By Jason Menard
I’ve discovered that the greatest thing those TV cooking shows serve up are delusions of culinary grandeur in people like me. But for every cooking nightmare they spawn, they’ve also helped to foster a dream-like world of excitement, flavour, and exposure to a world of food influences.
I admit it. I’m a Food Network addict. I can while away countless minutes watching any manner of food presentation on television. From Giada De Laurentis to Anthony Bourdain, from the Iron Chef to the Surreal Gourmet, I’m hooked on the concept of food preparation – and now I’ve deluded myself into believing that I can emulate what I see on TV.
After all, it seems so effortless. The fact that these people have honed their craft through years of slogging through the culinary trenches doesn’t seem to register to the average viewer like me. If we view it, we can do it.
Maybe I’m hearkening back to my youth, when Martin Yan would exhort, “if Yan can do it, so can you!” Of course, back then I was content to let mom and dad handle the cooking duties, so that latent passion for cooking lay dormant for many years. Even in my university years, when long days working at the student newspaper meant take-out took precedent over home cooking my idea of cooking was to pour some salsa over a chicken breast. When I got married, my wife ruled the kitchen – although I was a willing assistant who had my own set of meals in the rotation.
In the end, necessity truly is the mother of invention. And its father is clearly access to information. A few years back, my wife and I were involved in an accident that has left her with severe pain issues. As such, I’ve gladly taken up the slack in the kitchen and the Food Network has fuelled my delusions of culinary grandeur.
A recent meal? Tandoori chicken with saffron-infused basmati rice. If the ends justify the means, then the meal was a success – but the process of preparing the meal certainly didn’t come off as smoothly as the Man-Made Food broadcast made it seem it would. And that’s often the case. Exotic ideas that celebrity chefs pull off with flair and élan often don’t have the same sense of romance when you try to transfer that experience from the television screen to the dining room table. Yet despite the challenge (and the mass clean-up that resulted), I know I’ll be back in the kitchen trying out something new.
But at least I’m not alone in this passion. It seems that our increasing access to culinary television has broadened our perspectives on food as a whole. Meals and presentations that were once the exclusive domain of high-end restaurants have been demystified and made accessible to the average family. Ingredients once considered exotic are now commonplace on the local grocery store’s shelves.
Best of all, people are no longer will to settle for the status quo. My generation has truly embraced the foods and influences of a broad spectrum of cultures and our palettes have been improved because of it. We grew up in a Canadian society that was becoming increasingly multi-cultural. As such, we were able to take the staples we grew up with and accent them with ethnic influences that we were comfortable seeing as they were the ones our friends were growing up with. For us, it wasn’t about experimenting with food – it was about embracing our peers’ cultures as we embraced them as friends.
And we’re seeing that change commercially as well. Where not all that long ago Italian and Chinese restaurants were considered ethnic, we’re now inundated with a delectable panorama of dining options ranging from Lebanese to Peruvian to Ethiopian to Indian. Our culinary passport is now only restricted by our own threshold for experimentation!
So as our cultural influences expand, we’re introduced to new influences in our food. And then when you combine the proliferation of food-based television designed to make cooking accessible to the masses, you have an equation that allows average guys like me to believe that cooking for my family can be an event, not just a chore.
In the end, not all experiments turn out well, and I’ve had my fair share of disappointments. That will happen when one’s aspirations exceed one’s talents. I know I’ll continue to grow in the kitchen. Already I’ve come leaps and bounds – moving from dry chicken with salsa to hand-made Chicken Kiev or Marsala dishes. But the great thing is that there will never be a point where we’ve done it all.
There’s always room to grow, there’s always room to learn. Too often we shovel our food down without appreciating it. We take for granted what we’re eating, when we should be savouring it. And if food television has taught me anything, it’s been that food should be an experience.
So I’ll continue to emulate what I see on TV. After all, the worst thing these delusions of culinary grandeur can bring is a failed cooking experiment. But the potential reward that comes from making food an experience is one that my family and I can enjoy for years to come.
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