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What’s Wrong with Food TV and Some Celebrity Chefs

August 9, 2011 by Joan Nova in Uncategorized | 20 Comments

This is my first editorial post. No recipe. Not even one photo. It’s a RANT!

I believe ‘food as entertainment’, specifically TV shows, started years ago with PBS broadcasting a few top chefs on a somewhat limited basis. Coincident or not, as the years passed, the global population became very food-centric or shall we say obsessed? The resultant interest passion in all things ‘food’ gave birth to celebrity chefs, food bloggers, food photographers and terms like “foodies”, “foodgasms”, “food porn”.

And it catapulted the concept of ‘food as entertainment’ into a force to be reckoned with. Today there are as many food shows on TV as there are of any other genre of entertainment. In the U.S. they’re on 2 dedicated cooking networks 24/7 and are featured on other networks like Bravo, Fox, Travel and PBS.

This is not the rant.

I love the concept of  ‘food tv’! It’s not only entertaining, it’s illuminating, instructional and inspirational. Some of it.

A far cry from Julia Child and James Beard instructionals of yesteryear but very much in sync with the times, the channels are filled with shows like Bizarre Foods, Man vs Food, Extreme Chefs, Food Truck Wars, Cupcake Wars, and Worst Cooks in America (who would ever watch that I’ve often wondered).

Some of the newer home chefs who have scored their own show are too much schtick (The Neely’s, I’m talking to you) and the rest are no better than us in the kitchen. But, that’s o.k. That’s what the remote control is for.

What really has me riveted these days is the food competitions. I love the challenge and am fascinated to see how people deal with mystery ingredients, extreme circumstances, and time constraints. Many times it has me at the edge of my chair — just as the last quarter in a football game has the sports enthusiast rooting or a suspense movie has you biting your nails.

Yeah, I’m hooked. From Iron Chef with established pros…to Chopped with aspiring chefs…to Master Chef with talented wannabes — and quite a few in between.

The Rant. What has me riled is…who are the people producing some of these shows? Why do they think it’s good TV to have chefs like Gordon Ramsey yell, curse and totally abuse contestants? After one or two episodes of Hell’s Kitchen, I totally swore off that show and wouldn’t watch again if it was the only show on TV.

But, I really like Master Chef and I don’t want to stop watching just because Ramsey and his cohort, Joe Bastianich are RUDE and CRUDE. [The third chef/judge, Graham Elliot, is not (or is less) offensive. Headed down a similar path is Rocco DeSpirito’s new show, Dinner Party, which is serving up similar dialogue.

Why do these chefs agree to engage in conversation that shows them as rude, stilted and, frankly, somewhat cartoonish? Is this their real personalities? Do focus groups really give thumbs up to this kind of format as entertainment? Are the producers 12-year-old middle schoolers who like bathroom jokes and bad behavior?

It does not make me want to eat in any of their restaurants. 

It’s not good TV.

And it’s giving ‘food as entertainment’ a bad name.

What do you think?

NOTE: Some recipes found on FOODalogue are offered without ingredient quantities. They're meant as a guide to food pairings and techniques to be experimented with … in your own kitchen … to your own spice and taste levels … to your preferred portion sizes … and to however many people you’re cooking for. A perfect meal has multiple levels of flavor and textures, bright colors and tastes, and healthy(ish) choices. It's all about enjoyment. Enjoy the process, the presentation and the just rewards...eating!


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  1. in many many ways i agree..some of the competitive shows are very good and entertaining (there’s a bonus, they can actually show me something I may want to use or didn’t previously know)..but i limit that to Top Chef (the original) and the occasional Chopped. The others have all fallen into the void of over the top loudmouthed, badly behaved shows that are so frenetic they are uninteresting to watch. But, their proliferation is because they are profitable..the same audience that loves to watch Cheaters and JackAss, and that’s a huge audience watches these shows. That’s what pays the bills. And that’s why blogs like yours are important..sharing and learning…Cooking Channel so far hasn’t fallen off the edge yet, I enjoy more of their shows.

    • Joan says:

      Unfortunately, my cable line-up doesn’t include Cooking Channel but that’s o.k. As mentioned, there’s plenty to choose from elsewhere.

  2. I totally agree with you Joan. They seem so artificial and staged, so we just don’t watch them. I’ve got better things to do with my time.

  3. FlyingPigFoodie says:

    I want these “celebrity” chefs to get the hell back to their kitchens and oversee the operations which bear their names. Opening up a bunch of restaurants is fine and well, but if service and food quality don’t work, you’ve lost me. Forever. I don’t care what the press will tell me about your genius bla-fricking-bla.

  4. I’m with you. It’s about integrity. I watched one show with Rocco and never again will I watch anything with him in it. I found him to be a bit queenie and over the top rude. His food is not that great, so please. As far as any of the shows with the harsh, unnecessary criticism, I can’t afford to place myself in that energy on my very little down time. Food, to me, is joy, relaxation and love. Food for the screamers who tear people down is for their own insecure control. The producers CHOOSE a few cooks who can’t cut it, and then everyone chops them up.
    As far as shows that make you eat worms to prove you are a great chef, I say why “PERVERT” the palate? Enough said there. As far as Chopped and the dumb ingredients, no one cooks that way and some very great cooks have been humiliated for no good reason. I can’t watch Giada because I’m not a breast girl, even though I like her food. I can’t watch most of them because they describe the food with too much pep licking their lips, etc. I do like Diners Drive Ins and Dives and am friends with a few owners who’ve been on show. At least we get REAL FOOD, REAL PEOPLE and a REAL recommendation. But people like reality TV. They like to see people fight and get humiliated. I”m so glad you were brave enough to vent.

