Enter the Kitchen: An Internet Cooking Show Manifesto

The Internet Cooking Show

Cooking is one of things that will suck up as much time as you want to put into it. It ranges from putting a poptart in the toaster to the multi-day marathon that is beef wellington. I don’t think its a stretch to say that most of us typically are on the poptart end of this spectrum. But every now and then, when we just wake up full of motivation, when we finally have an evening free, when the moon is in the certain phase, we’ll go online and watch someone else work some culinary magic.

There are people out there who would have you believe that cooking videos simply teach one to cook. This could not be further from the truth.

Cooking videos do not teach you how to cook, they teach you how to love… to cook. Well… not so much love to cook, but love to watch other people cook food you will never get to eat. Based on my “research”, no one has ever actually attempted to cook any of the foods they have seen online. Why? Because if we had the motivation to go out and cook something, we wouldn’t be sitting on our butts watching a dog tell us how to make a bento box. The most popular cooking videos are the ones with the least actual cooking. I claim that the age of Julia Child and Emeril Lagasse is at an end. The future belongs to the comedians, to the drunks, to the impoverished, to the obese, to the anthropomorphic dogs that live within our computer screens and entertain us for a while. And as a citizen of this fantastic food future, I demand more.

I want more. More talking aniamls. More alcohol. More puns. More foods seemingly sprung from some sort of fever dream. I want more niche partioning. I don’t want more shows about french cooking, italian cooking, southern cooking. I want more shows about amusement park cooking, dormroom cooking, cooking with fire and fruit and flamingos. I want more STORIES. I more WHY and WHO and less HOW MUCH and WHAT TEMPERATURE. I want to relate, not to create. I want recipes with revelry, instruction with more production, baking with more breaking. I demand more explosions, more flubs and dubs, more drops and flops. I demand more burnt to a crisp failure and oh so greasy success.

Because, as the great Julia Child once said, with cooking you got to have a what the hell attitude.

The Future of the Cooking Show

Imagine it is 20 years from now. Assuming there is still an internet, what role will cooking shows play? How will they have changed? Will everyone be robots? Will they tell us how to cook our space-foods, because its the future and everything is all… spacey? Or will they consist of scraggly survivors describing the best way to cook a opossum on a car engine, because its the future and society and fallen into a Road Warrior-esque apocalypse? But when it comes right down to it, both scenarios are essentially the same: they both just tell us how to do what we should have been doing all along.

Granted, to some extent internet cooking shows try to inspire us to expand our horizons, to try new foods with new ingredients. But the reality is, people just want to learn how to cook foods they already know they like. They don’t want to spend time and money on something they might find revolting. So while tastes and preferences might change with time, the internet’s subjection to these tastes is eternal. As shows become more numerous, this subjection might become more pronounced, with shows becoming more and more pigeon-holed into a specific niche. We see this already when we look at older shows, like Julia Child who essentially introduced a new style of cooking to America, and newer shows, like Hand to Mouth which deals exclusively with cheap, easy to find ingredients and is marketed towards almost exclusively college students. Thus, in the future we might expect to see shows marketed towards smaller and smaller groups.

But this only deals with the “classic” cooking show, that is, one main host teaching a specific thing in a kitchen. These shows are really all about the food. Other shows, however, are much more about the hosts. This is definitely true for My Drunk Kitchen, where the host does very little cooking. Some of these shows are also merely spoofs on actual cooking shows, that is, shows that give clear directions on how to prepare food. My Drunk Kitchen also falls into this category, but How To Basic takes it to another level. How To Basic features a lot of videos that are presented similarly to cooking shows, like How To Make Fried Chicken. But his videos feature no dialogue or directions of any kind, and inevitably deteriorate to the point where he just smashes everything with his hands. It is worth noting that he has over 150 videos (most of which involve food), many of which have over a million views.

Could this be the future of cooking shows? I do not see how these types of videos could progress beyond How To Basic, as this show already cuts out everything essential to cooking shows. The genre cannot be spoofed any further without removing all semblance to the original shows. People will soon get bored of these types of shows, as they will quickly loose their edginess and originality. Even still, I would like to see more shows featuring people who are bad at cooking trying anyway, as in Hand to Mouth, My Daily Grace, and My Drunk Kitchen. I think the audience relates to these shows where people just cook with what they happen to have in their fridge, and don’t display any intimidating techniques.

Having been to the future, I can actually tell you what cooking shows will be like in 20 years. People will, if anything, be even lazier than they are now. They won’t want to do things like shop for exotic ingredients, finely chop vegetables, or cook. So, cooking shows will fill the role of letting us think we are able to take care of ourselves while not making us get out of bed. So, basically, exactly the same as now.

