Rachel Ray lied to us. Matter of fact, so did Martha Stewart, Giada (as much as I love the woman), and every other TV cooking show host. 30 min. meals? Psh…maybe if you’re heating leftovers on the stove! Making an entire meal that’s not a PB&J sandwich from scratch from setting up your mise to cleanup? Please. That’s about as believable as the time I got dragged from one Meatpacking club to the next with promises of no cover and beautiful people. “It’s going to be fun!” they said…..
What you see as a seamlessly simple dance around the kitchen highlighted with plenty of smiles and applause is one big coordinated dance. Herein lies a big reason a lot of homecooks are discouraged. “But but but…Ina Garten just put together a 3-course meal in 30 mins.! How come it took me 3 hours!?” Well my Padawan, while the Force is strong with you, it’s stronger still in Food Network’s space-age studios. Here’s the reality:
1) All their ingredients have been cleaned, prepped, and placed into those cute Pyrex saucers. Those finely diced onions they just nonchalantly drop in the pan? Yea…you’re gonna have to spend time peeling it, cutting it in half, figuring out how to dice it, finding a container, wiping away your tears. That also goes for the garlic (smash, peel, quarter, chop, mince, store), bell peppers (wash, halve, deseed, julienne, chop, mince, store), and every other beautifully lined up ingredient.
2) They have enough space for Usain Bolt to run a few laps around in. You? Ha! Good luck trying to chop your vegetables next to your oven while your roommate burns hookah coals on one of your stove tops, the other makes a sandwich behind you, and a friend stand in the center blasting the new Drake album, all the while you’re wishing you had a kitchen island.
3) They have every imaginable tool at their disposal. What does Paula Deen do when she wants a good broth handy? She makes one in one of her ginormous, porcelain stock pots stamped with her name. You? Good luck making stock in your 2 quart sauce pan. Oh…and your probably forgot that you need that same sauce pan for cooking the rice, making the sauce, and braising the meat didn’t you? Shame on you.
4) They have several versions of their dish tucked away throughout the studio. How do you think they manage to pull out perfectly cooked roasts just minutes after a commercial break?! And if they screw one up? “Well look at this perfectly roasted turkey we had hiding in the pantry!”. You? As the poet Marshall Mathers once said: “You got one shot, do not miss the chance to blow”. It’s Filet Mignon or Papa John’s for you. Pray your date tonight is forgiving.
5) They don’t tell you the amount of non-cooking time you need to take to prep one dish. While Guy and Alton pull whole cuts of meat and dozens of eggs from their well-stocked pantries like a magician pulls rabbits, you’re stuck: a) fighting the grocery crowd at the Trader Joe’s in Union Square on Sunday evening, b) finding a way to fit that rack of lamb in between the month-old burger your roommate decided would be a good setting for a mold colonization attempt (today the fridge, tomorrow the world!) and the giant bottle of Kahlua a friend left a weekend ago, c) fitting all those ingredients onto the postage stamp-sized counter top of yours, d) attempting to remember where you placed everything (the lemons are in the fridge, the baking powder on the 3rd cabinet shelf by the blender, the salt on the 4th behind the candy, the canned beans next to the detergent).
6) Not to mention cleanup! The dozen dishes they stored every ingredient in? Who the fuck has the time to clean all that?! Sweet Brown would throw a fit. How about that roasting pan that’s now covered in a crusty grease coz you decided to eat first before cleaning. And let’s not even go the part where your stove is now caked in what seems to be a cross between salsa stains, chicken blood, and hookah ash.
Let’s face it. Cooking is tough. What with TV showing us that it can be done sans mishap every…single…time. What happened to the days when Julia Child would screw up in the kitchen and show us that shit happens to the best of us? This isn’t meant for us to feel bad about cooking. But the sooner we accept the imperfections of cooking, the sooner we find joy in the mess, the journey, the chaos that makes the final dish all the more delicious. I mean…we spend hours on hours working out, but we can’t put in the bit of effort to cook a good meal that’s just as good for us? Maybe it’s not us. Maybe it’s not that we’re lazy. Maybe it’s because we’ve been given unrealistic expectations.
So no Sir Flay, I know you didn’t just make that BBQ in 30 mins. I know that good food may take longer than 30 mins. And we should all be OK with that.