Every evening, millions of us all over the world cram around TVs, laptops or small fruit-based devices to binge on broadcasting foodie heaven. Over the last 10 years, food shows have grown to dominate global pop culture like little else, luring in viewers with the tantalising combination of competition and food porn. We used to watch soaps. Now we watch pulled pork.
However, as any producer worth their salt knows, there’s a whole lot more to TV than meets the eye. Long before we get to drool over magnificently presented main courses, legions of sneaky workers spend hours scurrying behind the scenes to see that perfection is achieved by any means necessary. The end result may look great, but after all that tinkering, it’s little more than illusion. For anyone who wants a peek behind the TV curtain, here are a few secrets about how the food show sausage gets made.
1. Timing is everything
Most food shows rollock along at a canter and last little more than an hour. To the annoyance of many, it’s very rare to find a format that goes for length over speed. However, as any food show contestant or co-star will tell you, the reality couldn’t be more different. Each episode can often take upwards of 12 hours to film and requires just as much stamina as it does skill.
2. Waste not, want not
It may seem like a redundant point for a format that relies on a glossy finish, but food shows are notorious for racking up a whole heap of waste. Cooking competitions are particularly guilty, with insiders claiming that almost none of the food that gets made ends up being eaten. After hours spent sitting under the glare of a studio light, most dishes are actually deemed unsafe to eat, so they can’t even be given away.
3. Judging smudging
Many food audiences are used to spending seconds trying to read the unscrupulous expressions of hawkish judges after they pop a morsel into their mouth. It turns out that this is a complete waste of time. Not only is the food that the judges eat for the camera cold, but it sometimes isn’t even the food that a competitor will be judged on. Separate sample plates are often set aside throughout the cooking process, so that judges can test the food as was intended, rather than rely on a cold substitute.
4. Fake foods
It’s an open secret that many of the glossy food images emblazoned on adverts and the internet have had a bit of work done. But, surely the carefully crafted creations of our favourite food stars are the real deal? Alas, any food show veteran will tell you that the dish that you see has almost certainly been altered beyond recognition, to the point where it may actually be inedible. From tomatoes filled with gelatin to chicken skin rubbed in motor oil, there’s no limit to the underhand methods used by devious directors to fool an audience.
5. The memory game
It may seem like a stretch for even the most practised amateur cook, but there are many food competitions where contestants aren’t allowed to bring in any recipe notes with them. At all. This makes the competitive cooking atmosphere a challenge of memory as well as skill, which can end up being the undoing of many extremely talented participants. Maybe you’ll think twice before laughing at the next time someone forgets to put egg in their cake.
For all the games going on behind the scenes, it’s also clear that competitors, judges and chefs alike all acknowledge that making a cooking show is hard work. Given the stress of the situation, the time involved and the difficult technical requirements, it’s unsurprising that the drama we love to see on screen is often one of the few authentic elements of the entire process. Maybe that explains why, for all their trickery, food shows are here to stay.