America's new culinary renaissance
We're becoming a nation of food fanatics, signing up for cooking classes, turning into gourmets in the kitchen, and making dining in or out the equivalent of a cultural event. Is America the new France?
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"We connect so many emotions and memories around food," says Elisa Camahort Page, cofounder and chief operating officer of BlogHer, a blog platform whose food-related pages receive 11 million unique visitors a month. "[Through blogs] you learn from places, people, cultures, and classes that you might have never encountered in regular life."Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures America's Food Renaissance
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Yet the biggest driver of America's current fascination with food is not coming from new media but a decidedly old one – television. Two Food Network channels now pump out programming 24 hours a day, producing a mind-numbing 190 shows. Other series can be found all over the clicker, from Bravo's popular "Top Chef Masters," to efforts by the bigger networks to tap into the food craze – with decidedly mixed success – with shows such as "Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution" (ABC), "Hell's Kitchen" (Fox), and "America's Next Great Restaurant" (which NBC is dropping after only one season).
None of these, mind you, is Julia Child showing you how to make sole bonne femme in a harpsichord voice. The emphasis today is on entertainment and, increasingly, sport. Series such as "Iron Chef" and "Chopped" pit chefs against chefs in a battle of the clock and creativity in using a "secret" ingredient or everyday food items. "Best in Smoke" is a similar joust among barbecue pitmasters. Even bakers clash pans in "Cupcake Wars" and "Last Cake Standing." It's all a bit like the Red Sox versus the Yankees with oven instead of baseball mitts.
"So much food TV is really sports – watching people do awesome things," says Ray.
Many people are tuning in. Merrill Feather of Cambridge, Mass., and her friends love to watch Paula Deen, "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives," and "The Great Food Truck Race." For the past two years, she and her fiancé, Keith Richey, have hosted Oscar-watching parties with movie-themed dishes such as "Tuna Avatartar," "The King's Peach Cobbler," and "True Grits." Last year a group of them even created a fantasy draft for "Top Chef."
Food aficionados insist all this is creating a generation of people more literate about cooking and cuisine. "People 'get' food now – they understand the value and they want to know more," says Kay Logsdon, editor in chief of the FoodChannel.com, an Internet-based cooking resource. "People are looking for information to 'help make me a better cook, give me tips, answer my in-depth questions, give me direct access to a chef.' "