Can TV teach you how to cook? Experts weigh in.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Can people learn to cook by watching culinary shows on television? When we sought the opinion of Michael Smith, general manager of the new Cooking Channel, he said, "People don't watch TV to learn how to make things."

Here's what some other folks had to say:

Spike Mendelsohn, chef-restaurateur: "I'd have to say absolutely. Cooking is about having the confidence to get in the kitchen and not being intimidated. People are into it. They watch, then they have an understanding of the science and the reactions when you cook. They may not be able to learn how to fine-tune or tweak things like chefs, though. At the end of the day, it's really about being creative."

Carol Blymire, food blogger, Alinea at Home ( "People may fall into a trap if they think they can pull off the same thing in 22 minutes as Ina [Garten] or Giada [De Laurentiis]. They may need to alter their expectations a bit.

"My mom is a great cook. She'll watch 'Barefoot Contessa,' and when I go home to Pennsylvania, she's made exactly what Ina made. And I think that's great. I get to eat better. But just like no one is going to get physically fit just by watching 'Tae Bo,' you have to get off your ass and actually cook."

Robert Thompson, professor of television and pop culture at Syracuse University: "If that's what they want to do, yes. People watch food programming the same way they watch home decorating and renovating shows, even though many of those shows don't even tell you how. I used to love watching Julia Child, although I had no intention of ever making that stuff. . . . Plus, it's not like trying to learn surgery."

Judith Jones, Knopf editor and author: "Yes. It's one of the best teaching tools if the cook who is performing is genuinely instructive and conveys the whys and wherefores of what he or she is doing. And the camera can zero in so effectively on important techniques that it's really better than a cooking-school class.

"But the viewer has to participate: imitate, taste, feel empowered to use all her own senses and then start improvising on her own. Sometimes it is hard for chefs to get across what they are doing because they have become so expert that they can no longer translate their performance to what the neophyte cook faces alone in the home kitchen. But that's the challenge!"

-- Bonnie S. Benwick

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