Well, Japan might be a little different:

History of the Internet Cooking Show

As with many things in life, it all began with an omelet. It was 1962, and a women trying to market her new cookbook demonstrated proper omelet cooking technique on a local Boston television station. Viewers were enthralled, and demanded that women be given her own show. The book was entitled The French Chef, and the women was Julia Child. Hers was by no means the very first cooking show, but it was the first to be successful with a national audience. Cooking shows would continue to rise in popularity until the introduction of The Food Network in 1993, which featured such well known chefs as Mario Batali, Bobby Flay, Emeril Lagasse, and Rachael Ray in addition to signing on Julia Child. These cooking celebrities set the stage for their internet followers by creating the formulaic style evident in so many videos.

But when did the crossover to the internet begin? Pirated clips of televised cooking shows surely have existed since the internet has been fast enough to make video sharing practical, but this material was not created specifically for the internet. The actual first internet cooking show hides somewhere in the vastness of the internet, obscured by over a decade of web-page buildup. However, in April of 2005, a mere two months after the introduction of youtube, a video entitled Flambe Disaster which featured a man pouring liquor onto an open flame appeared on the internet. The video was uploaded onto youtube by a user named Tunafat, but the original no longer exists, and all backstory is lost. As this is clearly a failed attempt at demonstrating proper flambe technique, I feel as though it qualifies as one of the earliest examples of internet cooking. However, it is not a true cooking show, and it is not clear whether or not video was originally intended for the internet. It is not until 2007 that the first mention of a cooking show comes up in youtube’s search feature.

The series is entitled “Great Depression Cooking”, and stars a 91 year old women who cooks food from the Great Depression while rambling about how hard things used to be. The series was created and produced by her great grandson, Christopher Cannucciari. The videos are closer to televised cooking shows in that they have a longer set introduction sequence with a theme song. However, much like current internet cooking shows, the chief interest is in the host, not in actual cooking. Clara, the 91 year old women, is hardly a distinguished chef and actual displays many incorrect cooking techniques. Throughout the video, Clara tells stories about things like how her neighbors let bootleggers use their garage to make whiskey.

Truly, this is the heart of the internet cooking show. People don’t produce an internet cooking show for fame or money, but because they feel they have an interesting story to tell, and because they want to share the culinary part of their lives with other people. In this respect, cooking shows have not changed much at all since Julia Child introduced America to the quiche.


About: Internet Cooking Shows

The internet cooking show is a very consistent genre. The intended purpose of these videos is to instruct the viewer in the culinary arts in an entertaining manner. This can either be demonstrating a difficult culinary technique, such as dicing an onion, or the preparation of a recipe. Internet cooking shows, as opposed to televised cooking shows, typically focus on one food item instead of an entire meal. This recipe is almost always one of the host’s creation, and typically features some sort of creative element to separate it from other cooking shows.

Due to the ease of producing these short videos, internet cooking shows are often focused into a specific variety of food than their televised counterparts. For instance, televised shows might be based around Italian food as in Emeril Lagasse, while internet shows could be entirely based on the healthy recreation of American fast food as in Nicko’s Kitchen. The more popular internet shows also have some sort of ridiculous gimmick, as seen in My Drunk Kitchen, where the host is perpetually drunk, and Cooking with Dog, where the host is literally a dog.

Despite the incredible variety of cooking shows on the internet, their execution is almost formulaic. They typically feature one main cook, who is also the host and producer of the show. Often, there is also a humorous sidekick, as in SMBC’s Hand to Mouth and Cooking with dog, or a guest appearance by a notable restauranteur. The videos are almost exclusively shot in a home kitchen with typical domestic cooking appliances, so as to not intimidate the audience. There are not many cuts, and the camera angles typically consist of a medium, frontal shot of the chef where their hands are visible, interspersed with close-up “action shots” of chopping and top down shots of the stove top. The host talks the viewer through the cooking process, describing the ingredients and cooking techniques used.

There are two main audience groups of these cooking shows. Unlike many other internet videos, cooking videos are typically part of a series of episodes that follow a general theme. Therefore, many viewers of a particular video are simply loyal fans of the overall show hoping to be entertained. This is seen in My Drunk Kitchen, where the host is especially humorous despite consistently failing to give any actual cooking advice. Alternatively, because internet cooking shows focus on item of food, a significant part of the views on a single video can be attributed to people looking for advice on how to cook that particular item. This would be seen on shows known for demonstrating proper culinary techniques, such as The Minimalist and Hilah Cooking.

Internet cooking shows are an excellent example of how to combine the hilarious with the educational. They are, in essence, a how-to video, but go above and beyond a simple step-by-step delivery into something much more entertaining.