Comprehensive but dense chronicle of the genesis of food presentation in the media.
Collins begins with the “Early Period (1945 –1962),” during which instructional cooking segments on radio programs became as popular as their televised counterparts would years later. Radio spots during the early ’40s sought to better the talents of the modern housewife but also to quell the rising unease during wartime. Fictional hostesses Aunt Sammy and Betty Crocker shared recipes and household hints just as television burst onto the scene, a medium first exploited by epicurean vanguard and cookbook author James Beard in the mid-’40s. Collins notes that most shows were merely vehicles for appliance promotion and were hosted by women such as radio performer Alma Kitchell and inexperienced cook Monty Margetts, who “had to ask a friend what ‘marinate’ meant.” The phenomenon of legendary French chef Julia Child dominates the majority of the section covering the ’60s through the ’90s. Through her blunt, droll delivery, Child intended to “take French cooking from high society to the suburbs, from Park Avenue and Champs Elysses to Elm Street.” After Child, the “British dandy” Graham Kerr’s The Galloping Gourmet became “the first cooking chow to aggressively capitalize on the entertainment potential of the medium and to come at the genre from this angle.” These personalities, Collins insists, helped usher cooking shows into a more progressive era, opening the door for the immense popularity of gourmands like Emeril Lagasse, Rachael Ray, Paula Deen and Martha Stewart. The author provides generous coverage of the Food Network in the final section, moving the narrative into the contemporary American consumerism culture.
Packed with interesting gastronomical morsels, but the dry presentation may send diehard foodies to the television to watch and learn instead of reading about it.