Food Reality Shows Stimulate Culinary Aspirations

May 25, 2010

By Bernice Hurst, Contributing Editor, RetailWire

There is so much food and
cooking now on television that retailers could be forgiven for wondering just
what consumers want to buy and cook for themselves. Cooking for many is now
about aspiration and building a career – living to eat rather than eating to

Craig LaBan, food critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer, believes
the consequences of so much food television on "the food world as a whole …
have been nothing short of profound." He believes "a steady diet of
food programming — and in particular reality TV — is as addictive as an on-demand
dose of molten chocolate."

Agreeing, Tim Ryan, president of the Culinary
Institute of America, says he believes the "culinary profession and food
business" have been
affected more than any other industry by reality television. He estimates "right
now, there are about 60,000 students enrolled in culinary programs throughout
the country. In 1972, there were 1,800."

Mr. LaBan attributes increased
excitement partly to a change in format with "talking-head
pros … supplanted
by pumped-up dramatics that blend The Real World and Survivor with pots and
pans." While casually giving some credit to "the grassroots
rise of the organic and slow-food movements," his piece focuses primarily
on those who are described by last year’s fourth place winner of Top
Chef as "the new rock stars."

There are provisos raised, however,
including "whether the food industry
ultimately benefits in the long term or becomes a caricature of itself." Some
newly hired to work in professional kitchens don’t have sufficient understanding
of the hard work and range of skills that are prerequisites for stardom.

wasn’t discussed, but is an issue familiar to British stores, is
the inspiration provided by television food programs to people wanting to cook
at home. No sooner do some celebrity chefs mention an ingredient than it becomes
top of the shopping list for more customers than can obtain it. Advance warning
of what will be seen on-screen has, on more than one occasion, changed what
gets onto supermarket shelves. As well as what disappears from them most quickly.

Discussion Questions: What influence have the new food reality shows had
on American consumers’ palates and what they buy in restaurants and at home?
What effect do you think food television shows are having in attracting young
people to careers in the culinary arts?

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3 Comments on "Food Reality Shows Stimulate Culinary Aspirations"

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Doug Fleener
11 years 11 months ago

I think it’s had a huge impact on the industry. So many more people are cooking with higher quality products than before, and I would have to think the average cost of a meal has gone up as a result.

Not only do I think this is a positive, I wish the same thing would happen for retail. Could we see a Top Store owner or Iron Store Manager show in the future? Probably not, but I’d love to see something like this so more young people aspire to work in retail.

Gene Hoffman
Gene Hoffman
11 years 11 months ago

Food reality shows have captured the imagination of many younger people and created a new commercial geography for cooking and eating. Is that type of interest transferable to food stores? I think so. The perennial audience is already built in–and waiting.

With daily traffic already established in supermarkets, supercenters, and food boutiques, it is a bit mystifying that some innovative food retailer hasn’t taken to reality TV and made his/her store(s)a MGM theater of shopping reality.

Odonna Mathews
Odonna Mathews
11 years 11 months ago

There are so many reality food shows to choose from these days. These shows open people’s minds (and stomachs) to new foods, new ingredients and the joy of cooking. Once you have actually seen a food prepared, you are more likely to try it in a restaurant or at home.

Anything that can increase consumers’ cooking and culinary skills is a good thing for sure.


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