Food Reality Shows Stimulate Culinary Aspirations
By Bernice Hurst, Contributing Editor, RetailWire
There is so much food and
cooking now on television that retailers could be forgiven for wondering just
what consumers want to buy and cook for themselves. Cooking for many is now
about aspiration and building a career – living to eat rather than eating to
Craig LaBan, food critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer, believes
the consequences of so much food television on "the food world as a whole …
have been nothing short of profound." He believes "a steady diet of
food programming — and in particular reality TV — is as addictive as an on-demand
dose of molten chocolate."
Agreeing, Tim Ryan, president of the Culinary
Institute of America, says he believes the "culinary profession and food
business" have been
affected more than any other industry by reality television. He estimates "right
now, there are about 60,000 students enrolled in culinary programs throughout
the country. In 1972, there were 1,800."
Mr. LaBan attributes increased
excitement partly to a change in format with "talking-head
pros … supplanted
by pumped-up dramatics that blend The Real World and Survivor with pots and
pans." While casually giving some credit to "the grassroots
rise of the organic and slow-food movements," his piece focuses primarily
on those who are described by last year’s fourth place winner of Top
Chef as "the new rock stars."
There are provisos raised, however,
including "whether the food industry
ultimately benefits in the long term or becomes a caricature of itself." Some
newly hired to work in professional kitchens don’t have sufficient understanding
of the hard work and range of skills that are prerequisites for stardom.
wasn’t discussed, but is an issue familiar to British stores, is
the inspiration provided by television food programs to people wanting to cook
at home. No sooner do some celebrity chefs mention an ingredient than it becomes
top of the shopping list for more customers than can obtain it. Advance warning
of what will be seen on-screen has, on more than one occasion, changed what
gets onto supermarket shelves. As well as what disappears from them most quickly.
Discussion Questions: What influence have the new food reality shows had
on American consumers’ palates and what they buy in restaurants and at home?
What effect do you think food television shows are having in attracting young
people to careers in the culinary arts?