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Cooking on TV

cooking on tv

Recipe programs: the origins of entertainment

You introduce your book with a quote from Kathleen Collins: “We probably won’t have the choice of sitting in his kitchen and watching his wife make mashed potatoes, but many of us think watching someone do the same on television is a very pleasant way to pass the time.” Is the issuance of recipes the appearance of entertainment in a context historically linked to household chores?

The first cooking show was created in 1953 and was built on the model of the theatrical show: it was an actor who presented to the audience. At that time, recipes were already presented in the afternoon show Le magazine féminin, with a focus on household chores, while Les recettes de M. X featured an actor to offer the audience a programme that was intended to be entertaining. He was in charge of giving amusing anecdotes, and had to approach cooking with more refinement to detach the kitchen from its domestic posture, even if it gradually returned to it afterwards.

In what context does this first revenue show on French television appear?

In 1953, television was a nascent medium: the number of television sets was a few thousand, mainly in Paris and northern France. The supply of programmes is extremely limited because television only broadcasts in the evening, from 6pm to around 10pm. We are then in what some historians call the “experimental phase” of television. The program offer is not well constituted and it is the television committee, which decides what is broadcast, that chooses to experiment around the kitchen with this first program. Television then has a traditional way of working: we take known people on the air in a less formalized trial logic.

To which France is this programme addressed (number of TV sets, democratization…)?

The profile of the viewer at the time is not well known but buying a television set was very expensive so the television population is in fact small. It is also rather rich and urban, because there is no transmitter in rural areas, the areas equipped are Paris with the Eiffel Tower transmitter, as well as the North. It is for these reasons that the presenter, Georges Adet, is socialite, wears a suit, and cooks in a small space that we imagine to be that of a city apartment. The equipment consists of a refrigerator, which is very rare, and a fairly modern stove. It is an urban system compared to the majority of the time when wood-fired cooking was still used a lot. It also reflects the habits of the audience present in front of the station and the living conditions of this microcosm.

How is this new format being implemented on television and what are its first evolutions?

This first weekly issue existed for one year, from 1953 to 1954. But they were made live because there was no recording medium, and unfortunately only one number was kept. It is not known when this single program was broadcast in relation to the whole. Regarding the first broadcasts, the minutes of the television committee are well kept in the National Archives. Jean d’Arcy, RTF’s programme director, offers his colleagues a programme that works well in England and Germany, with a gourmet actor cooking. This idea is totally in line with the way television was built at the time in reference to the performing arts, which served as its master stallion. Georges Adet was a drama actor, and this format was actually a theatre piece filmed in the studio for television and broadcast live. The cooking show was established on the basis of the idea that it would take an actor to present it who could make it a real television show. The first presenter, whose culinary legitimacy was disputed, was accused of being unprofessional. We were already looking for a telegenic personality, not necessarily a professional.

from the master kitchen to the bedroom kitchen.

With Raymond Oliver, the chef really made his appearance on television: for the first time on television, the chef became an animator.

Raymond Oliver arrives on television through a special contest. When Georges Adet’s show didn’t work, the committee was thinking about alternatives. Jean d’Arcy did not believe in the presence of a professional, because he assumed “that he would not know how to address the public, but rather thought of a chambermaid who could cook well while at the same time belonging to a world closer to that of the television audience”. In November 1954, Georges Adet had the bad idea to join a strike, which prevented his show from being held. Raymond Oliver, who was then chef at the Grand Véfour restaurant in Paris, where many personalities were eating, was apparently called at the last minute by the director he knew to come and present. After two or three weeks, he was accompanied by Catherine Langeais, who was then a speaker, a woman chosen for her elegance and ability to speak well, who usually had to make the transition between programs and who served as a mediator between the chef and the audience. Raymond Oliver had an extraordinary personality with a large build and a very deep voice and the viewers quickly became attached to him. He has become a true television personality, on the cover of magazines, while still being perceived as a great chef.

From this perspective, the viewer is really faced with an entertainment show conceived as a show: he is not an actor but attends a performance.

This is almost a circus performance. We admire the chef’s exploits. At the time, when they were not shot live, the programs were shot in a single shot, so making a recipe in 30 minutes was a feat. Raymond Oliver presents recipes from chefs that we wouldn’t prepare for a family dinner and even says at some point that we won’t reproduce it at home but that he shows it because it’s spectacular. We could almost make the analogy with watching sports. In the first programs Catherine Langeais almost occupies the role of a commentator, trying to understand and explain, in turn showing her admiration for the beauty of the gesture. But very quickly the viewers understood that they would like to see more adaptable recipes and gradually adapted to the range of domestic and household cooking.

