cover image Watching What We Eat: The Evolution of Television Cooking Shows

Watching What We Eat: The Evolution of Television Cooking Shows

Kathleen Collins, . . Continuum, $24.95 (240pp) ISBN 978-0-8264-2930-8

In this robust roundup, researcher and librarian Collins scours the archives to show how cooking programs throughout the decades reflect America's changing cultural mores. From James Beard to Rachael Ray, TV cooking hosts have brought this intimate brand of entertainment into the home, moving from educating the general public on the finer points of home economics to coaching us on developing our inner creativity. Collins skillfully marshals her research, starting with radio programs sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in the mid-1920s, featuring a fictitious Aunt Sammy to administer recipes in order to “lift the level of American cookery.” James Beard hosted the first postwar TV cooking show, I Love to Eat , short-lived and criticized for its blatant endorsement of commercial sponsors, while spawning numerous imitators. Then, Cordon Bleu–trained Dione Lucas's sophisticated prime-time 1950s cooking show enraptured audiences until it was eclipsed by Julia Child's PBS show, The French Chef , in 1963. Unfussy and fallible in the kitchen, Child demystified haute cuisine, and her long-running TV presence spurred good-natured rivals like Graham Kerr's The Galloping Gourmet . Readers might be surprised at the role public television played in nurturing the genre, presently evolved into the Food Network's elevation of chefs as celebrities and food akin to porn. Collins's engaging, somewhat scholarly study finds cooking shows the great leveler in gender, class and lifestyles and with a strong future. (May)