The Best Show You May Not Be Watching
Tuesday, August 08, 2006 | posted by Mike
Ever since I started TVFoodFan.com, the site has been coming up pretty often in conversations with friends, family and coworkers. (Hey – I have to drum up traffic somehow) And, when it does come up, the discussion invariably turns to favorite shows and personalities. As you would imagine, many of the same names (Giada De Laurentiis, Rachael Ray, Mario Batali) come up time and again.
But I always make sure I mention another show. And it often catches them off guard, because it’s not one of the “glamour” shows of the Food Network.
For the serious foodie, PBS’s America’s Test Kitchen is a must-watch.
There are a lot of things that ATK is not. It’s not flashy, it’s not peopled with looks-first chefs and it’s not full of innovative or original recipes. It is a show that features good chefs showing you how to be a better cook.
ATK’s episodes center on a common theme, and the main segments feature the “perfect” recipe for a dish – one that has been tried and tested and deemed to be the best by the test chefs behind Cook’s Illustrated magazine. The chefs do a great job of explaining the decisions they made about ingredients and techniques, and no show on television spends as much time actually showing the cooking process. There are very few “through the magic of television” swap-outs.
And, speaking as someone who has tried a number of their recipes, their dishes translate well to the home kitchen. You won’t find a groundbreaking new concoction, but you will find a way to keep your chicken and dumplings from turning into a gloppy mess.
The non-cooking segments on the show are just as interesting and helpful to the home cook. The show (and the magazine) is funded entirely by underwriters and subscriptions, just like Consumer Reports, and they provide evaluations of kitchen equipment and ingredients. They often provide a “money is no object” winner along with a “best buy” recommendation. I’m buying the Muir Glen Organic canned tomatoes thanks to ATK.
The show is hosted by Christopher Kimball, the founder of Cook’s Illustrated. In the show, he serves as an “everyman,” working with a number of chefs and acting as a stand-in for the home viewer. He’s not afraid to make the dumb mistakes and ask the dumb questions, because he knows that the corrections and answers are useful to you and me.
Now, if I’m making this sound like a chore to watch, it’s not. Kimball is very likeable…the slightly goofy smart kid in class who found a topic he loves and somehow got to host a TV show about it. There are also a number of running “gags” on the show, including Kimball’s terrible record of accurately choosing the tasters’ preferred ingredients in the tasting kitchen. Just like ATK’s PBS cousin Sesame Street does, it teaches you while entertaining. Unlike Sesame Street, the large bird usually ends up perfectly roasted with a nice pan sauce.
America’s Test Kitchen certainly isn’t the most glamorous TV food show, and it’s probably doesn’t have the most dynamic cuisine, but it’s probably the most useful half hour a foodie can spend in front of the television.
Labels: Christopher Kimball