There’s a TV channel in Asia called Star (not the same as Starz in the US) and when I was a kid in the early-mid 90’s, I accidentally came across it showing a very energetic looking Chinese man walking down the street of a town. Then he walked past a lake or river of some sort and then a market. He then came into a studio with a kitchen for a backdrop and an audience full of people. He made a funny introduction — which I don’t remember — and started turning lead into gold and water into wine.
This was obviously my first time seeing a cooking show and I never looked at rice the same way ever again though I’ve had it all my life. These was a sorcerer’s seeds that needed a special magical white cauldron that you had to plug-in… and walk away, giving you more time to tame dragons and tigers with the biggest knife in the kitchen.
He ended this enthralling magic with: “If Yan can cook, so can you!” I don’t remember what dishes he prepared that day, but I do remember that I wanted to see more being made.
Then there was an older woman called Julia (on a different channel perhaps) whose words I didn’t understand, but her voice, which reminded me of a melodica, conveyed a sense of assurance that at least she understood. Had no idea what she was making and it looked questionable, but I wanted to try it and the dish after that, if only because of the steam coming out of it gave a sense of “it may taste better than it looks”.
I then came across a chef whose name I don’t remember, but he was a tall man with neat hair and long sleeves (did he have a bow tie?) and the most striking thing about his kitchen… The stove had a glass top! This was the first time I’ve seen such witchcraft as I’ve been accustomed to the gas stove and wood-burning variety. But glass? Glass! Just when I thought this to be the biggest surprise of all, his show ended with bloopers. People making mistakes on TV? This, I didn’t think was possible and yet it was incredibly endearing.
And so began my fascination with cooking shows. An unusual fascination to say the least as, admittedly, I have one of the worst diets imaginable. Up until a few years ago, it consisted of 9 — yes, 9 — cups of coffee a day, no foods containing proteins or vitamins to speak of, some soda and “Ensure”. I’m still somehow alive. At least, unlike my programmer colleagues, it didn’t include a hefty dose of nicotine and tar.
I think what really drew me in was the theatrics and stories than the food itself. The food was just the tasty crust on a lovely crème brûlée.
This post was inspired by Kelly’s one About the Rice Cooker.
Thanks to Kelly, the tall chef with the bow tie was identified as Graham Kerr. Always loved listening to him.