Little by little, the spectator will enter into a more personal relationship with the host. To which social evolutions do you think this transition from culinary art to cooking with friends refers?

We move from the teacher to the host close to the audience, which is a general evolution of television: we say that we then move from a window to a mirror, according to the formula of sociologist Dominique Mehl. After having wanted to show the viewer different things, the multiplication of channels will push them to want to involve him by presenting him with familiar things. Raymond Oliver left television in 1968, which is revealing on the social level, because the desire for renewal in the representation of the society of the time led to many changes on the air. His son replaced him as a great figure ten years later, in 1978. Michel Oliver does not have the same culinary career as his father. Thanks to him, he became a cook, but he has never been at the head of such renowned establishments. In the media he never presents himself as a leader, is not in his clothes, but in casual clothes. He says he is familiar with weekend cooking with friends and uses popular cuisine as a model. His arrival marks a turning point because we move from one culinary register to another but also from one mode of address to the viewer to another. He is the one who shares a moment of conviviality and gives tips. The weekend cuisine he presents is different from that of the week, whereas at the time frozen dishes appeared and less time was spent preparing recipes. It stands out by highlighting more elaborate dishes that are no longer just there to feed, but to become a real leisure activity.

A social marker of change between men and women?

What is surprising in cooking shows is that women, traditionally associated with this household activity, are singularly absent from the presentation of recipes. How would you define the place occupied by the woman on the set of the show?

The duet with the woman mediator has established itself in many formats: in the mid-1970s, Marthe Mercadier received chefs in La grande cocotte. Representing the viewer to the chef, she is supposed to ask the questions the housewife asks herself. The dominant idea that this reflects remains that of an ingenious woman in the kitchen, who knows less about it, but takes away the intimidating aspect of the chef’s direct presentation. They also serve to value it by admitting their own inability. We are in a constant game of tensions to make the preparation accessible while enhancing the chef’s cuisine.

Facilitators must create an emotional bond with the viewer, with great facilitators being more male. At a time when traditional cuisine is being presented, the presence of men on the air also reflects the idea that the professional cooking scene is a very important macho environment, which continues to this day because women chefs are rare and have great difficulty in establishing themselves. Raymond Oliver explained, for example, that women know how to cook by tradition, but not to innovate and that only men can cook inventively. He compares male cuisine to an Art, and contrasts it with the nourishing cuisine of women, showing on the air a certain machismo.

In December 1959, Raymond Oliver published the first issue of La cuisine pour les hommes. You underline the divide in cooking practices between men and women, noting that “conceived as a rewarding activity, male cooking does not have the same status as household tasks that are not intended to be presented in public”.

In an issue Catherine Langeais receives a man and notes, “Look, I have a man at my side who cooks at home. “This reflects the fact that a man who cooks is an exception, which was statistically observed at the time. It was a time when culinary education courses were still given, only to girls, at school. This state of affairs was legitimized without being questioned. But the man replies that he only cooks on weekends. An astonishing exchange followed, in which the speaker wondered about his wife’s activities at the time, and he replied that she was taking care of the children. This guest illustrates the idea that men’s cooking is defined as an exception: he chooses the occasions in which he cooks, while the woman is forced to do so. This choice results in a more exceptional cuisine, with dishes that Raymond Oliver believes are more original and sought-after. These dishes are also linked to a certain virility: we will eat more meat, especially red meat. It’s the fried steak side that’s a manly dish at that time. There is also a spicier cuisine that conveys the presuppositions of openness to new things and male strength.

When do you think the break that will offer a greater role to women comes into play and through which figures?

Television is a very distorting mirror: we see many men cooking in it, especially in Michel Oliver’s programme, which is surrounded by friends. However, despite this development, it is still aimed at women, which implies that they cook at home. Nevertheless, around the development of a leisure kitchen, we see a rapprochement of practices because we choose more our moment to prepare a dish. From the late 1980s onwards, more women were seen on the screen, but always through traditional figures, such as Maïté, which reflects an image of traditional cuisine that was already in decline. In this she made a lot of laughs because she appeared to be completely out of step with the female figures of the time. In my opinion, the approximation of practices between men and women comes later. Julien Andrieu presents a more modern image of the woman who cooks because she embodies the old male model. She cooks for pleasure and seeks innovation and sophistication. We are certainly in a daily register, but one that seeks elaboration and originality. At the same time, shows appear where men cook in a more ordinary way. In programs that invite the viewer to cook, we realize that parity is more important than we might think, and men explain cooking at home on a regular basis. Reality TV shows such as Master Chef have a roughly equal casting. Men and women claim the creative leisure of making a dish. Behaviours are similar, even if there are still very large differences in the surveys, particularly according to social level: in working class circles, cooking is still a task that is still very much the responsibility of women. In this respect, television remains a distorting mirror: the less rewarding the cuisine, the more feminine it remains.

