Look, it’s no secret that I spend a lot of time watching cooking shows, but it’s confusing to some people (like my mother), because they know perfectly well that at home I literally eat only hummus and salad.
So why do I love watching cooking shows? At the most basic level, it has to do with what Stephen Sondheim talks about in the preface to his book: there’s an inherent satisfaction in learning the technical details of a craft even if it’s not your own.
Beyond that, it’s about the personalities, and here’s where I should stop and clarify which cooking shows I like to watch. It’s basically three: Martha, Ina, and the Two Fat Ladies.
Should we investigate why I gravitate towards saftig older ladies? Probably not. But I will talk about what I like about each of them.
Ina Garten (The Barefoot Contessa)
With Ina, it’s her pleasantness: she’s always in a good mood, she uses excellent ingredients, she makes large quantities, and she lives part of every year in France. Do I enjoy seeing the interior of her East Hamptons house and garden? You bet I do. Would I want to live there? Probably not, although if we’re being totally honest, I’m sure I would jump at the opportunity.
I should also take this opportunity to point out that my blog, which I’ve maintained for something like eight years at this point, continues to generate a large portion of its traffic from an appreciation of Ina’s hottie gray fox model friend T.R (the guy who couldn’t catch a fish.)
Jennifer & Clarissa (The Two Fat Ladies)
With the Two Fat Ladies, it’s really the zaniness of Jennifer (whom I like way more than Clarissa) that interests me most, the fact that she’s always liable to break into song & dance, her ring-studded, nail-painted hands, her cigarette and vodka at the end of the episode. She’s basically my grandmother transported to the British Isles. And let’s not forget how lovely the scenery is in every episode, and the beautiful music.
Martha (MSL, Everyday Food, etc.)
With Martha, it’s Competency Porn. There’s literally nothing this woman can’t do. She builds trellises, plants crops, bakes bread, crafts her home decor, and explains it all with such perfect diction that I’m just slobbering over myself at the end of an episode. And though I’m a fan of everything Martha’s done (including her immediate post-incarceration shows where I’m sure she was drunk the whole time) nothing beats Classic Martha: the episodes of MSL from the early-mid ’90’s that I grew up on.
I also love that Martha has an opinion on the best way to do EVERY LITTLE GODDAMN THING, because I am the exact same way. And she never shies away from it – she just tells you that her way is ‘a good thing’; you can figure out for yourself what doing it another way is.
Plus, you all know how much I love homegirl’s social media presence.
Bonus: Yolanda (How to Cake It)
This YouTube Channel is one of my more recent culinary obsessions, and the nature of my interest in it is different – more philosophical. I don’t find Yolanda a very appealing personality. In fact, I think she’s probably one of the most annoying people on the face of the planet.
But you guys. The DETAILS that this woman puts into her cake creations are INSANE. She puts so much time, care, and attention into these cakes. It’s not like Cake Boss (cake boss) or Ace of Cakes or whatever: it’s far, FAR more refined and creative. Look at this freaking pizza cake and tell me it does not look like an honest-to-god pizza. Well it’s not – it’s fricking CAKE.
What I do like about Yolanda is that she ends each video by eating her creations, often just chomping into them without a fork. There’s such an irreverence for her painstaking efforts. When you see her make these cakes, you feel like nobody should ever disturb the finished product. I truly think it’s akin to those Tibbetan monks who make the sand mandalas and then blow them away, and that’s why I like her. It’s actually a lot like music performance: you work and work and work towards a concert, you play it, and all you’ve produced is sound waves, the least permanent thing there could ever be.