What’s Wrong with Food TV Today

Joan Nova loves food as entertainment, but she’s less happy with some of the new food tv-shows.
By Joan Nova

A heads up. This post contains no recipe. Not even a photo. It’s a RANT!

I believe ‘food as entertainment’, specifically TV shows, started years ago with PBS broadcasting a few top chefs on a somewhat limited basis. Coincident or not, as the years passed, the global population became very food-centric or shall we say obsessed? The resultant interest passion in all things ‘food’ gave birth to celebrity chefs, food bloggers, food photographers and terms like “foodies”, “foodgasms”, “food porn”.

And it catapulted the concept of ‘food as entertainment’ into a force to be reckoned with. Today there are as many food shows on TV as there are of any other genre of entertainment. In the U.S. they’re on 2 dedicated cooking networks 24/7 and are featured on other networks like Bravo, Fox, Travel and PBS.

I love the concept of ‘food tv’ just as much as anyone.  It’s not only entertaining, it’s illuminating, instructional and inspirational. Some of it.

Because, a far cry from Julia Child and James Beard instructionals of yesteryear but very much in sync with the times, today the channels are filled with shows like Bizarre Foods, Man vs Food, Extreme Chefs, Food Truck Wars, Cupcake Wars, and Worst Cooks in America (who would ever watch that I’ve often wondered).

Some of the newer home chefs who have scored their own show are too much schtick (The Neely’s, I’m talking to you) and the rest are no better than us in the kitchen. But, that’s o.k. That’s what the remote control is for.

What really has me riveted these days is the food competitions. I love the challenge and am fascinated to see how people deal with mystery ingredients, extreme circumstances, and time constraints. Many times it has me at the edge of my chair — just as the last quarter in a football game has the sports enthusiast rooting or a suspense movie has you biting your nails.

Yeah, I’m hooked. From Iron Chef with established pros…to Chopped with aspiring chefs…to Master Chef with talented wannabes — and quite a few in between.

What has me riled is…who are the people producing some of these shows? Why do they think it’s good TV to have chefs like Gordon Ramsey yell, curse and totally abuse contestants? After one or two episodes of Hell’s Kitchen, I totally swore off that show and wouldn’t watch again if it was the only show on TV.

But, I really like Master Chef and I don’t want to stop watching just because Ramsey and his cohort, Joe Bastianich are RUDE and CRUDE. [The third chef/judge, Graham Elliot, is not (or is less) offensive. Headed down a similar path is Rocco DeSpirito’s new show, Dinner Party, which is serving up similar dialogue.

Why do these chefs agree to engage in conversation that shows them as rude, stilted and, frankly, somewhat cartoonish? Is this their real personalities? Do focus groups really give thumbs up to this kind of format as entertainment? Are the producers 12-year-old middle schoolers who like bathroom jokes and bad behavior?

It does not make me want to eat in any of their restaurants. 

It’s not good TV.

And it’s giving ‘food as entertainment’ a bad name.

What do you think?

Joan Nova

Joan Nova is the publisher of FOODalogue: Meandering Meals, Musings + Travel which melds her lifelong passions for food, travel, photography and publishing. Her culinary style is bold and colorful with finishing touches that take each dish to the next level. She is an active participant in many online food organizations.

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11 Comments
  1. Man vs. Food seems redundant to me and kind of nauseating at times but then I am not really into overeating and food torture. Hell’s kitchen makes my skin crawl because of Ramsey’s behavior. I’ve seen passionate chefs that get a little crazy in the kitchen but in real life, how long would anyone put up with Ramsey’s abuse? The Neely’s make my skin crawl for other drippy reasons and Mr. Neely needs to take a knife skills class. Seriously, Folks!

  2. What no one seems to realize is that the problem is the general one of television itself. I stopped watching television years ago. Now, whenever I do watch it, when I’m at a friend’s, or at night in a hotel room, I’m ALWAYS amazed at how truly awful it’s become. I know, people just can’t conceive of not watching television, ever, it’s a hard sell. “But there are some good television shows'” you say; no, they’re all junk, with no other purpose but to provide filler between the commercials.

    Take my word for it, you won’t regret not watching television, but it’ll take a while.

  3. I haven’t actually watched any of the shows you mentioned, but I watched Croatian Masterchef-it was our first and have to say I got hooked on it, I liked it. But is surely is interesting how food related shows are growing in the past couple of years. I guess it’s reality everywhere, even in the kitchen

  4. Oh Joan I do love a good rant. Especially if I agree with it. Yes I think the cooking show thing has taken a turn and appeals to those who don’t really cook. I long for the Julia Child shows where people learned something.

  5. The only cooking show chef I like is Rick Bayless. His show is intriguing because it’s half recipe instruction, half travel. Most of all, I love how positive and enthusiastic he is. It’s aspirational but within reach. Living in Texas, Mexican food is comfort food and it’s easy to get the ingredients.

    The only downside is that by the time the show is over, I’m starving and I have a hankering to get to the farmers market ASAP.

  6. Bravo! I’ve turned off many a food show after the swearing (or should I say “thinly disguised bleeping”) began. Not my cup of tea. Not sure why “they” (producers) think it would appeal, or be necessary, at all. Good food (and good chefs) don’t need “Hollywood tactics” to be appealing.

  7. I completely agree. I cannot stand to watch the US version of Masterchef, or most US reality cooking shows for that matter. It seems like having unnecessary drama and rudeness is a requirement. I do love Masterchef Australia though. All the judges on there are extremely encouraging to the contestants. Their masterclasses are top notch!

  8. I totally agree with you. Bad behavior and bad language are not conducive to learning. I am referring especially to Gordon Ramsey. I have one of his apps and he is so sweet there. As you said, is he putting a show? Is his vile rudeness just a persona? I am hooked on the Cooking Channel though :-)

  9. I’m also hooked on these tv shows, and especialy Gordon. It is a show, and he is a TV peronality and the Show has to be different to succede. I don’t mind the bad language, because i’m hooked on Gordon :D

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