    • Joan says:

      …and I’m glad that you were brave enough to share your thoughts. You’re right, the shows that belittle people really provoke bad energy…ergo, this post!

  5. bellini says:

    If people did not watch these type of shows they would be off our networks before we could say “shame on you”. Sad thing is there are many who find this type of show entertaining beginning with Idol and Simon Cowell. Reality TV is unfortunately here to stay.

  6. Jonny says:

    I can’t speak to Rocco diSpirito’s new show because I swore off watching that jumped-up attention-seeking zero a while back, but in terms of Ramsey and shouting, well, that’s what’s made him famous. Even before he was on TV, he spent most of his years in the kitchen shouting at his staff, cajoling them, and abusing them when they made mistakes. That’s life in a professional kitchen. I recently saw Ludo Bites on Sundance channel in which this hipster-cool French chef sets up a restaurant in small towns across the country. He very often shouts at the temporary staff and makes them cry, but it doesn’t seem to me to be for TV, rather he demands certain standards and that is his way of getting them. Sure, it’s not pretty and it certainly isn’t my preferred metier in the workplace, but it might be truer to life in a professional kitchen than any of the other food entertainment shows.

  7. norma says:

    Finally someone feels the way I do. It’s not necessary to be so rude/crude…gives it a bad name to those chef’s with class. After watching some of the shows you mention, I am embarrased at their antics and I thank God I am not one of those food contestants.. I would probably be in jail right now because I would hit Ramsey with a frying pan….

  8. Katie says:

    Gordon Ramsey and his ilk provide zero entertainment value in my opinion. I don’t find people being belittled and verbally assaulted to be funny or interesting. I think your last paragraph sums it up perfectly.

  9. Robin Sue says:

    I do not like the shouting/swearing shows either. I do like some of the competition shows like Chopped but squirm in my seat when it is time for the judging as the judges can be so mean hearted. In real life I do have 3 kids yelling at me about my cooking, especially if I hand them a beautiful plate of healthy food. They can be picky, over critical, and just plain pains to cook for. So maybe those shows are like my real life! I get tired of being told who the experts are too. Joan remember last summer when I interviewed Alex Guarnaschelli? I was to ask her about her ideas on packing lunches. It was a tough interview! She is not warm and fuzzy! Then at the end of the interview when she thought her mike was off she said, “I wanted to tell that girl (me), ‘sweetheart it’s just lunch, relax!'” So let me see, I have 3 children with different tastes (and allergies), of whom I have packed for equalling well over 3700 lunches in the last 8 years, trying to be healthy and creative, trying to offer hot and cold choices while keeping them hot or cold, trying out different containers to see which works best, and trying to make it look appetizing- and she wants me to relax! Packing lunches for my kids has been the most challenging of all my tasks as a mom. She has one 3 years old. Who’s the expert in packing lunches? Oh yeah the one with the degree in cooking, restaurants, TV shows, and world class experience, that’s who. Meh, I like real cooks. That is why I like bloggers who can show us their creativity, kitchen survival, share ideas, and be real. That is my rant.

  10. Buela says:

    So many of the reality shows use this format. I do agree it is about profit but could it also feed the audiences need to see others humiliated…much like Simon of Idol.?

    Too much of such negativeness can leave one with a heavy, unpleasant feeling..we don’t need it. Upbeat and pleasant wins every time.

  11. I have worked in restaurants and am now a producer of television shows, some food, some not. Since I have worked in the trenches of many kitchens, behind the line with a number of chefs, I know the best chefs encouraged their crew to reach for the highest and the best with as little shouting as possible. Yet, the line is a very volatile, tense operation where one mess up can have repercussions for all diners in the restaurant. This is when chef’s tempers flair. It is also where they go into “fix it” mode as quickly as possible. And yes at times it is the “take no prisoner” attitude that arises. Yet all is forgotten because the moment is gone and there are more orders to be filled. So yes, along with knife skills one must have thick skin to work behind the line.

    As a producer of a few lesser known food shows, Amazing Wedding Cakes for one. I tried to create and capture the natural tension that occurs within a natural context. And how these professional fix the problem. Alas, people tune into bakers on motorcycles more than the incredibly gifted cake artists on our show.

    My advise to all of you dissatisfied with the current food shows is to let the network know. There are so many channels vying for viewers that they do listen. Alas, Food Network has a formula that works for them, but TLC and others do listen. The power of the web is with you, use it. Thanks for this very illuminating conversation.

    • Joan says:

      Thank you for adding your perspective and expertise to the conversation which makes it all the more interesting and authentic.

  12. Arlene says:

    I absolutely agree with what you’ve written, Joan. Gordon Ramsey is OVER, as is the very nasty Joe B. I’m shocked at Rocco; his comments are so rude it makes me wonder if he’s insecure in his own abilities. Ditto: Bobby Flay, Rachael Ray, and even Paula Deen. Alex G is just too snarky for words. It’s one thing to provide constructive criticism, but some of the comments made are rude and insulting. Many of the shows retain combative contestants over more skilled ones just for their ratings’ potential. Aside from Guy Fieri, who needs to take a break to give his viewing audience one, the past few years’ worth of winners are not shows I watch (Melissa D’Arabian, Big Daddy, Arti). Oh, dear, let me descend the soapbox now.

  13. While I don’t watch regular cooking shows, the competitions are definitely fun. I’m definitely 100% dedicated to Top Chef :)

  14. giz says:

    I’m on the same page as you – some of these shows ie the Jerry Springer of the cooking channels aren’t even really about the food. Indulge me while I add to the rant – in a country that has huge issues with obesity why why why are there shows that hilite really poor eating habits – I just don’t get it.

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