Do you think that by promoting the practice of cooking, recipe broadcasts allowed a rebalancing of the traditional and stereotypical balance of the couple between men and women?

This is certain because from the moment we value cooking, showing it as a creative practice, men will want to take it over because it will no longer be considered boring, if not rewarding. This is what we do in coaching and competition programs where the idea is to reveal its value through cooking. The ability to cook well reflects a positive self-image. The importance of cooking in the image sent back to others testifies to the new dimension it takes on television.

The 2000s: from Bon appétit of course! to Top Chef.

In the early 2000s, younger figures appeared who would impose a different style on television revenue programs.

The 2000s were really a turning point because two very different images of the great cuisine coexisted there. The first one is traditional, it is the one of Bon appétit Of course, broadcast on France 3. Joël Robuchon, starred chef, welcomes other starred chefs. We try to show the best of French consecrated cuisine with an educational format, which does not call for entertainment. We will transmit the revenues in the most transparent way. It is the longest running program with nearly 2000 episodes over a 10-year period. It is linked to the image of the France 3 channel: it is a late morning show, which is aimed more at an older audience looking for a traditional vision of cooking. At the same time, through Cyril Lignac, a vision emerged that was completely out of step with the French tradition, inspired by an imported model. Its program was adapted from a program presented by Jamie Oliver, the representative of this new generation in Great Britain. It was called Oui Chef, it was a reality show where you had to create a restaurant by recruiting apprentices. Following this successful program, Cyril Lignac presented another recipe development program. In this program designed as a cooking class, we have an image of the chef who is a little ambiguous, halfway between valuing his professionalism and the opposite, on the “cool” side of the person who races his bike and does not wear a hat. It presents accessible recipes while stamping them with a distinctive quality that is not always justified. He was thus reproached for not cooking great food, while he was running for chef. Julie Andrieu has a very different background because she does not claim the status of professional, she has no training. It imposes the figure of the modern woman, with a cuisine very oriented towards exoticism and linked to a way of life.  Through his cooking style we will express our personality. It presents the image of the woman who pays attention to her figure, who is imagined to have a professional activity, who presents simple and quick recipes. Its recipes vary according to time or desire. But Julie Andrieu had difficulty developing her programmes on television: at the head of her own production company she presented a few programmes on TF1 before leaving for France 3 where her programmes revived with a vision closer to the land, because it corresponded to the channel’s needs and editorial line.

What are the new formats and links developed between cooking, television and advertising?

Cooking shows are very good showcases for advertisers, especially through the presence of the chef, who gives legitimacy to the products he uses. Product placement appears very quickly, not necessarily in an assumed way. Every year, Raymond Oliver presented a special Art et magie de la cuisine show in the 60’s from the houseware show where he showcased new products, such as drummers. From the appearance of private channels, advertising has made a direct appearance in cooking programmes, which have often been designed in conjunction with brands. This was the case, for example, of a show presented by Denise Fabre and her husband on TF1, which lived on TF1, which was sponsored and in which many products were presented in their packaging, whether they were cooked products or brands of dishes. This continued through short programmes, often sponsored by a brand that was promoted. The chef is then the guarantor of the brand’s legitimacy. We see it with Fleury Michon, through which Joël Robuchon came to television. For 3 years he presented every day on TF1 a short program sponsored by the brand that marketed ready meals under his name. It was a true virtuous circle between the brand and the chef. Julie Andrieu has also successfully made herself known on TF1 through a short program, Julie Cuisine, sponsored by Whirlpool. One of the consequences of the fact that these programmes are linked to advertising is that they present an idealized universe and therefore a slightly different vision of cooking. Programs such as Top Chef are now partnering with brands to ensure that sworn chefs appear in advertisements during cuts.

