We watch a lot of Food Network in our house. It started back with Chopped marathons when we all had the plague after Memorial Day, the first summer without Up the Lake.
Anabelle has continued watching a huge variety of culinary shows.
She and Rosa will try out techniques and recipes, while I mostly stick with what I know (or don't know) in the kitchen. It isn't that I don't watch and get into the shows with them, I do. We've already established that I'm easily won over by people presenting and explaining something they have a passion for and knowledge about. We've also established that I primarily socially bond with people through viewing stuff. Given the choice, though, I'd probably pick crazy old shows or movies. (Often also crazy and/ or old...like me!)
Anabelle, however, needs to watch it. I figured it out after she once had a rough day at school where her expression reminded me of my own past.
My Dad made an observation about me when I was a kid watching cartoons.
I don't mean the artistic and historically significant Looney Tunes that I'd watch with him and my Grandfather. I also don't mean gloriously, creatively insane stuff like Thundarr the Barbarian.
I mean Saturday morning visual refuse like Turbo Teen, the animated adventures of a temperature sensitive were-car.
He pointed out to my Mom that it was like my brain needed down time to recharge after the stress of working hard in school and those shows provided it.
Food Network does the same thing for my daughter, with the added bonus of it providing a life skill that will help her feed herself, as opposed to only filling her "Bucket Junior" like head with useless trivia, like my relaxation did.
Outside of suggesting rude or disgusting ideas for ingredients or dishes to Beat Bobby Flay, and being captivated by how the Worst Cooks in America manage to get through day to day life without killing themselves and at least six other people, I usually don't get heavily emotionally invested in any of the shows she watches, except one.
It's Kids Baking Championship.
This is not because I care about baking, which is the least likely adventure I'm going to undertake in the kitchen. I had never heard of pad a choux before watching this program, and the only reason I knew what a macaron was came from watching Miraculous Ladybug. The extent of my baking knowledge comes down to figuring out adding the "extra egg for more cake like brownies" would allow me to pour a bag of m&m's into the premade mix without it turning into pudding.
My interest is also not due to yet another childhood crush, this one stemming from watching One Day at a Time in syndication on days I was home sick from school...
That's why I watch Hot in Cleveland reruns, plus its hilarious.
No, it is because this series has significant differences from all the other cooking competition shows.
For one thing, it is astonishing to see the jaw dropping skill levels of the very young contestants.
"Look this ten year old just made a tye-dye mirror glaze cake with a multi colored and tasting checkerboard interior."
"Hey, here's a twelve year old who made a giant, fantastically multi-flavored, puzzle cookie of the Mona Lisa!"
And I'm sitting there thinking,
"Wow! At twenty-seven I coated my entire kitchen in cheese powder and gin the same night I set myself on fire."
Also, the kids are crazy happy to be there. Sure it's stressful, but they're so excited, its awesome!
The universe hasn't beaten the enthusiasm out of them yet, and it shows.
Even when the "twist" comes out (the extra challenge the hosts bring in mid-bake) the contestants moan and groan about it, but there's often some glee under the surface as new ideas form. For any given bake, at least some of the kids get thrilled enough to start dancing when it's announced...
And for dessert impostors, (making a dessert that looks like a normal dish like a pizza, hamburger or sushi) the whole gang usually breaks out into a jig.
But the reason I really get drawn into the show is:
The kids aren't complete jerks like the contestants on many other shows, who constantly trash talk each other and go all out in cutthroat competition.
These children are actually nice to the other contestants-
They share ingredients.
They answer questions.
They provide helpful tips.
On occasions where one child has finished and another is struggling to meet the timed deadline (in a competition originally for TEN GRAND and now TWENTY -FIVE might I add) another kid will often run to the stressed one's aid asking, "What can I do?"
It's all incredibly heartwarming and hopeful for the future to see. "Where Are They Now" follow ups have shown that these competitors have formed life long friendships.
The key ingredient (HA- COOKING JOKE!) for all the positive aspects of this series is the hosts. Valerie Bertinelli, and Duff (Ace of Cakes) Goldman are AMAZING with the kids, and a joy to behold.
The only problem with them is they make me very hungry. The children have crazy cooking abilities to begin with, and they often cater to the hosts favorites: Valerie- lemon, Duff- Bacon.
Note- Having this information permanently logged in my brain will help if I'm ever in a "Freaky Friday" situation and suddenly change places with a pre-teen baker. Otherwise, it's like everything else in the "warehouse of useless crap" that is my head.
Valerie has an outstanding way with words, describing the taste, texture and highlights of each dish.
Then there's Duff. He also describes them well, but with him its more visual and visceral. I've seen babies in high chairs slamming their faces into birthday cakes that did not look like they were enjoying desserts as much as Duff does when he takes a bite out of and chews something he likes.
But back to interacting with the contestants:
First of all, they tell terrible jokes and puns the whole time, so I feel like they know me there.
However, it's the way they handle the emotional states of the bakers that is so phenomenal.
There are times when stuff inevitably goes disastrous in the high stress, timed environment, and they are always ready (as , sweetly, are the other kids) to run in and talk someone down, dry some tears and instill the confidence they need to continue. They don't do it by telling the kids what to do, they do it by asking them questions, making the kids figure it out for themselves. As a father who regularly used that technique on homework help, it's nice to see it used in practice elsewhere.
It is clear that the two of them are/ will be (Congratz Duff!) excellent parents.
This is apparent in the judging as well. Kids who are really beating themselves up always get a confidence boost, even when something went awry.
The incredible part is how well they read each kid. Their advice is always constructive and educational for the contestants. Some children need boosting, but some are fully aware they messed up and can handle joking about it. A few, of course, as with any talented group of people, err on the arrogant side about what they've done. The way Duff and Valerie politely, but firmly take them down a peg or two without being mean about it is also excessively well handled.
Like I said, I don't care about baking.
What I do care about is watching the helpful, kind and supportive hosts instill the same kind of behavior in the kids as they share their impressive talents and passions.