Culinary Inspiration and Influences

Yesterday ‘s post at Cooking without Limits, “Muse in the kitchen,” has given me pause to think about some of the people who have inspired me cook, and who, in my opinion, has created a desire to cook better good. We all have our own styles and responses, and sometimes these align with others, and sometimes not. Some celebrity cooks are full of passion and charisma, while others are quiet and earnest–but all are in love with food.

Family

In my culinary journey, I’ve been lucky in that I have been surrounded by people who know and are interested in knowing how to cook. Everyone in my family, for instance. Mom is a great baker, puts together an awesome beef stew, and swears by Nigella Lawson’s Christmas pudding. Dad has signature dishes like corn fritters and waffle ice cream sandwiches. My brother is a great cook, and spent many years in the food industry. My Uncles and Aunt, likewise, enjoy making all kinds of dishes–from turkey burgers stuffed with extra veggies, the best au gratin potatoes, to homemade pies.

The Ladies

And then there are the church ladies, who can cook their way into anyone’s hearts with their  homemade breads, french toast casseroles, and sticky buns, and hearty winter soups, and have taught their children to do the same. We’ve been to far too many church events where we’ve come home stuffed with delicious things. I’d be happy to know, someday, that I’ve become one of them.

Celebrities

Celebrity chefs, on the other hand, arrive to us through vastly different venues. Thanks to Julia Child*, they now reach us not only through cook books, but via TV, magazines, and other mass media. And yes, Julia Child is someone I find great inspiration from. Not only was she a pioneer in bringing great cooking to us, the masses, she did so with the firm conviction that yes, we can. Cooking great food was not just to be the secrets of great chefs, but available to all. And of course, I’m greatly inspired by the parts of Julie & Julia which bring us her story–the best parts of the movie, really.

Now, for the Food Network bits. The best show they ever had, hands down, was the original, Japanese, dubbed Iron Chef. DH and I watched this in college, and if it was available on DVD, I would throw my money at it. This show, and the chefs on it, changed my culinary life and expanded my horizons in a very real way. Today, there is almost nothing I wouldn’t try. We began to understand the concepts of what great food is really about, beyond our American pallets.

Good Eats with Alton Brown and Barefoot Contessa with Ina Garten are my two other Food Network picks. I enjoy watching food shows with people who are knowledgeable and able to easily explain the science of food. Not to mention, Good Eats was entertaining, and I must admit I love Ina’s upscale lifestyle. But both are compelling and produce food I want to eat.

Another person, who I originally shied a bit away from, but have found really does know what she’s doing, is Martha Stewart. Not only does she cook, she also does decor and flowers, another great plus for me. Her recipes are well thought out and have nearly always turned out for me. If you are interested in the entire art of entertaining, she’s someone you should be looking into. Though I’ve managed to catch her cooking show only a few times, her earnestness comes through despite the extremely calm and collected personality she portrays.

More recent influences for me come from the UK. If you haven’t watched The Great British Bake Off (The Great British Baking Show as retitled on PBS), you should. Mary Berry, a well-known home cook in the UK with numerous cook books under her belt, is delightful as one of the judges on the show, and always knows why a cake hasn’t turned out properly. Hosts Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc are also delightful. The show itself, and the many bakers who have been on it, is refreshing after the advent of US reality shows, and quite inspiring.

My other pick here is the indefatigable Raymond Blanc.**  Having recently watched several series of his cooking shows, this self-taught chef has a restaurant that I’ll likely never be able to afford to eat in, but a huge talent for showing how simple incredible food can be if one only has patience, and for inspiring others. His charisma is infectious, and one simply can’t watch one of his shows without wanting to run into the kitchen and make something.

I have one final honorable mention. Two Fat Ladies*** is a BBC2 cooking program which stared Clarissa Dickson Wright** and Jennifer Paterson, two experienced cooks in their own right. While their recipes vary greatly, they are always a joy to watch–they are large in both body and personality, and this is a show I occasionally watch when not feeling well. I dream of making some of their recipes–Peaches Cardinal, Summer Tomato Pudding, or Onion Soup with Stilton. Clarissa Dickson Wright also has other food shows which are also lovely.

*Mastering the Art of French Cooking was recently gifted to me, and I can’t wait to get into reading it. A shoutout to DH, who got me a first edition when he totally didn’t have to.

**Raymond Blank and Clarissa Dickson Wright’s programs are available on Youtube, which is where I watched them.

***Two Fat Ladies is available as a DVD set.

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