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Satisfying Consumers' Growing Appetite for Videocassette Cookbooks : Back-to-Basics Approach Designed for Novices

December 22, 1985|TONI TIPTON

Cookbooks have traditionally made terrific Christmas gifts, whether the recipient is a beginner or a would-be chef. But this year, there's a new competitor for those gift-dollars that may give cookbooks a run for the money.

To date, almost any subject matter can be found on videocassettes; there are movies, sports, concerts, aerobic workouts and much more. Enter the cooking video. These slick visual cooking manuals aspire to make home chefs out of even novice cooks--spanning the gamut from subjects like pasta, garnishes and one-pot meals to menu themes and various entree suggestions.

Would anyone really watch a cooking video and then dash off to the kitchen for the preparation when step-by-step cookbooks are so widely available?

Evidently yes, according to the producers of this new medium. Consumers seem to enjoy seeing exactly what's going on, said Eileen McComb of Metropolitan Home magazine, one of the video producers.

'A Real Asset'

"Because of the life styles in America today, it's no longer a housewife staying home looking in a cookbook and experimenting," she said. "It (the video cookbook) is convenient and they (consumers) can work along with it, and that's a real asset. It's cooking for the '80s."

In most cases the viewer sees each stage of the recipe being developed as it occurs, from the proper method of chopping and dicing vegetables to the proper rhythm to use in stirring and whisking sauces. There are also serving and garnishing suggestions, plus ideas for new recipes that will be sure to please the more advanced cook on your list.

The idea of video cooking is not new. It started earlier this year when Julia Child began videotaping her popular cooking shows. Her series included cassettes on cooking meat; soups, salads and bread; fish and eggs; first courses and desserts; vegetables and poultry.

Other famous chefs quickly followed suit--Judith Olney, Madeleine Kamman and Craig Claiborne are a few. But what these star-studded cassettes basically amount to are personality profiles with famous people demonstrating their craft. They are certainly entertaining and they do afford the home cook the luxury of repeating a step over and over again until confident.

But these videos, like the cookbooks they resemble, usually are not designed for real beginners. Most of the cooking drudgery--slicing, dicing, chopping, mincing and measuring--has already been done and the chefs are simply putting together recipes from pre-prepared ingredients.

Back-to-Basics Approach

What is new about cooking videos is the back-to-basics approach taken by some producers. Popular gourmet magazines like Cook's and Metropolitan Home have joined the video revolution. They have limited their tapes to single subjects and have intentionally included in their methodology instruction for basic procedures like measuring flour, peeling tomatoes and chopping fresh herbs.

These videos, by design, are ideal for novice cooks, yet they are presented in an informative and interesting manner with recipes that are of such universal appeal that they make good gifts for more experienced cooks as well.

Of course, there are some videos that are not as basic, and the idea is to offer suggestions for some new or slightly more difficult recipes, in which case a cookbook might be equally suitable.

The viewing times range from 30 to 60 minutes and the price tag varies from $14.95 to $39.95, the average price of a cooking lesson. Unfortunately, some are only available through mail order and thus do not lend themselves to holiday giving this year.

Pasta Beyond Primavera (Video Menus, Metropolitan Home: $29.95, 60 minutes).

This is the hands-down winner for teaching the essentials of making pasta. The video begins with an introduction of all seven recipes included on the tape (completed dishes plus garnishes and serving suggestions). Recipes include the basic pasta dough recipe used for mezzelune; ravioloni; rotolo and pappardelle; spinach gnocchi; forest fettuccine da silvano; da silvano taglierini with Gorgonzola and walnuts, and pappardelle with porcini and livers.

Beginning with the basics, this tape instructs viewers on such fundamental techniques as the method of measuring and leveling off flour, measuring half an egg, chopping onion and peeling, seeding and chopping tomatoes. Complete stages of recipes are shown.

The phrase "knead until very thick," for example, is demonstrated thoroughly, showing the texture of the flour at every stage of kneading until the dough is formed. The camera stays tightly focused on the hands of the instructor. Plus, there are garnishing tips and other cooking hints given throughout the demonstration. Convenient recipe-box-size cards with recipes, ingredients, method and yield are included.

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