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Time for Cooks to Fire Up the VCR : Instructional Videos Are Spiced Up With Entertainment

December 27, 1987|TONI TIPTON

Cooking videos seemed gimmicky, at best, when introduced to cookbook buyers. On one hand, they provided the cook (or non-cook) with a means of visual instruction that could be given in the home, much the way cooking lessons are given in the classroom, only the course could be repeated until thoroughly understood.

On the other hand, the idea that cooks would take a television screen and videocassette recorder into the kitchen for simplified demonstrations appeared to be a luxury reserved for the elite.

Then, technology made kitchen-size televisions standard equipment and a simultaneous reduction in the cost of a VCR made it affordable enough so one could have an extra VCR around the kitchen. The medium was on its way.

Even for those who watch the cooking demonstrations in their living rooms or dens, take notes, then return to the kitchen to try what they have learned, the cooking video quickly became a practical approach to learning how to cook. A lesson could be viewed for a one-time fee, often at half the cost of traditional classes, then repeated over and over again for free.

Wide Range of Topics

Initially, videos covered a wide range of topics. Most were geared toward specific themes such as holiday cooking, regional fare, garnishes, pasta and desserts. There was also a group of videos that showcased members of the culinary upper crust, such as Julia Child and Craig Claiborne. Others focused on cuisines perceived as mysterious and difficult--Japanese and Chinese cooking were demonstrated in full-fledged instructional kits derived from previously released cookbooks.

Today's cooking videos are little different, although the cast of characters has changed and there is a wide assortment of new subjects. In some cases, though, format has taken a bit of a turn--a few have spiced up their cooking classes with entertainment--but most of the current videos available remain instructional.

Here are just a few of the new releases available for Christmas giving.

Wolfgang Puck, with the assistance of five Hollywood celebrities, brings the glamorous food of his renowned Sunset Boulevard restaurant, Spago, into the home via "Spago Cooking With Wolfgang Puck." Unlike instructional videos that provide basic recipes and simplified cooking techniques, this video features Puck, sometimes known as the "chef to the celebrities," in a series of quick demonstrations on how to put together some popular dishes from the restaurant.

Help From Joel Grey, Vincent Price

Celebrities participate as Puck prepares various parts of a menu: Kate Capshaw is featured in the appetizers segment; Christina Ferrare helps out with pastas and pizzas; Joel Grey and Vincent Price join him in the entrees segment and Robert Townsend winds up the group with desserts.

There are recipes for mandarin steak salad, ravioli stuffed with three cheeses, prosciutto and goat cheese pizza, veal medallions with onion marmalade in port wine sauce and a chocolate souffle.

It's the perfect gift for those who have never been to the famed restaurant, as well as for those who are regulars and would enjoy having a little Spago magic in the home. It's not designed with the non-cook in mind, however, as there is no detailed instruction in the fundamentals of cooking--most of the chopping and measuring has already been done. And you won't find Puck helping his co-hosts figure out which side of the grater is the right side.

Instead, this video is more like a chatty, talk-show cooking demonstration laced with a few helpful hints on garnishing and substituting less-expensive ingredients. Suggested retail price for the video, which comes in VHS and Beta formats, is $29.95. It is available in gourmet and specialty stores and wherever videos are sold.

Candy Making Made Easy

Wilton, the cake-decorating and candy-making equipment manufacturer, has introduced four new videos, "How to Make Icing Flowers," "How to Make Wedding Cakes," "Cake Decorating, Easy as 1, 2, 3" and "Candy Making, Easy as 1, 2, 3."

"Candy Making" is a highly instructional introduction to the basics of making candy. It teaches the methods for making a large number of confections, including filled candies, lollipops, hollow shells and easy candies such as turtles and rocky road.

The video identifies the tools of the trade and the required equipment, such as a double boiler and a microwave, and all the essentials of making candy at home are covered. Instruction in how to melt and flavor candy is given. Other subjects include how to choose between candy melts (confectionery coating) and chocolate; modeling with candy for use as roses, leaves and for piping; cooling down the candy, and when to remove from the refrigerator.

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