Food is highly entertaining, no doubt about that, and television is perhaps the best medium to really show how to cook something, outside of joining a class. But as many others have pointed out, as food has soared as entertainment, viewers' cooking skills have continued to decline.
In a highly recommended post over at Civil Eats, Mollie Katzen (author of the seminal Moosewood Cookbook) discusses this dichotomy. She says:
The gap between celebrity and real food being cooked is huge. People are watching TV, but there’s so few people cooking good, honest food. That is the stuff of daily life. If you know how to cook you’ve got a skill. Long after the TV’s off, you’re still going to need to eat.
This statement made me think of a proposal Marc R. has over at Ethicurean, challenging Top Chef to take up the ultimate challenge: school lunch.
What a terrific idea! It would be one small step in making television food real for the ultimate judges: kids. But here's a thought on the ground rules: no pizza, fries, hot dogs or cupcakes. If you're wondering, What's left for kids to eat? That, my friends, is the heart of the problem.
With school lunch being debated on Capitol Hill, "Top Chef" should get in on the action and focus some kitchen challenges on school meals. One challenge could have each contestant try to cook a collection of delicious and healthy meals (breakfast and lunch) that spend less than $1 on food per meal. Another might be to cook in a real school, perhaps H.D. Cooke Elementary School, the setting of The Slow Cook’s excellent multi-part series on school meals, or use the actual school kitchen staff as assistants, though this one might be getting a bit close to the upcoming Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution on ABC. The contestants could also integrate ingredients from local farms with USDA-provided material.
Washington and the school lunch community also offers plenty of interesting possibilities for guest judges: First Lady Michele Obama, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Chef Ann Cooper (the "renegade lunch lady"), or a room full of cute and opinionated schoolchildren.
- Samuel Fromartz