Remember “Wok with Yan”? I do. When I was growing up I used to watch it all the time with my mother on the good old CBC. He had that odd, very Cantonese sense of humour and an endearing zeal that made him popular among viewers all over the world. You laughed, you learned a little bit, and you often went home and tried to replicate what you saw. Wok with Yan became the foundation on how I judged all other cooking shows.
The 90’s and early 2000’s were all about showing authentic foods and food cultures that were foreign to our everyday lives. Think Wok with Yan without the kitsch. Icons like Michael Smith and Giada DeLaurentiis often greeted us with smiling faces and walked us through ingredients, techniques, and memories from their childhoods as they passed their family favourites onto ours.
If I come home and turn on the TV I’m often greeted with chefs playing up manufactured personas for the camera and creating strife while only peripherally acknowledging the food. Kitchen Nightmares always distills into a moment where the owner and Ramsay are going to resort to fisticuffs, Conant will be ornery towards a Chopped contestant who had an opinion of their own, and the contestants in Dinner Party wars seemed more interested in sabotaging each other than cooking a decent meal. The simple and straightforward cooking show has been covered with a thick layer of gloopy and ridiculously spicy reality TV sauce.
I should mention that I do like some reality food TV. The original Japanese Iron Chef, The F Word, and anything Bourdain does are always on queue if I need some inspiration while I’m banging out articles or planning the menu for dinner parties. I guess I’m just old fashioned and bit nostalgic. I expect cooking shows to teach me something about the food, the people who eat it, and inspire me to learn more about it.
So what do you think about this new breed of food show that dominates half of the programming these days? Do you think it will stay and be the new evolution, or are we going to eventually see a return to the old days?