What better way to hone your culinary skills than by inviting a master chef into your kitchen every week to personally teach you?
For most people, however, this isn’t a practical – or affordable – solution. The next best thing? Tuning in to The Food Network and taking copious notes on how the pros do it. This month’s lesson plans all revolve around cooking and assembling the right balance of ingredients for a mouth-watering plot.
These discussion questions provide a good foundation prior to choosing which exercises to try first.
1. Do you know how to cook? If so, did someone teach you the basics or did you figure it out on your own?
2. Do you enjoy watching cooking shows? If so, which one is your favorite and why? Which one do you like the least and why?
3. Of all the celebrity chefs you have heard of, which one would you most like to invite you to dinner at their house? If they asked you to bring something, what would it be?
4. If you had your own cooking show, what would the theme be? (i.e., ethnic cuisine, healthy eating, budget-minded, vegan)
5. Which of the five senses do you think is the most important in being a great chef?
6. Who do you think make more engaging hosts for cooking shows – men or women? Why?
LISTEN AND LEARN
Julia Child is the name that most often springs to mind if you ask people when it was that cooking programs made their debut on the airwaves. The fact, though, is that she wasn’t the first gourmand to bring cheery enthusiasm and savvy cooking techniques to workaday households. Long before The French Chef began attracting audiences in 1963, James Beard was in the spotlight for I Love To Eat (1946), Dione Lucas was broadcasting from one of her restaurants in 1948, Joseph Milani – Chef Milani – was incorporating slapstick and silly accents (1949), and comedian Ernie Kovacs invited guest chefs to Deadline for Dinner (1950).
Taking an even greater step back, however, the first cooking show in history was actually a radio program in 1926 sponsored by the USDA’s Farm Radio Service. The show’s star was a fictional personality named Aunt Sammy, a gregarious helpmate to Uncle Sam. For stressed out housewives who were stymied about what to serve their families, Aunt Sammy had all the answers…and all the recipes.
Your assignment: How do you show someone how to make something when they can’t see what you’re doing? Write 2-3 pages of monologue for radio in which your own version of Aunt Sammy walks listeners through the process of making pancakes.
RECIPE FOR MURDER
As anyone who loves mysteries can tell you, a perfect crime is comprised of a motive, an opportunity and a weapon/method. In 1978, a comedy called Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe embraced the premise that the best way to prevent a “calamitously fat” publisher from fatally succumbing to his addictions for rich food was to dispatch the very chefs who created them. As the plot unfolds, the chefs are each murdered in a manner consistent with the signature dishes that made them famous.
Your assignment: The line-up of hosts on a prestigious culinary program seem to be having an extraordinary run of bad luck; specifically, someone is systematically killing them off soon after their segment airs. Your job is to write a one-page film synopsis that identifies (1) who is behind this fiendish foodie foul play, (2) what is his/her motivation, (3) how is opportunity created for each murder, (4) what is the weapon/method employed, and (5) how is the story resolved and by whom.
CUISINE ON THE CHEAP
Let’s face it: despite the reality that everyone loves to eat (and also needs to do so for survival), not everyone feels inclined to don an apron, break out the cookbooks, and concoct a savory masterpiece. Maybe they just don’t have the time in an already packed schedule. Maybe they don’t have the budget to invest in gourmet gadgetry and exotic herbs. Maybe they’re baffled by instructions that tell them to braise, flambé, battre au fouet. Or maybe they’re just intimidated by the potential of burning their house down.
In 1951, cookbook editor and author Poppy Cannon recognized that not everyone was a natural in the kitchen and, further, what they wanted was something that was cheap to purchase and simple to make. Hence was born The Can Opener Cookbook, a text which reinforced the message that if you owned a can opener, you could put a meal on the table. Granted, not every guest was going to be enamored with Poppy’s spin on “Canned asparagus-Spam-macaroni casserole” but you get the picture.
Your assignment: You are in charge of developing a new cooking show in which every recipe uses exactly the same item as its main ingredient. This ingredient can be anything you want but it has to (1) be cheap and (2) come in a box or a can. