Robin’s Nest
Robin Jean Conte

When my first child was a toddler, his favorite show was a cooking show.  It featured reruns of a genteel Graham Kerr charmingly slicing, dicing and “nice-ing” his way around his kitchen.  My son loved to cuddle up next to me while we watched “the cooking man” together, presumably because my boy was so captivated by a person who did more in a kitchen than sprinkle Cheerios on a highchair tray.
Since then, the world of cooking shows has exploded, and I mean that literally.  We have an entire network devoted to food and its preparation, and it’s been turned into a prime time battle.  Other networks have taken notice and are getting in on the food fight; now our TV shows are like a middle-school cafeteria gone wild.
We might watch Ina Garten calmly create a ganache during the sunny daytime hours, but when the sun sets, we’re ready for some action.  So network producers are finding ways to make even the tamest of subjects… extreme.  Simply put, we’ll watch a cupcake if it’s made to look like a tank.
Chefs are chopped!  Kitchens are cutthroat!  Brussels sprouts battle broccoli spears.  Bobby Flay is in a boxing ring and cooking contestants are dressed as gladiators. It’s not enough to help someone remake his restaurant—it has to be impossible!  Bash a sledgehammer to it, set it on fire, or link it to the mob, and we’ll take notice.  And yes, the innocent cupcake — a food that is synonymous with “harmless” — has been turned into a war.
I caught an episode of “Hell’s Kitchen” one night. It was on during a rare evening when everyone in my family was gone, so I had the house to myself and could settle down on the couch in front of the tube with a bowl of cereal and the remote control. At first, I had no idea what I was watching; I never knew there could be such intensity in a kitchen that didn’t involve three kids who were late to a soccer game. The program features Gordon Ramsay — a blonde, blue-eyed chef with a foreign accent and a foul mouth.  He out-cooks and out-cusses everyone.  The background music sounds like the score of a 50-year-old WWII movie, and chefs dash around as if they’re performing triage while Ramsay shouts riveting dialogue such as, “Season it! Season it! Quick! Get-the-kale! The bleeping chicken is RAW!”
It was strangely compelling, like watching a wrecking ball demolish a building
Then a commercial came on so I clicked the remote and found “Mystery Diner,” a program whose purpose is to uncover kitchen criminals. An “investigative team” had placed hidden cameras all over a restaurant, and the restaurant owner and the head investigator were sitting in a private room, watching as employees accepted bribes and pilfered bags of flour. It wasn’t exactly dinner with the Corleones…frankly, it looked pretty staged.  But, like an unbalanced checkbook, it was oddly intriguing.
Okay, that one I watched for a while.  But only because I really wanted to know who was stealing the beer kegs.
And then I flipped back to “Hell’s Kitchen”—but only because I wanted to see if the red bandanas were going to beat the blue bandanas in the “Guess the Protein” challenge.  (The blue team won.)
I clicked over to the Food Network again. “Cutthroat Kitchen” had just started, featuring Alton Brown trying to look sinister.  OK, I watched that for a while…but only because I wanted to see if the Italian guy could cook macaroni and cheese in a metal pipe.
A commercial came on and I hit the remote again.  I clicked past 30 different crime shows that were half over and an airing of “Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”
So I clicked back to the Food Network.  It was pretty tame in comparison.
And the Italian guy won.

Robin Conte

Robin Conte lives with her husband in an empty nest in Dunwoody. To contact her or to buy her new column collection, “The Best of the Nest,” see robinconte.com.