Bourdain's show the time he and Ripert worked the kitchen in Bourdain's old restaurant for a night??? Hilarious!!)

It's only been within the past couple years that I learned to enjoy cooking and not view it as a chore. I watched the "cook fast and use shortcuts" shows on Food Network, like Rachel Ray's show. Then, as I became more comfortable in the kitchen and more comfortable not following a recipe 100%, I started watching Ina's and Giada's shows -- everything is not rush rush rush with them, which appeals to me because I am not a rush rush rush person in the kitchen either ;-). Jamie Oliver is one of my favorite people to watch cook -- did you catch him on Iron Chef last year? It was fun to watch.

When I was growing up, cooking and cleaning the kitchen was viewed as a chore. It's pretty cool to be at a point in my life where I've figured out cooking can be fun and relaxing and an excellent creative outlet . . . and I don't mind cleaning up after myself either ;-).