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Why Do We Love Cooking Shows?

Why do we love cooking shows? Seems like a real simple question but when we’re asked, we get to do some serious thinking. We are now in a cultural era that loves cooking shows – not just because of the emergence of the Food Network, but even way back in those times when everyone watched Julia Child’s The French Chef, Graham Kerr’s The Galloping Gourmet and Jeff Smith’s The Frugal Gourmet, along with a host of many others.

We fancy watching the host of the show, often a celebrity chef, prepare mouthwatering dishes over the course of the program, taking us through the food’s preparation as they show us the stages of cooking the dish. The show is supposed to be partly educational, as the host walks us through the process of preparing the meals, but some shows are mainly intended to entertain.

Even children are great enthusiasts of cooking shows—children as young as 12 years old, in their cute kids aprons, can recognize what a hollandaise sauce is, and can easily make kielbasa based on what they have seen on TV. The trend has gone on for decades now, and has greatly influenced the awakening of culinary arts in the United States, making culinary classes one of the industry’s fastest growing segments.

We did our own little study and came up with this list of 30 cooking shows that America loves:

30. Emeril Live, Food Network/Fine Living, 1997

29. The Essence of Emeril, Food Network, 1994

28. 30-Minute Meals on Food Network, 2001

27. Grill It! With Bobby Flay on Food Network, 2008

26. Emeril Green on Planet Green, 2008

25. Top Chef Masters on Bravo, 2009

24. The Kitchen Sessions with Charlie Trotter on PBS, 1999

23. Wolfgang Puck’s Cooking Class on Food Network, 2003

22. Iron Chef: America on Food Network, 2005

21. Hell’s Kitchen on Fox, 2005

20. Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares on Channel 4, 2004

19. Healthy Appetite on Food Network, 2006

18. Chinese Food Made Easy on BBC, 2008

17. Two Fat Ladies on BBC, 1996

16. Floyd on Food on BBC, 1986

15. Rick Stein Mediterranean Escape on BBC, 2007

14. Joanne Weir’s Cooking Classes on PBS, 2009

13. Great Chefs of the West on Discovery Channel, 1990

12. Huey’s Cooking Adventures on Channel 10, 1997

11. Daisy Cooks! on PBS, 2005

10. Fast Food My Way on PBS, 2004 and 2008

9. The French Chef on PBS and WGBH, 1963

8. The Frugal Gourmet on PBS, 1973

7. Martin Yan’s China on PBS, 2008

6. The Galloping Gourmet on CBC, 1969

5. Delicious Miss Dahl on BBC2, 2010

4. The Naked Chef on BBC, 1999-2001

3. Good Eats on Food Network, 1999

2. Cookalong Live on Channel 4, 2008

1. Julia and Jacques: Cooking at Home on PBS, 1999

So why do we love to watch cooking shows?

Is it just because we get mesmerized by the spectacular visual presentations of the dishes (food porn, we mean) after the hosts have walked us through the process of preparing it, or is it simply because we love to observe great cooks take a bunch of those ingredients and create something amazing? Some people are not really after the cooking tips and ideas—after all, who would remember all those? You might be able to retain one precious tip in about ten that was given, remember some of them here and there, but is that really the reason why we are there to watch?

Some remember their kids aprons back in the days when they watch their moms work in the kitchen. Others love the “technical” aspect of the show. It’s one thing to read the description of a cooking technique in a cookbook, but it’s another to see it exhibited and demonstrated on screen, with close-up shots of the ingredients and the chef’s hands performing the procedure. You can, of course, have these in a cooking class, but nothing beats those camera shots—cooking classes can’t really make you see the details because you’re too far away.

We all have different reasons, of course, in the same manner that we have our own cooking show favorites. Do you agree with our list? What makes you watch cooking shows?