TV schedules are full of cooking shows. How many celebrity chefs do we know on first name terms? We see programs showing professionals whipping up exotic dishes while we wonder if we can make something like that in our own kitchen. Then there are all the cooking shows where contestants are pitted against each other and the clock to produce stunning meals that will excite the judges. This week our columnist Annie West takes a look at another type of food program.
I have friends who are chefs. I've seen them at work. I know how much effort goes into keeping all that stainless steel in a commercial kitchen so shiny and I have no desire to go that route. I love good food and yes, I'll drool over a beautifully cooked meal prepared by someone else, but I've concluded that there's something far better than celebrity chef shows. Give me a programs where ordinary people take us into their homes and cook the things they love to eat! That's my idea of great entertainment. It covers the basics for me: good food, a touch of the exotic and a chance to peek into other people's kitchens. What could be better?
Lately there have been a number of programs on Australian TV that have had me glued. They're down to earth, they show fantastic food from all sorts of marvellous countries and they take us into other people's homes and lives (absolutely rivetting TV for a writer).
One of my favourites is 'My Family Feast' an Australian production showing Sean Connolly visiting a different family each week. These families are often relatively new arrivals to Australia and their food preparations and customs usually seem pretty different to those in my own family. Afghan feasts over a fire in the back yard, salami making in a farm shed (I'll pass on that one, thanks), an Italian feast for an extended family, or spending the afternoon preparing delicious food under the shade of a tree. Sean meets the family, learns about the special occasion they're celebrating, helps prepare the food and then joins the crowd that gets to enjoy it.
I love the warmth and vibrancy of this show. The chance to peep into another world I've barely heard about that might exist just a few streets away from my own. These are real people making food the way their families have cooked for generations and it's fascinating watching their deft hands create wonderful food you can almost smell. By the end of each program I want to be there, joining in the fun.
And one of the best things about the show is that the recipes are available on the web to try for yourself. My elderly father even had me printing off a Serbian meatball recipe because it looked so tempting. He's given me the energy to try some of the Cuban dishes or perhaps some from Burma or the Congo.
In a similar vein there's Maeve O'Mara's 'Food Safari'. Another great Aussie show that has her visiting restaurants and homes in search of delicious foods. Each episode is devoted to a particular type of cuisine. I love being taken into other people's kitchens and watching them whip up something tasty on their stovetop or the BBQ and have them explain what some of those exotic ingredients are for. My only gripe is that the food looks so great and it's Maeve, not me, getting to taste the results.
Another recent fave is a BBC production: 'A Taste of Iran' with Sadeq Saba as a guide to his homeland. Just the names Isfahan and Shiraz conjure up a taste for travel and this program shows me just what I'm missing. Saba travels from the north of Iran to the south, showing wonderful scenery, cities, people, customs and of course food. Where else could I get to drool over the ruins of the ancient city of Persepolis (a place I've long wanted to visit) and learn the best way to eat candy floss or watch all sorts of other tasty delights being prepared? A cross between armchair travel and culinary pleasure, this one is must see TV for me.
How about you? Do you have a favourite food program? Or maybe a food and travel program combined? What do you watch to unwind after a hard day?
Annie's latest story PASSION, PURITY AND THE PRINCE was inspired by European winter markets with the scent of snow and mulled wine on the air. By tasty treats with dark cherries and chocolate, by half metre long sausages cooked on grill plates in tiny market tents, and memories of fresh roasted chestnuts and hot, sugared almonds straight from the cooker. PASSION is a Cinderella story, about a bookish, bespectacled heroine who meets a prince who looks 'like Prince Charming's far more experienced and infinitely more dangerous brother'. It's out now in the UK. You can buy it at UK Amazon, Mills and Boon or the Book Depository. To read an excerpt or enter a contest to win a copy, visit Annie's website.