I watch an awful lot of Food Network. I'm not sure how the obsession developed, exactly.
(Though I suspect the FDA should classify Alton Brown as a 'gateway chef'. A couple of hours a day watching him, and you'll spiral down into the hard stuff.
You think I'm kidding. Just wait until you're sitting on your couch at 2:30 in the morning, watching crap involving some spiky-haired surf punk driving around the country looking for chili dogs to shove down his goateed gob. Then you'll know you're 'on point'. Not so much.)
In spite of my curious epicurean affliction, I'm no good in the kitchen. Couldn't cook my way out of a paper cupcake liner. My notion of 'blanching' food involves taking it to see 'A Streetcar Named Desire'. If the recipe doesn't begin with 'Microwave for...' and end less than four words later, I've got no business reading it. And frankly, I'm okay with that.
(In fact, the very pinnacle of my questionable culinary career to date was managing to make scones a few months back which were neither immediately poisonous nor required a jackhammer to pry open.
Not that I made them from scratch, mind you. From a bag. Even that was touch and go. And met with considerable skepticism, as you might imagine.)
My wife, bless her little whisk, can't reconcile this apparent paradox. How can I enjoy watching shows about food, and the preparation thereof, but display absolutely zero ability, interest or initiative in throwing my own spatula into the ring to learn?
It's simple, I tell her. Cooking shows -- the good ones, anyway -- aren't actually about cooking, per se. They're entertainment. I can watch 24 without wanting to become a ruthless, reckless, occasionally-dead counter-terrorism agent. I can sit through Family Guy and successfully quash the urge to have three kids, gain sixty pounds and move to Rhode Island. I can catch a rerun of Three's Company and still have no desire to live near the beach in sunny California with two young single women and... well, okay, fine. Bad example.
(Oh, who am I kidding? I don't tan well, California's too damned hot, and I don't have the looks to fit in or the wardrobe to convince Mr. Roper I might be gay.
Also, within a week they'd find Suzanne Somers gagged and tied up in the storage locker. That grating blonde shtick of hers made Pamela Anderson look like Niels frickin' Bohr.)
"Is there some contractual obligation that says I can't TiVo Iron Chef, unless I run immediately to the kitchen afterward to try my hand at their sardine smoothie? Lord, I hope not."
So why can't 'food TV' be pure entertainment, too? Can't I just watch Everyday Italian already, and forget about learning to make the Fettucine alla Whatsamattayou? Isn't it enough to simply enjoy Good Eats, without storming off to find a snarky Asian lady to sell me a waffle maker? Is there some contractual obligation that says I can't TiVo Iron Chef, unless I run immediately to the kitchen afterward to try my hand at their sardine smoothie? Lord, I hope not.
My wife sees it differently, of course. She makes the point that these shows are meant to get viewers interested in cooking, to make us more self-sufficient, and to unfold for us the wonders of exotic flavors and aromas made possible with a few culinary skills.
Right. If I want 'exotic flavors and aromas', I'll suck a big strawful of that unholy fishshake up there. No, thanks. I'm just trying to kill an hour or so in front of the tube. And Baywatch isn't on right now.
(Hey, I said Pam Anderson was dumb. I never said I couldn't watch her with the sound turned down. Fair's fair.)
So I decided to prove to my wife that sometimes cooking shows are meant to be emulated, and sometimes they're just pretty pictures and 'Bam!' noises you use to pass the time. To really get the point across, I've tried to think of other examples of cooking-as-just-entertainment. It hasn't gone well.
First, I appealed to her visual sensibilities. I choreographed a little number, worked up a costume and showed her my impression of making pasta. As an interpretive dance. Sadly, just when I got to the crescendo where the water boils, I slipped on the placemats I was using to represent lasagna and went down in a heap. I think I sprained a fusilli.
(My wife did report that she found the show 'highly entertaining'. But probably not in the way she was supposed to.)
Next, I tried to convince her using a more traditional art form. I gathered a few of the vegetables we had in the pantry, set up a camera, and took pictures of myself slicing, peeling and chopping them. Black and white shots, very artistic and classy. Or so I thought. Until I got a call from the local cops, after the guy at the Photo Hut called them about some 'disturbing' images he'd developed.
Finally, I was able to sort everything out.
("No, officer, that's just a carrot. Yes, I'm certain. No, I had no idea a zucchini would look that way in grayscale. Sorry for the trouble. And I hope you catch that 'Mad Grater' sex offender some day, but I'm afraid I can't help you."
If I had it to do over again, I'd probably use less suggestive veggies. And color film. And I'd opt against the 'tasteful nudes'.)
That's when I stopped appealing to my wife's visual sensibilities. This carrot knows when he's julienned.
As a last resort, I turned to cooking as poetry. Surely, a flowery description of food preparation could be seen as pure art, without any need to get the kitchen involved. Just what I needed to prove my point once and for all.
Sadly, the only material I had for inspiration were my past experiences in attempting to cook. Which were rarely successful, often dangerous, and universally regrettable. Also, about the only poetic form I know is the limerick. So the results of my 'artistic' stabs at food prep poetry turned out something like this:
"The secret to pudding, they say,
Is getting lumps out of the way.
So I pressed mine out thin
With my best rolling pin,
But most of it slithered away."
"I once made a tomato soup,
With a cup of salt 'stead of a scoop.
Dry like the Sahara,
Chunky as marinara,
It pretty much tasted like poop."
Don't even ask about the rhyme involving 'crispy duck'. Just don't.
I give up. I just couldn't back up my claim that cooking shows have nothing to do with cooking. So the next time I sit down to watch a nice Unwrapped or Molto Mario, I'm just going to sigh and silently hand my wife this last attempt at artistry, my concession haiku:
Convinced by your words,
I shall now provide food; hope
You like Papa John's.
A large loaded pizza, with garlic sauce for the crusts? Made by someone else and delivered to our door? Now that's art I can watch all night long.