Geeta Padmanabhan discovers the ingredients that go into making cookery shows on television a hit with the young and the old

Almost every TV channel I surf has a cookery show — morning, noon or afternoon. On one, a gentleman creates dishes with leaves, flowers and seeds. On another, the host clarifies caller-doubts while stirring fruit biriyani. One cook serves up songs with spicy curries. Celebrity chefs cook with confidence while novices rush to finish only-half-hour dishes in tight contests. Hosts in Julia Child’s “stand-and-stir” - type shows assure me that cooking is no big deal. A breakfast show has a modern-art canvas — everyone can make them, though I am not sure they will eat them.

I watch, mesmerised. And I'm not alone. “I want to be a chef!” says 10-year-old T. Raghav, whose favourites include Nigella Lawson and Donna Hay. “Master Chef is a cool show!” he declares. Twelve-year-old Karuna mostly watches competitive shows (Chopped, Iron Chef), not straight up “how-to-cook” ones, while her mother loves those anchored by celebrities such as Martha Stewart and Rachel Ray. There’s a lot of banter and joking on the set, so it is all entertainment, she says. “After Aarti Sequeira became “Next Food-Network Star”, we watched Aarti Party for a while, but lost interest. We could easily look up her recipes on the Internet.”

Strange, this television-cookery show boom. People watch, even when they have no interest in food, much less in trying out dishes. We need to imagine their aroma, spice and crunch — it’s like watching diners enjoy crisp masala-dosa while we wait, with our empty stomachs rumbling. Most of the dishes can’t be made in average kitchens. We don't have tools that perform culinary miracles, we don’t know where to get the ingredients, can’t remember tips. They are for foodophiles, not everyday cooks!

Why do we watch? Is it the recipes, cooking traditions, creativity, techniques in close-up? Or is it the fantasy, can't-get element, since the food is inaccessible? Maybe the sight of food comforts, combats loneliness. Of course, chef-vs-chef contests are TV-drama — of frittered cutlets, heartless judges, ticking clocks, bloody chopping-boards, elimination threats, perpetual emergency. The Foodistan contest was about national pride — old rivals fighting their battles “with forks, knives and skillets”.

Food-Science students and alumni of MOP Vaishnav College answer the question enthusiastically. “Wholesome family entertainers,” says Sonali Divya, who finds them amusing, appealing and appetising. “Love the judges’ vocabulary,” she adds. The programme opens doors to multiple cuisines, says Spriha Pandey, reminding you how these shows helped Sanjeev Kapoor (Khana Khazana) and Tarla Dalal spread the aroma of Indian cooking across the globe. Sushmitha .S says, “I have learnt much from Aaha Enna Rusi and Kitchen Super Stars. And my mom loves Damu’s show!”

Vegetarians watch non-vegetarian programmes, points out Pravallika KL. “They are a boon for newly-weds. Grandma’s recipes, rural/unconventional dishes are passed on, they encourage you to get enthusiastic about cooking rather than treat it like a chore,” says Roshini M.

“Cooking is de-stressing,” says Nusaiha Boodhun. “Men tell me they watch to get healthy solutions for ailments, home-makers say it adds to their repertoire,” says Bhargaviy KLN. ”I love the meal-storm, the cliff-hanger moments in contests, how do they do it in half-an-hour when I'm so pressed for time,” wonders Anju Sai Easwari. “I try to replicate the various cutting methods displayed,” says Roshini RP. Zanofer Nisha has tried several of the show recipes.

A multi-page menu of testimonials, but “time-pass” is my pick of the answer. What’s yours?