Kitchen Nightmares. Chopped. Iron Chef America. Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives. Chef’s Table.
I’m not much of a cook, but these shows are my television comfort-food. Even as they offer some tips and flavor-combinations to my novice self, there’s something so exceptionally mundane and formulaic that I can drop in at any point of a given episode, on any given episode, on any given show, and I can drift off into the food prepared before me but cannot taste.
Netflix’s docu-series Chef’s Table may be the exception to the procedural quality of these shows, and I thoroughly recommend it for its artistry and sense of narrative. But, sure enough, at about the 45-minute mark of the episode, the swelling music builds as each dish from the chef gets plated and impeccably framed with the name of the dish pops up on screen.
The other shows are much worse offenders. Gordon Ramsay will try out the failing restaurant’s food, moan about its lack of taste/freshness/presentation/etc., butt heads with a stubborn owner, redesign the restaurant, create a new menu, get the restaurant staff back on their feet, and recede into the night as mysteriously as he arrived. He’s basically Mary Poppins.
Guy Fieri will pig out on greasy diner food and make me jealous that I don’t have his job.
The contestants on Chopped and Iron Chef America go through dish after dish, chipping away at one another until their well-honed talent or compelling backstory tip them over the edge to victory.
I love all of it. And as this post’s title suggests: I think there’s definite marketing opportunities to be had and money to be made if a “Food Network”-sponsored Bingo game were in the works. Shows like these, the structural elements composing each episode, have taught me (oddly) as much about genre as any work of theory. The shows are quirky, predictable, comforting, and they hilariously try to play up the supposed “drama” that they so desperately want and need for ratings security (ahem, Chopped/Iron Chef America and your Hans-Zimmeresque music).
Nonetheless, it’s weird to watch individuals make food that you cannot eat. This isn’t the Barefoot Contessa or The Pioneer Woman or Giada at Home that actually help teach viewers to cook. This is about those who are willing to get sucked up into the food itself, not for any profit or education, but for the sheer and mindless spectacle blasting from the TV screen, marking the Bingo squares off as they come. Comfort-food viewing doesn’t get any easier than that.
Bonus Recipe: Easy Glazed Salmon (A.K.A. The “Jake-needs-to-cook-for-guests-and-has-to-bust-out-a-semi-fancy-dish-that-if-all-else-fails-will-still-be-a-reliable-main)
1TBS vegetable oil
1TBS brown sugar
1TBS soy sauce
1TBS Dijon mustard
4 salmon fillets (skinned)
- Preheat oven to 350ᵒ
- After salmon has thawed, mix all ingredients except the fish into a bowl.
(I recommend starting with the butter and brown sugar, so that they can be microwaved and stirred until the sugar dissolves into a gooey mess)
- Once the glaze is all mixed together, dip the salmon into the bowl until each fillet is covered in the glaze.
- Place glazed salmon on a non-stick baking sheet.
(Optional: drizzle remaining glaze onto the salmon)
(Caution: maximum flavor, but also likely to make a liar out of the supposedly “non-stick” baking sheet)
- Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until salmon flakes when twisted with a fork.
- Enjoy! (Asparagus and rice make for great sides)
Jacob Schepers (Calvin ’12) is the author of A Bundle of Careful Compromises (2014), a winner of the 2013 Outriders Poetry Project competition. His poetry has appeared in Verse, The Common, PANK, The Destroyer, and others. He lives in South Bend, IN, with his wife, Charis, and two sons, Liam and Oliver. He is both an MFA student and doctoral candidate in English at the University of Notre Dame.