Though food TV appears to be moving more and more toward pure entertainment, let's not forget that its original purpose was to present recipes that could be easily replicated by the home cook. When Julia Child first got in front of cameras in 1962, her simple take on an omelette garnered TV station WGBH 27 pieces of fan mail; home cooks were waking up from two decades of revering processed foods and wanted to spend more time in the kitchen. Over the years, cooking shows have reflected changing trends, from the early days when even French recipes seemed exotic, through the rise of Asian and vegetarian food, all the way to a full embrace of our desire for outright, over-the-top decadence (in other words, Paula Deen is on this list). Over the last 50 years, certain recipes, personalities, and shows have left their mark on the TV-recipe timeline some because of their sheer popularity, and others because they marked a turning point in what we were cooking at home. Check out these ten seminal TV-cooking moments, and, of course, let us know if there are any recipes you'd include on the list as long as they aren't Sandra Lee's Kwanzaa Cake.
By the eighties, Americans were familiar enough with Chinese food to be ready to try it at home. With Yan Can Cook, Martin Yan demystified Asian ingredients and techniques, incorporating things people already were familiar with or had on hand. Of course some things were still new at the time: That "stir-fry pan" we know today is called a wok, and the large rectangular knife he uses for chopping is, of course, a cleaver.
Paula Deen: Krispy Kreme burger
By the late aughts, several decades of concern with healthy cooking had given rise to a hedonist backlash whose chief spokeswoman emerged as queen of butter Paula Deen. At the same time, on the heels of a faltering economy, we became obsessed with that economical luxury, the hamburger. When these two forces collided, it wasn't pretty: In 2008, Deen made burger history by piling hers with egg and bacon — and then swaddling the whole thing in a Krispy Kreme bun.
America's Test Kitchen: The Science of Steaks
Nobody will accuse the education-video-style presentation of being riveting television (especially by today's standards), but America's Test Kitchen's approach to steak perfectly represents the way recent food television helps cooks eliminate bad habits in the kitchen. You don't have to sear steaks to lock in juices before cooking the meat's intertior. Instead, ATK flips the equation, gets better results, and implicitly acknowledges that home cooks everywhere shouldn't be afraid to challenge traditional thinking in the kitchen.
The Galloping Gourmet: Crème Brûlée
If food TV has a James Bond, surely it's debonair Graham Kerr, who made cooking (and imbibing) look easy as the Galloping Gourmet during the show's run from 1969 to 1971. Based on a persona he developed for a cookbook of the same name, as the Gourmet, Kerr drove home the notion that culinary skills had a place in any worldly gentleman's repertoire, something that had previously been the traditional realm of women's work. Here he demystifies crème brûlée in typically charming fashion.
Lidia Bastianich: Spaghetti and Meatballs
By the time PBS offered Lidia Bastianich her own cooking show in the late nineties, our love affair with Italian food had fully bloomed, but who better to expound on the joys of Italian grandmother-style cooking than an actual Italian grandmother? The cuisine was healthy, comforting, and emphasized family. Here, she revisits an old red-sauce favorite: spaghetti and meatballs.
Alton Brown: Perfect Burger
As so-called molecular gastronomy became popular in the 21st century, cooks like Alton Brown focused on applying food science to everyday cooking. His master stroke was tackling food that people already loved to eat. While many people might have thought they knew how to grill a hamburger, Brown shows in this 2009 clip from Dear Food Network that there's more to it than meets the eye, and also less — here he emphasizes that it's less about the seasonings and more about the meat. It's the natural evoltion of technique-driven instruction, and it helps people not just cook better, but understand their food more.
Jamie Oliver: Chocolate Tart and Radish Salad
In the nineties, a new face came to food TV: the young and handsome Jamie Oliver, cheekily dubbed "the Naked Chef" (for his focus on fresh ingredients). While today there's practically nothing more stylish than whipping up some tasty, veggie-driven dish, when Oliver put together this fennel-and-radish salad, it was a new kind of hip that hadn't been seen before. No matter how much sermonizing about school lunches these days, Oliver nevertheless once managed to get people excited about root vegetables.
Rachael Ray: Veggie Penne With Pesto
Love her or hate her, there's no denying that Rachael Ray has been massively important to the cooking canon. And her chirpy demeanor and 30 Minute Meals concept did something important: They taught people that simply making dinner could be easy, even when you're basically starting from scratch. This veggie penne with pesto from her show captures that spirit: It's designed to be inoffensive to basically everyone, is super easy to make, and will appear vaguely impressive to people who might otherwise be feeding their familes Sloppy Joes for dinner.
Jacques Pépin: Omelettes Two Ways
Whereas TV chefs these days are committed to telling viewers how to cook food faster and faster, it's Pépin who manages to transform even the simplest dishes into works that require acute gustatory precision. Nothing captures that spirit better than his omelette-making technique: Everything from the way you whisk the eggs to the way you hold the pan while you roll your omelette out matters. Home chefs today could learn a thing or two about this kind of attention to detail.
Julia Child: Roast Chicken
Of course Julia Child was going to be on top of this list, since one could argue that all of her recipes are the most important to the development of food TV as we know it. Her most classic: roast chicken. Plenty has changed since Child first taught the technique on The French Chef, but a perfectly roasted chicken remains an enduring classic.