Judy Ink - the food blog of Judy Schultz
TOMATO: Spies, Lies, Video Tapes
Wednesday, 08 August 2012 15:56


This piece should be filed under TOMATO, a food magazine I write for.

Spies, Lies and Video Tapes.

Good food used to be a reason to celebrate. It was the universal comforter, the ultimate peacemaker.

Now, thanks to reality television, food is war. And war, as we know, is hell.

Reality TV wasn’t bad enough with Big Brother and the godawful Housewives of Wherever? There wasn’t enough backstabbing, scheming and rotten behavior?

I blame the Brits, who produced a show called Come Dine with Me, which spawned similar shows in Canada, including Come Dine with Me Canada, and Dinner Party Wars. Then came Cupcake Wars, and a show called Chopped, guaranteed to embarrass/enrage some hapless cook before the credits roll. Add to this Masterchef and Hell’s Kitchen, both featuring tantrums by Gordon Ramsay. And now, Restaurant Stakeout, with hidden cameras spying on restaurant waitstaff.

For sheer bad manners and nastiness, Come Dine with Me takes the cake. It’s also produced in New Zealand, my home-away-from-home, where it’s marginally worse than the Canadian version.

Here’s the premise: Total strangers make dinner for other total strangers, who meanwhile are upstairs, rummaging through the cook’s bedroom, making fun of his/her taste in everything from furniture to underwear. All this for the hidden camera, where they’ll later explain how awful everything tasted.

Money is the root of this particular evil, and the cook who scores the highest total points wins some dollars, though not nearly enough to justify this silly show.

Restaurant Makeover, a scrappy homegrown show that lasts an interminable hour, is painfully predictable. With the kitchen torn apart, Igor, the temperamental construction honcho, announces that the Big Reveal can’t happen because essential widgets haven’t arrived. Anyway, he’s tired of the whole thing and is about to take his table saw and nail gun and go home, which nearly reduces the restaurant designer to tears.

Meanwhile, back in the makeshift kitchen, the chef-in-residence stubbornly refuses to co-operate with the visiting celeb chef who is playing slash-and-burn with the old menu.

Comes the Big Reveal, (it happens, Igor or not), and guests rush through the door shouting highly original comments like “Oh-My-God!” One night I counted five  OMG’s, just for openers. Riveting stuff, this.

Back in New Zealand, I watched a terrible food show involving kids in a bake-off. A little girl of nine produced a chocolate cake for the judges, only to have it fall upside down on the floor, leaving her sobbing into the cameras. They continued to roll, recording her humiliation for posterity and the entertainment of the studio audience. Wild applause followed.

Such fun, reality television, where the art of cooking  devolves into competitive free-for-alls that make cage-fighting look like Sunday in the park.

Why is it suddenly cool to watch real people suffering in a kitchen?

The current food television debacle makes me long for the single-camera action of PBS and Julia Child, losing her glasses, dropping her omelets.

Old hat? Definitely. Uncool? Probably. But she never made a child cry on television.

Food and travel writer Judy Schultz divides her time between Alberta and New Zealand

Last Updated on Thursday, 09 August 2012 09:00