Friday, May 7, 2010

Why Ina Garten is a Goddess

So I've decided that I'm going to do a series of posts about cooking, since it is something that I enjoy a lot. My goals are to use this blog as a training ground for my style, images, etc so I can perfect the cooking blog format. Eventually, I also want to create some videos. But first, this! As many people already know, my idol is Ina Garten from Barefoot Contessa. What I love about her show is the simplicity of the meals that she makes, but also the ambience. The show invites us in from the very beginning. The upbeat, but not overstimulating music that always remains the same excites the viewer, but also reminds him or her that they are going somewhere familiar. A series of moving images, vegetables tumbling from a basket, sauce poured over brightly colored desserts, Ina at the table with her friends. You can't help but fall in love with this charming hostess. Finally you enter into her kitchen and see that plump blue ball of a woman looking right at you and smiling with her warm, easy, smile. Ina, how I love you.

The show is also innovative in the way the camera treats the things that we see. On Barefoot Contessa the camera loves what it is seeing. It lingers on unimportant things, like Ina's hands as she chops, or a pyrex of water that she pours. We are just there in her kitchen, watching what she does everyday. We get to see the actual making and the pleasure that she takes in it, which cannot help but give us pleasure also. She isn't performing for us, she is simply doing, and telling us about it. Even when she does come out with a product, it just so isn't the point. She is always having her friends over, business meetings, making toasted marshmallows for a bake sale. The attraction of her show is that we get a window into her life, and she just happens to make some great food. 

On other cooking shows, we don't get to see the doing. In fact, there isn't really any doing happening. It is simply a performance of making that stands in for the actual thing. This is of course, especially evident in the tride and true "Here we have one that's already cooked," but, less obviously in the camera angles, the presentation, and thematic aspects. Emeril, Live! is most obviously a performance. Filmed before a live studio audience with snacks and fake dinner guests sitting across from him, his bombastic personality tries to fill up the whole left by the absent cooking. He does little things here and there in his studio kitchen which is continually morphing (sometimes there's a deep fryer, sometimes a kitchen-aid mixer, etc.) but these are merely demonstrations not so you can replicate the recipes, but simply so he can talk about them. Camera shots zoom overhead while he fries hush puppies but his explanations are always about him, not about the food. In Giada's kitchen, we see a performance of a culture, an Italian-American culture the authenticity of which is continually pointed to by various anecdotes, "real Italian" ingredients, and not to mention her perfect Italian pronunciation of certain special words. Although she apparently was born in Italy, making her claim to authenticity "valid," it the overemphasis and overt performance of it that makes it banal. You cannot forget for one moment while watching her show that she is Italian. Unless you're looking at her cleavage, like this guy here. Yes, sex and cooking apparently do mix. Finally, we arrive at Rachael Ray, a true abomination of cooking TV. She claims that her meals take thirty minutes and, in order to prove it, does her show in "real time" and assures us that she is working really hard during the commercial breaks. But as her critics state, there is no way that you could make all that food (she makes huge portions) in 30 minutes. Of course, those 30 minutes don't include eating time, because god forbid that she eats. Then again, how does she stay so svelte?

I could go on and on about chefs on the Food Network. Nigella is really great and clearly loves what she is doing. We also get some shots there that are similar to Ina's. Sandra Lee is a tart and a bit annoying, but cute. Paula Deen is terrible. But now you know about my influences. Next post, actual food.

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