I mentioned recently that regular broadcast television bores me and I watch a lot of public television, PBS. Since the advent of digital broadcast the selection of programs has really grown. One PBS channel in particular has really caught my attention: the Create channel bills itself as “the TV channel for cooking, arts & crafts, gardening, home improvement, and travel.”
As appropriate for this blog, the cooking programs have just sucked me in. Here is a rundown of those I enjoy the most:
Mexico, One Plate at a Time - Rick Bayliss
In a sense, I hate Rick Bayliss. The guy has it all: he’s got a great presence on the screen, he gets to travel all over Mexico eating foods from the most humble street vendors to the fanciest resorts, he’s a great cook and author, he wears the coolest super hero t-shirts, and he’s living the life I would have wanted for myself. But even if I hate him (and I really don’t… much) I love watching his show.
If you think Mexican cooking is limited to burritos, tacos, and enchiladas, watch Rick and expand your horizons.
America’s Test Kitchen and Cook’s Country
By the editors of Cook’s Illustrated magazine, these two shows are kind of the Consumer’s Report for cooking and kitchen activities; but they go so much deeper…
Rather than just test a recipe and say it’s good or bad, America’s Test Kitchen figures out how to make it better and easier. Cook’s Country does the same thing but concentrates on American home cooking. They know where to cut corners to save time, calories, or cost without affecting flavor or convenience, and they know when to leave well enough alone. These two shows will never give you something that has been so reduced in calories - and flavor - that you’d rather eat a brown paper bag.
Along with their recipes and cooking you’ll also find equipment testing and taste tests. Which tabletop mixer is worth the money? They have that. Is real vanilla better than artificial vanilla? They have that, too.
I can’t recommend these two shows highly enough.
Food Trip with Todd English – Todd English
India, Bangkok, South Africa, Peru, Thailand, Italy… Todd English travels the world looking at regional cooking to meld with his own talents to develop dishes.
Todd English is very talented and creative and one of America’s top chefs. Even with his lofty achievements he still has respect and enthusiasm for street food and the simple home food he finds in his travels.
Lidia’s Italy – Lidia Bastianich
As the name suggests, Lidia Bastianich focuses on the Italian food she grew up with as well as that which she finds on her trips to various parts of Italy.
The pace of the show is good, the recipes and techniques are easy to follow without being overwhelming, and the food is great. Along the way you’ll also be introduced to some Italian history and culture as well as professional and home Italian cooks sharing their recipes and techniques, many of them passed down through generations of family.
BBQ University – Steven Raichlen
If it can be cooked on a grill, gas or charcoal, you’ll see it on this program, and even if you don’t think it can, you may still see it! This show is a carnivore’s dream.
Cooking meat over coals may be man’s oldest cooking method, and Steven Raichlen does it good. But he still finds room to cover grilling vegetables, seafood (grilled mussels, anyone?), rubs, sauces, and desserts.
Watch this master of grilling do his thing and you will be visiting your butcher for something special.
Simply Ming – Ming Tsai
Ming Tsai obviously grew up with a good influence; his mother, Iris Tsai, visits and cooks on many of his show’s episodes. With her dry wit and great cooking skills, she is a real joy to watch.
Many of Ming’s shows focus on two basic ingredients that change from one episode to another. It may be soy sauce and olive oil on one show or thyme and ginger on another. Some of Ming’s recipes are a little expensive for my pocket book – scallops, lobster, sushi-grade tuna – but I still love to watch for ideas and because it’s so obvious that he just plain loves what he’s doing. Ming’s enthusiasm for cooking is infectious.
So, there you have it, some of my favorite cooking shows. There are some others that are good, but these are my favorites.
One show that I did not list but that absolutely can not be passed up is anything with Julia Child in it. While Ms. Child passed away in 2004 her shows are still run with great frequency. A ground breaking and talented cook, her wit and humor is a real joy to watch. Many people don’t know it, but Ms. Child was a member of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), a forerunner of the CIA, and served overseas during WWII.