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Cooking Good Food In Real Life

So, ok, here's a confession - I watch a few reality TV shows. Project Runway, Top Chef, and I started sporadically watching Face Off. I also watch a few more cooking shows that could be considered same: Chopped and Iron Chef America. I learn a lot from my cooking shows. Different kinds of ingredients, the names of some famous chefs and restaurants, and the extistance of all sorts of different cooking techniques. (Since the shows I watch are competition-driven, I don't get to learn said techniques, but they're fun to look up later.) Overall, I find them entertaining and they give me some great ideas.

But every now and then I find myself watching these shows and just want to smack the chefs over the head with a rubber fish.

Not because of personality or behavior (though that can grate: remember folks, if it gets caught on camera, it's there forever for your future employers to review) but because of their reactions to certain challenges. Namely, what I call the "Real Person's Cupboard" challenges.

Now I know that most professional chefs working in fine dining restaurants want the freshest ingredients they can lay their hands on. Fresh fish, fresh vegetables, fresh fruits, fresh herbs, locally-raised meat and dairy, the works. I totally understand and support that decision. It makes the food taste better, and no artist wants to work with inferior materials.

I, however, am not a professional chef. I am Jane Q. Public, and I tend to buy whatever's cheapest and most convenient at my local grocery store. This is what I eat on a day-to-day basis.

I recall a challenge on Top Chef (in Season 3) where the chefs were challenged to make a gourmet entree using... CANNED FOOD! When the sheet was whipped off the table and the canned food revealed, the resulting moans, groans, and disgusted snears would have made me think they were being told to cook with fresh horse manure.

That wasn't the last time I've seen that reaction either. Whenever the contestents on Chopped are given a processed ingredient to use, someone always bitches and moans about it. Iron Chef does this less often, but whenever they do, the chefs always find in inordinately challenging.

I'm sorry, what? What do you think most people eat from day to day? Given a much larger budget, infinite time, and superior cooking skill, I could cook with just fresh ingredients too, but that's not going to happen. What happened to these skilled chefs? Did they never eat canned tuna growing up? Never had canned green beans? You're in a bloody cooking competition! Let me know how I can take my can of chili and turn it into something fabulous! I should not have to look at my cupboard in shame.

I don't expect the whole competition to be about what to do with canned ham. Truly it's more fun to watch chefs cook with fabulous fresh ingredients. But canned food is not crap. It's what most of us eat. Don't disparage my tinned peas!


( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 16th, 2011 02:41 pm (UTC)
I have seen a few shows were cooks used box pasta instead of freshly made for the texture - and I was yay! People can try the fresh and elaborate, I did that before kids, entire menus from Gourmet, but these days, frozen! And yes, even from a can!
Feb. 16th, 2011 04:17 pm (UTC)
Jamie Oliver's 30 minute meals are like that. I thought the whole point of them was convenience but they don't include the three hours shopping at the local farmer's market apparently.

There's a show called Ready Steady Cook where the contestants bring in five ingredients and they're rarely fresh but the chefs have to make something from it, whatever it is. A bit more realistic.
Feb. 17th, 2011 02:51 pm (UTC)
Yeah, the shopping is a big point. I usually shop on my way home from work, at around 6am. If I want something from the deli, I get it when I wake up around 4pm. We only sporadically make dedicated grocery shopping trips in order to save gas.

We do have a farmer's market, but it isn't year-round, and it's usually open well after I'm asleep!
Feb. 16th, 2011 05:13 pm (UTC)
Bah! It's just snobbery. Sure, stuff made with all-fresh ingredients might offer a more pure foodie experience, but that's why people go out for a meal and pay for it, so someone else can handle the hassle. Budget and time constrictions don't have to mean you can't eat well.

One of the reasons I like reading Cook's Illustrated is because they'll go through the steps of refining a recipe hundreds of times and tell you why doing something one way worked out better than another, and they'll often rate store-brand canned/processed ingredients for quality. Many of the recipes are tailored to be doable on a working person's timetable, too.

I think if the competitors can't make a tasty meal out of what an average person has in their pantry, then they just don't have the skills they think they do. I for one have made some really delicious things with canned, frozen, or packaged foods, and if I can anyone can. :P
Feb. 17th, 2011 02:19 pm (UTC)
Ooo, Cook's Illustrated sounds interesting. I'll have to look that up some time.

Indeed, I know chefs are taught to be snobs about their ingredients and it drives me bonkers when I am apparently supposed to feel all ashamed of my ravioli in a can.
(Deleted comment)
Feb. 17th, 2011 02:31 pm (UTC)
Indeed. And I can do it whilst checking my e-mail, washing dishes, watching the news, and trying not to step on the cat. I have mad phat homecookery skillz!
Feb. 17th, 2011 11:04 am (UTC)
I love Top Chef (TEAM CARLA!!!) and I like to see them do all that cool, space-agey stuff with the blowtorches and liquid nitrogen. But I'm even more impressed by the contestants that take a can of fruit cocktail, a cup of wine and some coffee creamer and make it look and taste awesome. I always root for the ones who do the simple-food-well thing.
Feb. 17th, 2011 02:20 pm (UTC)
Team Carla FTW! (Hootie Hoo!) I too like the crazy molecular gastronomy, but I'm far more likely to be able to make some of Carla's simple and delicious food than afford liquid nitrogen, agar-agar powder, and an immersion circulator.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )



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