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Advancing the Culinary Arts

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The Olden Days

Thanks to Food Network, cooking has undergone a complete transformation from kitchen drudgery to artful glamour. This is a far cry from decades of old, in which cooking was a woman’s job that left little room for creativity.

Pre-packaged foods became popular in the 1950s, with side dishes often consisting of frozen vegetables. Canned soups, casseroles, and ethnic foods also enjoyed mainstream attention. In the 1960s, more complex French foods were popularized by Julia Child and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, while more families also began patronizing chain restaurants like Howard Johnson’s and Wendy’s. 

The 1970s posed significant financial challenges to the average family, and economy in meal ingredients and prep time became the focus. During this era, it wasn’t unusual in to have peanut butter sandwiches for supper and applesauce for breakfast. Innovations of the 1980s and 1990s yielded more convenience foods – Pop Secret Microwave Popcorn and Campbell’s Cream of Broccoli Soup, just to name a couple – and cookbooks and women’s magazines featured recipes designed for busy, working moms.


But the launch of Food Network in 1993 introduced a new way of cooking that superseded all previous models. This channel – launched in part by the charisma of Chef Emeril Lagasse - assured us that cooking doesn’t have to be hurried or stressful, and meals preparation doesn't have to be a polarizing choice between prepackaged and elaborate. By following the techniques of people like Rachel Ray, Alton Brown, Bobby Flay, Giada de Laurentiis, and Ina Garten, you can have tasty dishes that are both stylish and simple on any night of the week.


Either because of their culinary genius or general appeal to audiences of all ages, these people are now heralded as celebrity chefs. Every day, we tune in to watch them jazz up meatloaf with feta and sundried tomatoes or chicken fingers with Dijon mustard and lime juice. Forgotten are the days of aprons and slaving over a hot stove as kids scream in the background. The chefs of Food Network show us that cooking can be as exciting as walking down the red carpet.

It doesn’t hurt that they have state-of-the-art everything in their kitchens. Or that their houses look like show pieces from prestigious magazines – Giada’s kitchen window overlooks the ocean, while Ina’s home is a beautiful, rambling mansion in East Hampton. Their counters are impeccably clean and elegantly furnished, and their pots and pans look brand new on every episode. These chefs smile, laugh, and take genuine delight in the dishes they prepare, and they serve them with style and grace.


Cooking like that isn’t true to life. Mishaps in the kitchen are common, and a family of four probably doesn’t garnish each plate of steak and potatoes with fresh dill and a dollop of homemade béarnaise sauce. And that is why Food Network is so appealing. Celebrity chefs take us away from the ordinary and show us food that sounds delicious and looks beautiful, without so much as a frown on their faces. They rejoice in food and tell us to do the same, even if our brownies are lopsided or our pork tenderloin is slightly overcooked. The real lesson here isn’t that every cook has to be as savvy as Alton, but that every dish can be as enjoyable as if you were dining at an upscale Manhattan bistro. You just have to embrace the art that all homemade food contains.


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