Friday, September 10, 2010

Must Watch Friday - Those Other Cooking Shows

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.


  1. My favorite cooking show is America's Test Kitchen on PBS. They take a recipe, break it down and tell you why they chose a particular ingredient. They also have taste testing and gadget segments. It's so informative and I finish each episode dying to make the featured recipe. It's a great show. Check it out.

  2. Tracey, that sounds terrific. Particularly if they give you so much detail about the ingredients! Sadly I won't be able to check it out - it's not airing here in Australia. But you never know, one day... I love food shows that get the taste buds tingling and make me want to try something for myself.

  3. Hey there, Miss Annie! What a delicious post! Actually I don't watch cooking shows - I must be the only person on the planet who doesn't! But those you mention sound great. Looking forward to sampling the products when next I visit! I mightn't watch cooking shows, but I'm always happy to eat a meal someone has cooked for me.

    By the way, speaking of feasts for the senses, congratulations on Passion, Purity and the Prince! It's absolutely delicious. And Prince Alaric is beyond delicious!

  4. Hi Anna,

    Aren't you sweet? I hadn't thought of 'Passion, Purity and the Prince' as delicious, but Alaric - definitely! He's one of my fave heroes so far. Sigh. Though I have to say I did have a great time thinking food in this book.

    Laughing here at the idea of you thinking I'm going to cook you all those wonderful things next time you visit. Well...OK...maybe I could try one of the recipes out on you.

  5. Gorgeous blog, Annie and I love the pictures you've used!

    I'm like Anna - there are two of us that don't watch cooking shows! But every now and then, I'll catch one "by accident" and it'll fire up some culinary enthusiasm. We caught one by Jamie Oliver a few weeks ago. He slow-roasted a shoulder of lamb with rosemary and garlic. It took 4 hours at a low heat. Annie, it was a taste sensation and soooooo easy! I love easy in the kitchen!

  6. Sharon,
    How interesting that there's you and Anna not watching TV cookery.

    I'm all for easy in the kitchen too. I think that's what I like about these shows - the people cook these foods all the time and make it look so simple even when it's not! I love lamb with rosemary and garlic. Yuuum.

  7. Hi Annie, I don't have time for a lot of TV these days but I do like watching Jamie Oliver and NIgella Lawson when I get the chance. My daughter is a Master Chef fan and likes me to watch along with her.
    I like food magazines too, for browsing, admiring, marking recipes to be tried and sometimes actually cooking some of them...
    I love the way you describe your inspiration for PASSION, PURITY AND THE PRINCE. Sounds like another must-have read!

  8. Hi Kandy,

    I'm surprised you've got ANY time for TV! Yes, we watch Nigella when she's on, though I haven't tuned in to Master Chef. It seemed to be on all the time!

    Food in magazines always looks so good. That makes me think of the fabulous chocolate bath scene in your novel - the idea of photographing food to it looks delicious is fascinating.

    Ah, well I was inspired when I wrote PASSION, PURITY AND THE PRINCE. There was just so much to soak up and use to create the world of the story. It felt like Alaric and Tamsin were in a fantastic place - always a great help.

  9. Hi, Annie!

    I love the inspiration for PASSION, PURITY AND THE PRINCE. I have a feeling I'll need to stock up on cherries and chocolate while I read it. (Mmm, Cherry Ripe!)

    I also adore cooking shows. MasterChef Australia + The Cook & the Chef really inspired me this past winter. Now that I have a brand-new kitchen, cooking is so much more fun these days.

  10. Hi Vanessa,

    Yep, definitely stock up on the chocolate and the cherries. Yum. You need to nibble something while you read after all.

    I love The Cook and the Chef. I like the relaxed atmosphere and the fact there's an obvious friendship there. Plus the fact they're working in her wonderful farmhouse kitchen with lovely fresh ingredients.

    Hope you're creating tasty treats in that lovely new kitchen of yours.

  11. Annie, I'm dying to get my hands on a copy of "Passion, Purity and the Prince." And your descriptions of mulled wine, dark cherries and chocolate, half-metre long sausages... (oh, stop it!) are making me even more impatient :-)

    I haven't caught any of the shows you've mentioned, but I love the sound of "My Family Feast". I used to love "The Two Fat Ladies" and I watch the repeats on telly whenever I get the chance -- they never fail to make me laugh.

  12. I have to admit that I was addicted to the first series of Australian Masterchef, and now series 2 has just started!
    I'm also watching the Food Channel Challenges, gotta love when 3 or 4 ice cream makers have to make an ice cream cake, or 4 cake makers have to make a cake for an event, wedding / christening / etc. I suppose its the skill mixed with drama as to whether they will make it. Usually you wouldn't want to eat the cakes, but they look spectacular.

  13. Hi Michelle,

    We used to watch 'Two Fat Ladies' too. Do keep an eye out for 'My Family Feast'. It's really a fascinating show. Not just for the food but for the people too.

    Remind me to show you a pic of those half metre long sausages some time. Hm, I'm drooling at the thought of all that lovely food.

  14. Sue, I've never heard of the Food Channel Challenges. That sounds like something to look out for. 4 ice cream makers? My sort of program...

  15. Annie-
    I'm sorry you can't catch the show in Australia, but when you get a chance, check out excerpts of America's Test Kitchen on youtube. This is a must if you love to cook!

  16. Oh! I loved Two Fat Ladies! Such a feel good show :D

    The closest thing we have in the US to what you're describing is maybe Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations. My Family Feast sounds better!