The 2000s also marked the appearance of the first reality shows devoted to cooking with the appearance of the competition: how do we move from a pedagogical model to a model by elimination? Can we consider that with this type of program, the recipe becomes once again the show it was at its beginning?

The appearance of these programs marks the end of a French tradition. Since Raymond Oliver, the cooking show has been conceived as a lesson. The emergence of foreign formats signals the end of this vision, because they completely renew the genre. The first of these formats, A table ! is produced by an Australian production company and appeared at the end of the 1990s on France 3. It was a set show, shot in an unrealistic setting. The idea of entertainment was introduced while maintaining the pedagogical dimension. The second program, forgotten today, appeared on Saturday late morning on France 2: it was an adaptation of a BBC program, Ready Steady Cook, which we had translated as A vos marques, prêt, cuisinez! It was a first form of competition, in which two viewers and two leaders teamed up. There was an imposed basket and each team had 30 minutes to prepare a dish that was tasted at the end. This programme remained on the air for a year and was an unsuccessful attempt, but it paved the way for competitions that mark a real innovation: for the first time cooking will become a prime time sport.

These shows are very spectacular: but it is the competition rather than the recipe itself that is the object of this show. Michel Oliver talked about the dramaturgy of the recipe, because we were witnessing a transformation of food: we were making the viewer wait to see the final result. With reality TV, dramaturgy is born from competition: their staging is not specific to cooking and is found in other fields. Paradoxically, if the recipe is left out, these programs return to a very spectacular cuisine, posing unrealistic challenges to cooks. This is very obvious for Le meilleur pâtissier or the elaboration of assembled pieces creates suspense due to their size or complexity. In my opinion, these programs dilute the culinary discourse and make the technical aspect secondary or even inaudible.

The emission of recipes in the era of the Internet and new media.

With the emergence on the Internet of rating and recipe sharing sites such as Marmiton, the recommendation is becoming more diversified. Can you come back to this phenomenon and how the presentation of the kitchen has evolved?

The Internet has made it much easier for one to access the written recipe. The previous generation cut recipes from magazines, created cards and binders, because they circulated relatively little. This multiplication of the recommendation can be disorienting. Platforms like Marmiton have been successful in providing benchmarks in a world of oversupply. We need the support of a trusted source to start a recipe: cookbooks are often criticized for being very intimidating because the photo seems inaccessible. Video is a very important resource because it provides a much better understanding of how to do it. Often very short and on the model of tutorials, they are very simply explanatory. We abandon all staging to focus on the gesture. Internet also allows you to consult a video on demand, we will look for a recipe because we need it. This makes the interest of watching a cooking show much more uncertain, especially if it adopts a lesson attitude. That’s probably why there aren’t many revenue shows on television anymore, because it doesn’t seem to me to be the right medium for technical lessons. We also notice that the videos on the Internet are not very creative and that the idea of putting a story on the recipe is absent. In return, we see that the Internet has encouraged television programs to be shorter, as Bon appétit of course! moved from a 20-minute format to a 5-minute pastille. The Week-end show on TF1 transposes formats directly from the web, with videos seen from above.

The Internet also allows the broadcasting of revenue programs for entertainment and entertainment in a way that could not work on television such as Les recettes pompettes.

Youtubeurs rather follow the idea of tuto. Les recettes pomettes is originally a Quebec format. The show is a complete reversal of the whole television discourse that emphasizes the gastronomic pleasure of cooking. When we drink wine on television it is for pleasure while here pleasure is not sought in the drink but in the effects of the drink. It is the illustration of a binge drinking, unrepresentable on television, which is part of a total rupture. Michel Oliver drank a lot of wine and did not necessarily reflect an image of moderate consumption, but this was associated with the good life.

How does our current lifestyle, such as vegan and vegetarianism, but also the desire to eat healthy food, affect the television representation of the kitchen?

For a long time television has referred to a very traditional approach to cooking, which is logical because French gastronomy is built on a very strong reference to classical cuisine. The theme of the terroir is also very important: this is the case with La meilleure boulangerie on M6, which emphasizes tradition. Innovation has a very suspicious image, and regional products are highly valued in supermarkets. New products such as vegetarianism are not very present on French television, but they can be found on the Internet through all these videos inspired by the United States where vegetarian discourse has a much greater impact. Sites like Buzzfeed give a broader coverage to these themes than their real importance in society.

La Cuisine en Spectacle – Les Émissions de Recettes à la Télévision (1953 – 2012) – Olivier Roger – Edited the 16th of november 2016.

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