THE REEL DEAL
With Youtube and Tastemade videos racking up views, has TV cooking lost its charm and credibility?
In an interview with news and opinion blog Mediaite about the celebrity chef spectacle, Anthony Bourdain said that “to a great extent, it’s a personalitydriven phenomenon.” There’s plenty of truth there. The combination of an artistic, original dish made more available to a mass audience with an immediate delivery of charm, humor, and, usually, good looks makes celebrity chefs a welcome addition to a generationspanning, food-obsessed culture.
When the likes of Marco Pierre White, Emeril Lagasse, Mario Batali, and Jamie Oliver roared onto television screens, it felt as if the food network—the channel itself and the web of passionate chefs and cooks slowly spinning into the public’s orbit—had transformed the very core of the establishment.
“Food became entertainment, whereas before it used to be something you need to survive,” says self-made cook, restaurateur, and digital heavyweight Erwan Heussaff. “It transcended into people on television teaching you how to cook. Now you have television chefs, home cooks, and cooking competitions. Food is a relevant subject and that’s why it’s so popular.”
Naturally infectious and urgent, celebrity chefs shone bright in front of the camera, giving basic ingredients the sort of sheen that strikes like a bag of newly opened Skittles. Under their watch, food gets a delightful, elegant handling. But the prominence of celebrity chefs is ultimately doing more good than harm to the food culture. There is a strange comfort in witnessing how television is a potent driver for elevating an ordinary cook’s skills as well as deepening the ties that bind a society. Cooking shows provide the average home cook with a narrative that is more accessible.
Even on Philippine television, the likes of the late Nora Daza, her son Sandy, and Gene Gonzalez have led
There is a strange comfort in witnessing how television is a potent driver for elevating an ordinary cook’s skills as well as deepening the ties that bind a
the local charge’s encouraging move into new territory. Sandy, whose legacy started with Cooking with the Dazas in the late ’80s and the endearing Del Monte Kitchenomics of the ’90s, remains an eponymous hero of cable television show FoodPrints with Sandy Daza, where he rediscovers Filipino food on his travels. While FoodPrints has a notably different format, the motivations are the same: the thrill of embracing a role that, more than ever, gives the feeling of making a difference.
“You want someone you can connect with and get inspiration from. That’s why there are different personalities, because you won’t like all of them,” says former MasterChef Pinoy Edition judge JP Anglo. “I hate Bobby Flay. I just don’t like his style [laughs]. I like David Chang and how he’s an asshole but he doesn’t hide it because he has the capability to be that while still being good.” Although on shows like Hell’s Kitchen and Iron Chef— with the pressure-filled situations, fiery tirades, and berserk patterns taking center stage—home viewers could argue that the explosive profession requires a certain persona or, at the very least, an arsenal of tricks to make it in the kitchen. What doesn’t come across on the screen, however, conjures an even more disturbing precursor for aspirants.
“There are a lot who say that if you’re a television chef, you’re not good,” says Jeremy Favia, who played a role in driving the popularity of television chefs in the 2000s. “There’s a stigma that if you cook on television, other chefs will put you down because you’re doing it in front of the camera. There’s a sense of it not being real.” A fact he knows all too well, he confesses, after the belittling he received from a veteran chef.
Favia stands as a terrific example of a generation of chefs treading unfamiliar ground. A central character in the television circuit since the 2000s with then-QTV’s Ka-Toque: Lutong Barkada serving as the launchpad for his succession to the small screen, Favia’s approach is painstakingly self-conscious, if not overly obsessive with the rigors of television. “I’m an introvert and I don’t like attention. My cousin sent me to the audition and I was really hesitant because I didn’t know what to do in front of the camera.” As a wallflower, Favia struggled to keep viewers and his director happy—even getting shouted at a number of times for his gawkiness. The issue of physical appearance overcompensating for kitchen skills is
“There’s a stigma that if you cook on television, other chefs will put you down because you’re doing it in front of the camera,” says Jeremy