Cooked: the TV show

I was dubious about Netflix but I have really enjoyed it over the last few months. And the other day I discovered that they had partnered with Michael Pollan to create a four-part documentary based on his book, Cooked, and I got very excited! Happily, it did not disappoint.

The show is clearly made after the book has been published; it begins and ends with Pollan reading at a book launch or author event, and there are a couple of points where people are reflecting on what they taught Pollan. It covers a lot of the same ground: it’s broken into the same four elements/chapters, and talks about many of the same types of cooking – which is to be expected. But there are some significant differences, partly to do with it being tv and partly, I suspect, for other reasons.

There really is a difference between reading about someone cooking – making mire poix, or throwing half a pig on a barbecue, or turning a cheese – and seeing someone do it. So in that way, this is a more… visceral experience. There’s something about actually seeing the meat or the cheese or the vegetable, or the bread rising, that is deeply delightful. So there’s that.

Also, though, I found the show appeared more diverse. Again, this is partly because of the medium: I easily forget who’s talking and of course colour isn’t always obvious from a name, even if gender often is. But when the Moroccan/Indian/Aboriginal person is on the screen – well, the colour of their skin is part of what you see. And people were often filmed in their homes, so those are visible too, in their wonderful diversity. That was significant. I definitely felt like there were more women in the show, talking about the how and why of their cooking – that was something I really appreciated. And along with all of those things, making them even better, is that Pollan allows those people to speak for themselves. There are whole minutes without Pollan on the screen! Mostly he’s not even interviewing people – I don’t think he’s even there. Yes, there’s a lot of Pollan cooking and talking about his research, and that’s fine – it’s part of the premise of the show, and he’s a genial person and easy to listen to. But the Moroccan baker and the Indian cooks and the Aboriginal women hunting for goanna: they get to speak about their own relationship with food and elements and culture, and it’s great.

This was a great documentary series. Highly recommended.

Duff till Dawn

My mother has Foxtel and whenever I’m there I watch food programmes, of course. When I’m really lucky, there are episodes of Ace of Cakes to watch.

I adore Ace of Cakes.

Unknown.jpegSo imagine my joy at discovering that in SBS’ baking October, they’re showing a new show with Duff Goldman: Duff til Dawn. I don’t really do cooking challenge shows, but Duff has managed to make this feel less like competition than I feared. Maybe because it’s just two groups competing, maybe because it’s happening overnight so they’re all a bit mad, maybe it’s because they’re not always referencing the clock, maybe I’m willing to put up with elements that I otherwise wouldn’t when there’s awesome cake-decorating skillz on display.

Could be all of the above.

Unknown-1.jpegAnyway, the premise is just what I’ve outlined: two teams of cake-decorators come in and, overnight, in Charmed City Cakes, they design and decorate a cake.

No biggie. Except that Duff always throws in a curveball at about the four hour mark – an additional element that must be included. And of course cakes break and fondant cracks and you’re doing this at three AM. In fact at 3am you have about another 3 hours to go. Because that’s not going to make anyone nuts.

They’re judged on design and taste, which makes me very happy since half the time those decorated cakes I’ve seen on other shows just seem like they’re all fluff and no substance. (The one I just watched had a Baileys Irish Cream creme brûlée buttercream. WOAH.)

I’ll be watching the heck out of this show, and dreaming of being one of the judges.

In Australia, it’s on SBS’ Food Network; episodes are available on their catch up service until the end of October as far as I can tell.

Food TV: Dinner at Tiffani’s

I am a big big fan of food TV. When I discovered that SBS had started a food channel I was incredibly excited – although I’ve been a bit disappointed, because I don’t love competition food. What I love is watching people in the kitchen, talking through recipes with all their faux relaxation. I’m fully aware of how staged everything is, and the fact that especially when the cook is feeding friends it’s magnificently managed. But I am, usually, capable of splitting my brain and watching it on an innocent level as well as the cynical level.

Unknown.jpegAnyway, I’ve just discovered Dinner at Tiffani’s. It’s Tiffani Thiessen having people over for dinner, and cooking for them. All the people she has over are famous (…ish…), and she talks through what she’s feeding them. STAGED. But what I have liked, around the amazing American celebrity nature of it (with Tiffani chatting to the camera in between segments), is that she often gets the celebrities to help with the cooking. And I’ve only watched… um, three… today… but the number of them who don’t seem to know anything about cooking is a bit sad. One of them asked what is that? and the answer was thyme! (who knows whether that was staged.)

The kitchen is beautiful, she takes time over place and table settings as well as the food, and nothing is ever messy. I haven’t actually seen her make anything strenuous yet but I think that’s kind of the point – because everything looks tasty and appealing, but relatively easy to make, and the celebs like it so it must be good, right?

It’s a very amusing and very tacky show and I will absolutely be working my way through every episode that SBS has currently On Demand.