The Wise Five: What Cooking Shows Taught Me

The Wise Five: What Cooking Shows Taught Me

By Herb Gardener

The irony hit me this morning — my profligate food programming habit began with The Frugal Gourmet. After thousands of hours hypnotized by and salivating over cooking shows (I even developed a brief crush on Claudine Pepin, daughter of Jacques, in the 1990s) what tangible lessons or discoveries linger in my memory? Well, I offer the following five observations as evidence that I wasted only 98% of my time.

Don’t mess with lavender. Great for soap, not soup. Several competitive cooking series featuring accomplished chefs have convinced me that adding lavender to any dish is perilous. If you must use lavender, find an herb de province blend that muffles its assertiveness.

Master Chef - Jacques Pepin
Master Chef - Jacques Pepin

Master technique first. Robert Frost said that in order to write free verse poetry one first must learn to rhyme. Learn the rhyme and reason of cooking technique and your dishes will improve. Practice Steven Raichlen’s techniques for live fire grilling, or Jacques Pepin’s for conjuring a French omelet. Seasoning can often be adjusted and ingredients substituted, but you get one chance to perfectly sear a steak.

Succumb to the adventure. If we eat first with our eyes, then cooking shows invite us to try unfamiliar ingredients and reexamine food prejudices. Yes, there is well-founded cynicism about slick production values and corporate marketing vis-à-vis food programming. The discriminating viewer, however, will find inspiration to expand his or her eating repertoire. My wife Flora enjoys a wider range of vegetables, such as jicama, thanks to appealing TV preparations.

Cooks follow recipes, bakers follow formulas. Emeril Lagasse was the first celebrity chef I recall mentioning this distinction. Besides the observation’s face value, it explains why so few people are accomplished at both disciplines. Art versus science, improvisation versus precision, our personalities help determine whether we make the spread or bake the bread.

What if it all goes wrong? Add bacon.

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