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June 14, 2005

The Knife

It's Summer Rerun Season on television, and I've fled to Reality Television for respite. However, I'm not sliding completely into the pit. Instead, I'm watching cooking competitions. Three shows demonstrate how each of their respective home networks approach the concept of an elimination contest.

Cooking Under Fire is the first show I began watching. This runs on PBS. The concept is that twelve cooks of varying levels of experience and from several walks of life compete under the watchful eye of three professional chefs. One chef, Todd English, will grant the final winner a position as chef at one of his New York Restaurants. The concept is simple and is replicated in all three shows.

Each week the contestants are given a task (a recipe, a kitchen activity, a theme) and we watch while they perform. At the end of the show, the judges share their criticism, then hand the loser for that week a skillet emblazoned with a large '86ed' logo. I thought Todd English was pretty harsh, being bluntly critical of his prospective chefs. But this show is a cakewalk...

Hell's Kitchen stars Gordon Ramsay, who is apparently one of the most popular chefs in England. He is also, at least in the context of this show, a foul-mouthed tyrant. Cursing, spitting out food and berating his chefs with sometimes physical insults. This show is on Fox, and I guess it shows...

The Next Food Network Star is so whitebread. I'm enjoying it, but I can't help but put it on a continuum with the other two shows. This show is the 'nicest', then the PBS show, then Fox is the nastiest.

I've generally been kinda picky about what cooking shows I watch. I like America's Test Kitchen for their practical, lab-like approach to cooking, and their personable cooks. I enjoyed Iron Chef for it's over the top entertainment value and racing the clock theme. In fact I plan to watch season two of the American version (I missed season one). But it took the 'dead season' doldrums to get me to watch cooking shows more frequently, and reality shows still have to work very hard to get under my radar (good examples being the 'House' shows on PBS, i.e. Colonial House).

All this cooking on the brain! Remember my knife diatribe? I cooked my curry recipe today, and I used that Chef's Knife. Okay, maybe I'm selling myself based on all I've read, but what a difference. It is partly because this knife is so danged sharp -- I have to be very conscious of what I'm doing with this knife. But also, that offset blade makes cutting and dicing much smoother. I wish I'd known about 'the proper blade' sooner.

Guess I'll have to read up on knives in The Professional Chef. I grabbed this one from the library, because I wanted to follow along with the cooking shows a little better. It has a chapter on equipment, and sections on each of the major meal 'groups'. Poultry, meat, breads, desserts. And in each section they lead with mise en place, which I first heard about on Cooking Under Fire! Cool!

Posted by dpwakefield at June 14, 2005 09:33 PM