Jacques Pépin on “reality” cooking shows

Jacques PepinTurn on any televised cooking program and you are likely to hear yelling–a lot of yelling. The drama drives ratings, but how much is what we are seeing like a real restaurant kitchen? If you ask Jacques Pépin, the answer is “not much.” In a recent Daily Meal article, Pépin blasts this negative depiction of professional kitchens.

While he admits that sometimes the stress of service causes tempers to flare and results in the occasional verbal barrage, Pépin notes that this is usually temporary and that it often “ends in a friendly discussion over a glass of wine or a beer.” Kitchens work best when there is order and dignity, and in these so-called reality shows “the confrontation and the bitter drama are not conducive to producing good food.”

To add insult to injury, very little actual cooking is shown. We don’t see “the process of combining ingredients together to create a dish…nor is the process of tasting, adding an ingredient, then tasting again and commenting ever shown.” Pépin singles out Hell’s Kitchen, noting that while the conflict depicted may be good for ratings, it is “unjust to dedicated cooks and unfair to the trade.” He notes that if you were to visit the kitchen in a respected restaurant (citing restaurants run by Thomas Keller, Alice Waters, and Grant Achatz), you would see “a kitchen that is well organized, with a contented, dedicated, hard-working staff.”

Do you agree with Chef Pépin or do you think he’s being too hard on Gordon Ramsay and these shows?

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  • Christine  on  July 25, 2014

    I definitely agree! I've never actually seen a real professional kitchen, but the drama on these "reality" shows is not for me which is why I tend not to watch them.

  • djkubica  on  July 25, 2014

    Absolutely. A bitter kitchen results in bitter food and service.

  • jammydodger  on  July 26, 2014

    Hmm, I feel like Masterchef (the current British show) gives a more realistic idea of real restaurant kitchens (not that I'd know). Shows the prep time, and virtually no pointless drama. I wish the food was more down to earth though, and it goes on a bit. As for Ramsay, I miss the days when he wasn't a celebrity chef. Thank god he's b******d off to the USA though (sorry, Americans out there). That said, I've found his last couple of books quite decent.

    But if you're sick of the tedious manufactured drama and the lack of cooking in TV reality shows, just remember one thing: the new series of the Great British Bake Off starts soon.

  • Susan_F  on  July 26, 2014

    Jammydodger I agree with everything you say. Great British Bake Off – 6th August – can't wait!!!!

  • Rinshin  on  July 27, 2014

    Hate reality shows and that includes anything to do with food. Don't watch any and quit watching any food newtwork long ago.

  • hillsboroks  on  July 28, 2014

    These reality cooking shows are not really about cooking but just use cooking and the kitchen as a vehicle for all the drama, tempers and tears. I have always watched great cooking shows on public television where you actually learn a lot about cooking and techniques. I started with Julia Child when I was young and went on to watch lots of Cooking With Caprial, Lidia's Italy, America's Test Kitchen and bits of many other shows. I have loved listening to Lynne Rossetto Kasper on public radio since she started back in the mid-90s. All these programs put the reality cooking shows to shame.

  • AndieG52  on  July 28, 2014

    They have absolutely nothing to do with cooking. Check out PBS for some good shows including those mentioned by hillsboroks above.

  • Foodycat  on  July 29, 2014

    Jammydodger, Susan_F, Bake Off and Great British Menu are the only food reality TV shows I watch. I can't stand the manufactured drama of the others.

  • ellabee  on  July 30, 2014

    The complete opposite of all the faked-drama "cooking" reality shows is still one of my favorites: Cooking with the Great Chefs of ___. They consisted entirely of a woman (with a slight Georgia accent) quietly narrating as chefs wordlessly prepare dishes. You hear the chopping, sizzling, etc.; the food is the star.

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