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Remembering cooking shows past: What were your favorites?

November 02, 2012|By Russ Parsons

There was a long thread on Chowhound recently about great old television cooking shows (Justin Wilson, come on down!). There was lots of love for many of the obvious suspects – Julia, Jacques and James Beard – and some who might no longer be so obvious – Graham Kerr and Jeff “The Frugal Gourmet” Smith, among them.

Then there were some TV cooks I’d largely forgotten about – Keith Floyd was a hoot but actually showed a lot of good food. There was my old buddy Nathalie Dupree, the doyenne of Southern cooking, and my first great teacher, the bristly but supremely educational Madeleine Kamman. And how could the Two Fat Ladies have slipped my mind?

But the show I remember most from when I was first learning to cook was the “Great Chefs” series. These are available on DVD now, with some shows available for paid download. The plot never varied – a couple of establishing shots, then appetizer, main course and dessert, each prepared by a great chef, with narration by a sultry-voiced female host (Mary Lou Conroy) and lively jazz music between the set pieces (the first series that established the format was in New Orleans). San Francisco followed and then the world.

Glancing at the records on their website, there are so many great names.  The first New Orleans season featured Warren LeRuth. In San Francisco, there was Jeremiah Tower … at Santa Fe Grill, Rene Verdon, Rose et LeFavour and Masa Kobayashi. The French season had Georges Blanc, Bernard Loiseau, Alain Passard, Roger Verge and Michel Troisgros. Just reading the lists I fall into a nostalgic reverie, like a baseball fan reliving the starting lineups of teams long past.

Today, when it seems like food television is dominated by melodramatic competitions and lowest common denominator cheese, it’s hard to remember that at one time cooking shows were really about … cooking.

What were the food shows that most influenced you?


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