I'm sitting here in the orthodontist's waiting room while my daughter gets her braces checked, and I'm watching Martha Stewart "cook" on the Today Show. I happen to think that Martha Stewart isn't a baking dumbass, and her shows often include instruction that directly contradicts the instructions on this 5-minute segment. But it does make me wonder about all the bad cooking instruction that results when otherwise good cooks have to rush through or omit steps and instructions to fit within a tight segment, squeeze equipment onto camera-ready tables, and make other concessions to the tube.
To wit, here's what Martha just taught us:
- Don't worry about measuring carefully, because baking doesn't require precision.
- Use bowls that are just barely big enough to hold the ingredients, and if stuff spills out, no big deal.
- There's no need to worry about combining ingredients such as eggs carefully; in fact, you can just dump them from shell to bowl, stir a few times, and you're good to go.
What other harebrained tips do TV cooks, intentionally or otherwise, teach their adoring public?
Well, I've been fortunate to have cooked on live television many, many times. I suppose I'm a traditionalist and as such, I always felt my main goal was to teach and inform home cooks about an ingredient or a dish. Having said that, I would never intentionally set out to make concessions due to the constraints of television if I knew what I was saying wasn't true to a recipe. In other words, I would script and then practice each dish a number of times, taking hours of prep for a cooking segment that typically lasted 3 minutes. Knowing the constraints of telelvision, mainly time, we would only do what we could to accurately depict the main points of a dish. What we couldn't clearly portray during the segment we would explain. And of course, today we have the advantage of directing viewers to the recipe online, (not something Julia Child had at her disposal in the 1960's). Our goal was always to get our viewers excited about an ingredient, (often made or sourced locally), that would encourage them to try the dish at home and we did it without running water, an oven, a refrigerator on the set and an adequate cooktop.
-All cooks should be concerned about accurate measurements, especially when it comes to crafting pastry and desserts.
-Use glass bowls and white plates that are actually over-sized so that the viewer can clearly see what ingredients are called for and what the final dish should look like. We always used glass bowls to display ingredients as they come through the camera lens more clearly. We even used a glass dish for a small pinch of nutmeg. Final plating was always done on a large, plain, white plate.
-If we didn't have time to properly whip egg whites prior to folding them into a batter, we wouldn't do it. We would have the egg whites whipped ahead of time and explain that it was critical to the recipe to "fold" in the egg whites. The quips we tell our viewers have to be accurate.
I agree that often talented Chefs go on TV to hawk a book or other media endeavor and forget that they also have an obligation to the viewers. Cutting corners for the sake of the constraints presented by television is a poor excuse. On the other hand, one can work within the confines of television to still present an accurate portrayal of cooking.