More viewers are finding TV food shows palatable

Monday, July 1, 2002

LOS ANGELES -- Interest in TV food shows is rising like a souffle in a hot oven.

The Food Network's viewership increased 32 percent last year, and with growth continuing this season, the cable channel has almost 74 million viewers.

Food fans weaned on the talents of Julia Child can still watch the grande dame dish it out on local PBS stations, while that doyenne of domesticity, Martha Stewart, fusses about in the Food Network's "From Martha's Kitchen."

Meanwhile, the youth-oriented E! Entertainment and Style cable channels are serving up their own culinary star in glamorous English homemaker Nigella Lawson, host of "Nigella Bites."

Why this hunger for televised food?

Bruce Seidel, a vice president at the Food Network, attributes it to a generation of people who were raised in homes where the working mother wasn't necessarily stirring the spaghetti sauce when they came home for dinner. For them, he says, cooking programs are "an opportunity for discovery."

Lawson, whose shows are filmed in her London home, thinks watching someone cook on television is often "the nearest thing we have to sitting around in someone's kitchen, immersed in good smells and familial warmth."

Touched by celebrity

But 21st century food programming is more than just slicing and dicing.

"There's more to the world of food than just knowing how to cook," says Seidel. "Food can be art, entertainment, glamour, fashion, relaxation, love, sustenance. Food is different things to different people."

Cooking and chefdom also have been touched by the "glitter of celebrityhood," says Geoffrey Drummond, whose A La Carte Productions creates such programs as the syndicated "America's Test Kitchen" and the Emmy-winning "Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home."

Drummond says audiences are falling as hard for today's variety of eccentric cooking characters as they once did for Child, whose seminal influence will be honored with retrospectives on PBS in August, marking her 90th birthday.

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