Elimination Cooking Shows Backwards 'R' Us!
Let me be clear right off the bat. I have no interest whatsoever in any cooking show of any kind. I have even less interest in elimination cooking shows where someone is boisterously counting down to the time being up, and someone else has to leave the kitchen, or turn in their spatula, or just get the hell off the set. But hey, if cooking shows are your bag, have at ‘er. I’d rather watch paint dry than have to listen to Bobby Flay speak.
All of that said, I’m married to a man who can watch marathons of Chopped Canada on his day off, and not be the least bothered by the fact that every episode is exactly the same. And I have a quirk about wanting to be in the same room as him when we’re both home because I love him to distraction.
Usually, I’ll put my earbuds in and listen to snippets of any of the various ten-hour videos of rain falling over on YouTube so I can read while he watches some Italian woman whip up stunning, elegantly-themed gift bags for her dinner guests as they lounge on her breezy patio in Tuscany.
Yeah. Like I cook in Tuscany. And like I make gift bags for my guests. Not. I can make about twelve dishes really well. That’s plenty of cooking for me. One of the first things I told Stu when we got together was, “I hope you’re not thinking I might be Betty Crocker.” Turned out, he’s Betty Crocker. The first meal he ever made for me thirty-five years ago was homemade Chicken Cordon Bleu. So I married him.
I’m often the gleeful recipient of his viewing of cooking shows as he’ll occasionally whip me up Pork Wellington or some other delicacy. And he doesn’t narrate his process or try to teach me about the different kinds of orzo while he’s cooking, so I’m good with it. He also doesn’t wear his hair in a woefully bad dye job of pointy white spikes while yelling. Thank gawd.
In any cooking show, you’ll see some form of this: we see a chef adding chocolate nuggets to a hot pan. While we’re watching him do that, the chef says, “I add my chocolate.” He then announces that he’s going to whip his meringue up, while we’re watching him whip his meringue up. There he is: whipping and sweating. I hope his meringue turned out beautifully. Or I would hope for that if I cared.
I don’t recall when this first struck me, but it hit me like a frying pan to the face when it did. Elimination cooking shows are the most fantastic example of showing vs. telling. We’re constantly being told as writers that we need to show rather than tell, but that’s a vague concept at best. How do we do it, exactly? I still get writing back from friends and the word “telling” appears in the margins now and again, even after my decades of writing practice.
What’s the quick answer? Easy. “I add my chocolate", tells the chef, while the camera shows him adding the chocolate. We see him whipping up his meringue, while he’s telling us that he’s whipping up his meringue. If we have usable eyes in our heads, we can see that he’s added chocolate. Telling us that he’s adding chocolate is straight from The Department of Redundancy Department.
I confess I’ve not watched this entire episode as I may have mentioned that I don’t like cooking shows. But I’d bet good money that at some point, someone runs to the big fridge to get some ingredient. The chef will say, “I run to the fridge to grab some sheep bladders.” At the same time, we’re watching the chef run to the fridge to grab some sheep bladders.
First off, if you’re a reader of this blog, you know how I feel about the word “grab”. But more importantly, the format of this kind of show gives us the most concrete examples of showing vs. telling. If the secret ingredient is sheep bladders (and we know it is because the annoying counter-downer has just told us it is), we don’t need to hear from the chef that she’s going to get some sheep bladders. It’s much more effective to see her running in there to get those bladders.
From there, I really don’t want to know what she does with them…