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At The Dirty Apron cooking school in Vancouver, Chef David Robertson's students asked him to base lessons on Iron Chef. (Brett Beadle for The Globe and Mail)
At The Dirty Apron cooking school in Vancouver, Chef David Robertson's students asked him to base lessons on Iron Chef. (Brett Beadle for The Globe and Mail)

Foodie TV

Another cooking channel? Just how much food porn can we stomach? Add to ...

Chef and cooking instructor David Robertson says his students devour food TV.

Mr. Robertson, co-owner of Vancouver's Dirty Apron Cooking School, has taught more than 2,000 amateur cooks and foodies since his school opened in August. He attributes the popularity of his classes, in large part, to shows such as Top Chef and No Reservations, which he says are inspiring audiences everywhere to learn to cook.

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A recent group of students even asked Mr. Robertson to model one of his sessions after their favourite TV program, Iron Chef, requesting that he mark their dishes just as the show's judges would.

"Where do they get those ideas from? They get it from TV, of course," Mr. Robertson says, adding that he believes the public's appetite for all things food-related - from cookbooks to cooking shows - is insatiable.

A U.S. media company is banking on that same conclusion.

Last week, Knoxville, Tenn.-based Scripps Networks, which owns the Food Network and HGTV, announced details of its plans to launch a new 24-hour network called the Cooking Channel devoted entirely to recipes, restaurants and cooking techniques.

But while some chefs and food lovers see the new specialty channel as a natural extension of the current food media buffet, others say there's a limit to how much they can stomach.

"I think 24 hours might be overkill … because what are they going to cook all day long?" says Richmond, B.C., resident Diana Black, an avid food TV fan.

Ms. Black says she switches her television on to the Food Network every morning and usually leaves it on for much of the day as background noise.

Even though the shows often provide her with dinner ideas, she adds that "there's only so much to cook."

The Cooking Channel starts broadcasting in the U.S. on May 31.

Scripps has no immediate plans for a Canadian launch, but Carrie Welch, the company's vice-president of public relations, says the new network will feature Canadian talent such as Chuck Hughes, David Rocco, Roger Mooking and Laura Calder.

"Cooking Channel aims to offer today's new food lover even more of what they crave - more variety, more choice," says Ms. Welch via e-mail. "Market demand is clear, as demonstrated by Food Network's recent ratings growth and the explosion of food programming on competitive channels."

In October, the Food Network announced it had earned record ratings in its third quarter, finishing in the top 10 in prime time for the first time.

In a release, Scripps says the new Cooking Channel will "explore food and cooking on a different level, offering details and depth on a range of topics," such as international cuisines and techniques from master bakers and butchers, and will revisit classics such as Julia Child.

Vancouver chef Warren Geraghty of West Restaurant believes that a new TV channel dedicated to cooking may well be justified, since the public's current interest in food isn't likely to dwindle anytime soon.

"I think there's always going to be a fascination [with]food, how it's produced, who it's produced by, where it comes from, et cetera," he says. "A 24-hour channel about food? I don't know. I mean, there's a 24-hour weather channel, so I imagine that's a lot less entertaining than a food channel."

Toronto chef Patrick Lin of Senses Restaurant at The SoHo Metropolitan Hotel adds that far from diluting the star quality of revered chefs, new shows offered on the new network would offer a chance for up-and-coming chefs to get noticed.

"It gives more opportunity for some young and professional people to share their knowledge. It's a great, great thing."

But even Mr. Lin says he prefers to watch programs that aren't food-related when he's off work.

"What you need to know is what's going on in the world. We don't want to [spend]all the time on the food."

Vancouver resident Danielle Lemay, a self-described foodie, says she used to watch as much as three hours of food television every day, but over the past two or three years, she has cut down her food TV viewing to twice a week.

"I guess it just doesn't appeal to me as much any more," she says, noting that broadcasters have replaced many of the practical home cooking shows she once enjoyed with "brainless" reality TV competitions and food porn featuring complicated recipes in their attempt to reach new audiences.

A new 24-hour channel "does seem to be a bit much, because who's watching cooking shows at 4 in the morning?" she says. "Not me."

Vancouver publicist Kate MacDougall, who works with several top restaurants and acclaimed chefs in the city, credits the TV shows of celebrity cooks such as Rachael Ray for sparking her interest in food and cooking a few years ago.

At the time, she says, she relied on the shows' hosts to walk her through recipes and to provide a visual guide on techniques and how dishes should look.

But since she has learned some of the basics and become more confident in her cooking abilities, the amount of time she spends watching food shows has dropped considerably.

"I hit a comfort zone, and I was better able to work my way through a recipe comfortably," Ms. MacDougall says.

Meanwhile, Toronto chef Keith Froggett of Scaramouche Restaurant says he's never been a fan of food television, and that's unlikely to change with the launch of a new network.

"I just think most of those programs, the content is pretty dismal most of the time and so is a lot of the production," he says.

Besides, he adds, "I just think I've got better things to do with my time than watch television."

Follow on Twitter: @wencyleung

 

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