When my husband and I started out, we didn’t have a lot of anything: money, furniture, cooking apparel or knowledge of how to use said apparel. It pains me dearly to admit, but we used to be “whole store” grocery shoppers. Hit EVERY aisle, finding sales on pre-made/mixed dinner items and many more things we shouldn’t have considered, just to go home and “cook” it. We were spending SO much money on the boxed meals, which was only exacerbated by our frequent eating out because the food we were making was awful, which insulted the money spent on produce which was thrown away after doing a lovely job of rotting in the decorative bowl. Despite our many attempts and the desire to cook, we didn’t know where to begin. (Looking back, I think it began with a grill.) Since we were hermits, our spare time was spent finding television programming that would keep our interest. and there it was: the birth of the cooking reality show.

I became enthralled with cooking reality shows: Hell’s Kitchen, Top Chef, Kitchen Nightmares, Iron Chef, Food Network Challenge. These people were cooking with what appeared to be so little effort. Obviously, they had the experience or training to make it look effortless, easy and do-able. Well then, why the  hell can’t I do this? I would watch these shows, trying to learn skills, concepts, recipes and execution…huge mistake. While I was motivated to cook with reckless abandon, my sheer determination and Julia Child “fearlessness” did not translate. There is nothing more frustrating for me than massive failure in the face of exhaustive effort. I wanted to know what the hell I was missing. It wasn’t obvious until much later that I was missing years of proper training. The mistake I feel these type of “culinary-competition based reality shows” is making the statement “it’s an easy recipe you can do at home”. Well, yes. But HOW? I was infuriated at hearing Gordon Ramsay dictate the ease at which the recipe could be prepared, but I never saw it fully executed. So, i got nosey.

The beauty of cable TV is it allowed me to do research. I started looking into Gordon Ramsay and was introduced to a reality show of him saving restaurants digging their own grave, (I thoroughly enjoyed watching, especially when restaurant owners who had asked for his help would fight every inch of the way.) but was not learning anything about cooking. Of course Food Network was always there, but I was learning the “how”, not the “why”. That’s when I stumbled on Gordon Ramsay’s “F-Word” (that word being ‘food’). It was a brilliant combination of putting self-proclaimed chefs in a real kitchen to execute a 3-course service, Gordon Ramsay going into detail of how to prepare one of his restaurant meals (and the “why” of what he was doing-thank Gouda), along with many celebrities and segments teaching about everything from controversial foie gras to making mozzarella out of buffalo milk. I finally had something teaching me everything I wanted to know. I would go back and forth between the TV and my kitchen, pausing my TV to go and complete the next part of the recipe. I even learned how to properly hone knives. I was so excited that I kept snooping around for more information, how I could develop these obviously limited skills. My further research took me to Food Network, where I was reintroduced to Alton Brown. As I have admitted, I was not initially a fan. I would get so annoyed with his banter on Iron Chef, I would watch the whole episode in closed caption. I thought a show featuring him would be a bad idea for me. Luckily, I was wrong. His “culinary chemistry” instantly hooked me and continued to provide the “how” and “why” I was looking for. I was learning the skills not only to make bread, but the why it works and how to use it for other recipes. What had started as a spark lit by the reality chef show turned into a full inferno.  Then I lost interest. Not in cooking, but in the reality shows. I am still in awe of the amazing feats that trained chefs & students accomplish, but the reality show is not my reality anymore. I suppose I can still get some great ideas, but I’m still learning.  Watching Chopped is a stretch for me, even though some evening it could be funny to present my husband with a basket of the most random-ass ingredients for him to create a meal. But I don’t feel like I learn anything from the show. The shows that had initially planted the excitement, had lost the value they once had.

Such is the cycle of learning, I suppose. I still watch some of the reality shows, but not with the same excitement and anticipation I once did. It gives me something to think about when I really get my career rolling: what can I use my training for? I had actually considered  entering into a amateur reality cooking competition on a major cable network, which I still may do. But now I have many episodes of mentioned shows waiting on my DVR…and they will wait while I soak up more information like a lady finger soaks up brandy. Perhaps I will have more appreciation of the feats when I get more training. As for now, it’s time to keep trying new things, always with success in mind. Happily, I’ve adjusted my average int he favor of my success. Another sign, I feel, that I’m learning something. However, my current cupcake idea could prove otherwise.