Saturday, July 13, 2024
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There Are Too Many Celebrity Cooking Shows

Selena Gomez on the set of Selena + Chef Jennifer Rose Clasen/HBO Max

Florence Pugh is the latest celebrity to join the growing list of food shows that prioritize fame over cooking ability

Chefs have, of course, been celebrities for a long time. Emeril Lagasse has been on television longer than most of Gen Z has been alive, and Julia Child helped kick off the genre in the 1960s with the premiere of her series The French Chef. But now the phrase “celebrity chef” is taking on an entirely new meaning as actors, musicians, and other people in the public eye — including those, like Paris Hilton, who are famous for simply being famous — helm their own cooking shows.

The latest entrant into this increasingly crowded field is it-girl Florence Pugh. In a recent interview on the Happy Sad Confused podcast, Pugh announced that a TV version of her popular Instagram cooking series Cooking With Flo is “in the works,” though she didn’t say when exactly fans could expect to see it on the air. The in-development show joins recent projects from celebs like Hilton and Selena Gomez. But with Pugh’s announcement, it seems we’ve officially hit peak celebrity cooking show — and I’m exhausted.

Celebrity interest in the culinary world isn’t exactly new, but it has exploded in recent years. These days, it’s totally normal to see a famous person release a cookbook, create their own meal at McDonald’s, or launch a line of “functional beverages.” But cooking shows centered around the fame of the host and not their actual ability to cook are the final frontier of this overlap, and for good reason: Cooking shows are harder than they look.

In order to do a cooking show, the host has to have enough charisma to hold an audience’s interest as they make a dish from scratch as well as the culinary skills to make something that looks and tastes good. And while Pugh’s Instagram stories are certainly charming, I’m not sure we need a cooking show in which the host can’t teach you anything more complicated than a pretty basic tzatziki or how to throw together a “beany fart” salad.

This trend is a pretty sharp contrast to the early-2000s reign of the Food Network, a place where a caterer named Ina Garten blossomed into the Barefoot Contessa, where Rachael Ray went from being a produce buyer to the queen of 30 Minute Meals, and where Jacques Pepin’s fussy French omelet technique went mainstream. Food Network may have created the celebrity chef industrial complex, but it didn’t do it with people who were famous for doing something totally non-food related, at least not at first. It did it with pretty regular people who just happened to be excellent cooks, whether in their own home kitchens or at restaurants.

A recent New York Times Magazine essay complained about a similar phenomenon in travel television, where celebrities, including Eugene Levy and Zac Efron, take viewers around the world to experience new locales. “The things we see must serve the narratives and characters of the stars, providing opportunities to play to or against their images, drawing out their particular moods or charms,” writes Nicholas Cannariato. “A result is a suffocating and often superficial take on how fascinating or delicious everything is.”

At the end of the day, I have absolutely no idea whether or not these celebrities can cook, but it’s very clear that they think they can cook. (A key exception here is Selena Gomez’s Selena + Chef, in which Gomez brings on experts to teach her how to make dishes like chickpea fried broccoli.) I could make Florence Pugh’s fart salad to get some idea of her skills, but why would I waste my time — and beans! — to potentially learn that she actually has terrible taste, especially when there are countless other bean salad recipes out there, ones created and tested by experts. At least with travel shows, we know that rich people actually do go on fancy trips to Spain and Italy and Morocco. They’re literally the jet set.

This new world of celebrity cooking shows makes me worry that we’ll lose a lot of what we gained during the heyday of Food Network. Food Network was never perfect, but it did give many of us our first experiences with cooking better and more interesting meals at home. But now the focus has shifted away from the food and on to the people who are making it, an inevitable consequence of our cultural obsession with fame and famous people.

And while some would argue that Pugh’s little mistakes — she giggles as she haphazardly discards a bit of onion too “slippery” to cut and forgets to tell the audience she added butter beans to her fart salad — make her cooking content seem more relatable, I’d say that it does the opposite. It’s only a person of extreme privilege who gets to do something badly, or even just adequately, for an audience, especially while standing in a fancy kitchen with an expensive Viking stove, pouring olive oil from two different $40 bottles. If I want “relatable” videos of people cooking beans, I’ll go watch someone’s sweet Italian nonna make pasta e fagioli on TikTok.

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