I'll bet you money that, if you're under the age of 50 and you grew up with television in your home, that the bulk of your classical music recognition come from Bugs Bunny cartoons.
If you've been reading us for any length of time, you know that I'm an unapologetic television watcher. I don't mind that my introduction to classical music was through cartoons. It made going to the ballet with my grandma much more interesting because the music wasn't foreign to me. And, it means that lots of classical music has positive, sentimental memories attached to it.
What I'm trying to say is that television can be the positive influence that the founders of the medium wanted it to be. To that end, please let me introduce you to one of my favorite media juggernauts - America's Test Kitchen.
America's Test Kitchen is a public television program (and complementing website, The Feed) that's celebrating its 10th year on the air. The host, Christopher Kimble, is editor-in-chief of the lauded Cook's Illustrated Magazine. Of course, the show and the magazine are affiliated and have a similar style and commitment to quality. The actual "test kitchen" is located in Massachusetts and, as a result, there's a distinctive New England quality to proceedings - simple, no-nonsense, and very, very practical.
In a beautifully equipped yet unadorned kitchen, Christopher and his crew of regular chefs cook and cook and cook some more to find the very best recipes for... well... everything. If you need to know how to make any dish, I promise you'll find the best possible basic version of it here. It's important to note that they're not out to make the fanciest, or most innovative, or Top Chef-ish dish. The goal of the test kitchen is to discover the perfect core recipe that you can then expand on if you're so inclined. I had never successfully made a pot roast until I followed the ATK recipe. And it was perfect. As was the gravy. This dish is currently in heavy rotation at my house as a result.
In addition to providing us with perfect recipes, ATK also does product reviews (food/gadgets/etc.) and some fun segments like "what is this utensil?" where people can send in photos of weird utensils they've found and the folks at ATK will research and tell you its purpose. Finally, there are techniques and tips galore to make you a better and more efficient cook. Everything I ever learned about cuts of beef, I learned from Christopher Kimbell.
A friend of mine described the show as "Consumer Reports for cooking".
I used to save ATK shows on my DVR so that I could watch them while I was cooking and follow along. Then I figured out that I could just pull up the video segment from the website so I was able to clear quite a few hours of programming from my hard drive. (thank goodness). However, I still love watching the show itself. Kimbell's laconic humor and the good-natured ribbing that happens on set is really appealing and keeps me coming back. Well...that along with the recipes.
So, if you want to learn something from television (something other than what Snooki's wearing out to the club this weekend), I highly recommend America's Test Kitchen and it's affiliated magazine, Cook's Illustrated, and, of course, The Feed website. I promise you won't be disappointed.
- Chef Alex
PS - I just discovered there's a Cook's Illustrated iPhone app. I'm downloading it as I type.