When I was growing up, Saturday morning and PBS went together like bacon and eggs. Sometimes literally, as many of the shows we watched were cooking shows or cooking segments of other shows. Jeff Smith’s The Frugal Gourmet (“The Froog”) and Marian Morash on the Victory Garden were two I remember in particular. I was aware of Julia Child but I don’t remember seeing her regularly on TV.
We also watched Martin Yan in Yan Can Cook and Justin Wilson’s Louisiana Chef show (I forget if that was the exact title). I remember being aware that these shows were different. Julia taught you French cooking technique. Marian mostly gave recipes for whatever was in season at the moment. Jeff encouraged you to broaden horizons and tastes. Martin and Justin, however, were primarily entertainers. They were filmed with live studio audiences, who laughed at the jokes and gasped at the astounding knife technique. The delivery was, if anything, more important than the food. And while Martin’s slogan may have been, “If Yan can cook, so can you!” but even at the age of 8, I remember watching him chop flawless matchstick carrots faster than a Cuisinart and thought, “Really? Because none of us watching can do that.”
I think cooking shows have followed this celebrity trend more and more. It’s not about food, it’s not about teaching, and it’s not about empowering people to do for themselves.
More often than not, it’s about selling stuff. Chefs become brands almost instantly. Put “Rachel Ray” into Amazon, and you 278 results. About 25 of those are her cookbooks; about 120 are cookware. (There are also videos and books about her.) Chefs even have their own lines of frozen food – a clear sign that we are encouraged to eat food prepared by professionals and we’re not really expected to try this at home.
Preserving Traditions isn’t like that. In fact, it’s quite intentionally the opposite. With only a few exceptions, the people teaching our classes are your neighbors, not celebrities. (Sylvia Nolasco-Rivers was our big exception this year – everyone in town knows her business Pilar’s Tamales) The point of the workshops is to give you actual hands-on experience so you can, in fact, do that kind of food preparation in your own kitchen. That’s why our slogan is “Yes. We Can.”
Now, you may decide that you don’t want to make all your own pickles, can tomatoes, or make pie crust from scratch with lard…but at least you’re able to make an informed decision instead of just assuming it’s an impossible task.