Unemployment gradually led me to spend a lot of time in front of the television, to save myself from the painful overthinking a job search generates. One day I found a Master Chef marathon and decided to sit through it. I was hooked. Pretty soon, I had tracked down all the cooking shows my cable offers and structured my whole day around them. Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares and his Ultimate Cookery Course, Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, Jamie Oliver’s 15-Minute Deals, plus all the cooking shows on Greek television. What started out as a harmless way to pass my time evolved into an obsession. I would shamelessly devour one episode after the other in an effort to simply keep watching.
I find the peculiar phenomenon of these shows a paradox; why dedicate time and concentration on watching an activity that is completely detached from the primary senses it concerns? Sure, cooking does please the eye, but cooking shows offer no gustatory or olfactory satisfaction whatsoever. Instead, these shows function as a pacifier. It’s “bread and circuses”, as the Romans would say, only now there is no need to feed anyone. The activity of cooking has been replaced by the observation of cooking.
This constant observation leaves the viewer with mixed feelings. At first, we are in awe of all the culinary masterpieces being made right in front of his eyes. After awe passes though, we are left with an overwhelming sense of inadequacy because the medium creates a need that never gets satisfied. We are left wanting more while subconsciously knowing that we will never be able to replicate the recipe and have the same results. Cooking shows make us hungry, but not just for food. They awake in us a desire for culinary and aesthetic perfection, and, eventually, we are let down by our own cooking skills.
Cooking shows create an atmosphere of domesticity in a time when domesticity is lost. The early 2000s were dominated by reality shows of the likes of Big Brother, when we were all convinced that their lives were far more interesting than our boring, camera-free existence. Cooking shows are here to prove that even though we are not cooking, others are. But rather than teaching and motivating the audience to actually cook, they have the opposite effect. Instead of rushing to the kitchen to make Gordon Ramsay’s recipe for white chocolate brownies, I just stayed there, transfixed by how effortless he made the whole process look.
It is utterly fascinating to watch someone create something out of nothing. It’s also easier to watch somebody else do all the creating instead of engaging in the process ourselves. I felt so satisfied with watching others cook, make something, use their creativity when I was stuck on my couch, trying to get a job and failing. My inability to even attempt the recipes I saw didn’t bother me at all. I became so obsessed with the viewing component that I completely forgot the cooking aspect. I had convinced myself that I would never be as good a cook as they were. The more I kept watching others cook, the more I lost any desire to cook.
After weeks of this routine, I slowly realized that there is a reason why Jamie Oliver’s dishes look so appealing; he is a professional, and so is Gordon Ramsay. Still, I managed to get off my couch and try my luck in the kitchen. Sometimes the recipes aren’t as awful as my cooking skills are. The point is, I started cooking again, even without a camera shooting my every move.