The rise of the gluttons

Are food shows the new form of reality television? Fabulous Cakes features create some of the most fantastic cakes you will ever see. There are cakes showing the solar system, with each planet (a cake obviously) intricately and correctly designed. Think of an engagement cake designed as a hamper of goodies. Everything in that hamper is a actually a cake which has been cut, shaved, sliced and diced to look like a cushion, a box with a diamond ring, flowers and all the other elements in that basket. Each of these cakes takes weeks of planning, especially at the drawing stage where the weight, colours and dimensions have to be worked out accurately.

The idea that someone has created this show, that it works and airs daily, fascinates me. So do most of the half a dozen odd food shows that I follow, for myriad reasons. Nigella Kitchen was the epitome of out-of-a-can, unhealthy cooking that I watched with fascinated disapproval.

Food for thought: Food shows like Man versus Food are popular
because they take people away from the daily grind

Her replacement Donna Hay is about cooking healthy with fresh ingredients. Man versus Food is a salivatingly tempting show for someone who can't eat too much red meat. The meanness of the participants on Come Dine with Me disgusts me. You get the drift.

It makes one wonder; does anyone watch food shows for the food anymore? There were at last count, over 200 food shows on Indian television. Going by media reports Indians are going through a love affair with food shows that have reinvented themselves from the Khana Khazana days.

They now cater to a well-travelled, well-fed Indian who eats Mexican, Chinese, Japanese, Mediterranean, Italian or Korean food among dozens of other cuisines, fairly regularly. Going by TAM Media Research data the share of food shows in national TV viewing has doubled over the twelve months of 2011. Food is indeed a new form of reality television.

There are, to my mind, two key reasons we are enjoying this gastronomical extravaganza. One, it feels good to look at food being cooked, especially exotic food that you would never cook at home. For instance a lot of the stuff on Nigella Kitchen, Donna Hay or any of the Western shows is baked. A sliver of Indian homes probably have a proper oven -- a large, bulky, difficult-to-clean apparatus. It has somehow never been part of our cooking idiom. In most cities, like Mumbai, it is a luxury, given how much space it takes. And then there is the fact that even if you had the apparatus and the ingredients handy would you be making quiches or tarts everyday.

But watching someone else do it brings a happy, well-to-do feeling just like dinner parties of yore. Remember when dinner parties were not just about the conversation but about the food as well. So our Mums actually killed themselves over the making of a great meal. We don't. On most days we take our friends or family out for a meal. But discussing or watching it, gives us the same satisfaction as that of having large, noisy dinner parties where dishes were discussed and recipes exchanged.

Two, it gives a feel of being somewhere else. Ritu Dalmia's Italian Khana, takes you through various regions of Italy. From olive oil tastings, Michelin star restaurants to food tastings at small local festivals, chef Dalmia, takes you through a gastronomical tour of Italy. It is like travelling in Italy. Ditto for Anthony Bourdain or Man versus Food which are about exploring new places and cultures through food.

However it would be nice if we could get more out of food shows. For instance heart attacks (and therefore cholesterol) are one of the biggest killers in India. Can we have a food show focussing on making interesting dishes, with minimal or no oil? What about a food show that focuses on some of the more difficult lifestyle diseases -- blood pressure, diabetes or arthritis.

Many of these require special diets. Getting a dietician, a professional chef and an ayurvedic doctor together could create a cracker of a show. What about basic cooking for singles who have never lit a gas?  If you work for a lifestyle channel do feel free to lift these ideas.

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