Trends Many ingredients go into food shows, one of which is likely to be food, writes Bageshree S.
There is more food to watch on screen than there is to eat on most plates in our country. You will agree with this theory if you ever spent a couple of weeks with little more than a television remote for company.
We may be yet to have exclusive food channels like in the West, but in the era of satellite television, you can catch a food show on some channel or the other any time of the day or night. And increasingly, food shows are no longer just about food or cooking. They come packaged as travel, adventure, luxury, titillation, tradition or the lack of it… and much more.
Take a cursory look at some of the popular food shows to gauge their range. We have the exotic “Cooking with Heart and Soul” by Kylie Kwong who wears her Chinese heritage on her sleeve. The tone is a tad sentimental, with the hostess waxing poetic on the aroma of star anise or the spluttering sound of sesame seeds. The pace is mellow and the camera seems to gently caress every string of noodles and the steam arising from it.
If you have weakness for uber femininity, the very English Nigella Lawson is your woman. Though she has suddenly lost some of that characteristic oomph in this season of “Nigella Bites”, what food writer Gilly Smith once wrote about her still holds: “Men and women alike find her infectious, unashamed passion for food and her voluptuous curves hard to resist.” Is it any surprise that she is forgiven for mostly opening various varieties of processed food tins and throwing the ingredients together?
For those who could, on the contrary, do with a dose of the machismo, there is always Anthony Bourdain, the irresistible rogue of food shows. The fact that there are two beeps in his every sentence shows how much he revels in his image of being a perverse, evil and confirmed bad boy. A recent post in his website says that he is no longer a chain smoker. Lest you be disappointed, it is quick to add that you “can rest assured that the infamously grumpy, sharp-tongued host of ‘No Reservations' has become anything but pedestrian.”
Suffice to say that you can take your pick of style, from syrupy to bitingly pungent. There is much variety in between too. You could watch Bobby Chin eating crunchy scorpions on a stick in “World Café Asia”, go organic with Jamie Oliver in “Jamie At Home”, watch the Americans meat industry in all its gore and glory in “Food Paradise”, watch men eat food till they are ready to throw up in “Man Vs. Food”, catch wannabe chefs roasted till deep brown in the reality show “Hell's Kitchen”, put food under microscope to find out what exactly determine flavours and tastes in “Kitchen Chemistry”... And if you still believe that a food show should stick to teaching you how to cook, catch Rachel Allen on the show simply called “Bake”.
How do our desi shows fare in comparison? We most definitely match in numbers. Take your pick from “Rasoi Se”, “Rasm-e-Rasoi”, “Aks-e-Rasoi”, “Samayil Samayil”, “Saviruchi”, “Nala Paka”, “Maa Oori Vanta”, “Aamhi Saare Khavayye”… Most of them are straight forward, following the ingredients-and-method format. Predictably, they are clustered around the afternoon slot, aimed at home-makers.
But there are clear signs of our food shows too going the way of their western counterparts. An increasing number of shows are not just about substance, but as much (if not more) about style. For instance, “En Samayal Arayil” in Tamil has a savvy Anu Hassan presenting cuisine from all parts of the world in her spanking-new modular kitchen. Portly and popular comedy actor, Sihikahi Chandru, presents “Bombaat Bhojana” in Kannada throwing in ladlefuls of slapstick humour. “Ammu Maneyalli Ghama Ghama Aduge” and “Ammulu Inti Kammani Vanta” are unabashed copy-cat versions of each other in Kannada and Telugu and work with the dramatic personae of a reluctant teenage girl being coaxed into learning cooking by the elder women of the family. Breaking completely away from the recipe format of food shows is “Highway On My Plate”, arguably the most delightful and original food show on Indian television, presented by the die-hard non-vegetarian Rocky and the never-say-die vegetarian Mayur.
We are what we eat, goes an old adage. By an extension, does the food we watch also say something about who we are? Michael Pollan, the author of “In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto”, says that the increasing popularity of food shows paradoxically coincides with the rise of fast food and decline in everyday home cooking. In the article telling-titled “Out of the Kitchen, On to the Couch”, he says that food shows have gradually acquired the character of “spectator sports”, which have as much do with cooking as say watching a football match has to do with playing it.
No wonder then that the “Rasoi-Se” variety of shows, which offer you doable recipes if you are a regular cook picking up standard ingredients from the neighbourhood grocery store, are on the decline. On the other hand, glued-to-the-couch potato like yours truly, whose cooking repertoire barely goes beyond rasam made with MTR rasam powder, watches with eyes popping out of sockets as Kylie cleans and slices baby squids into thin slivers with that fatally-attractive French knife.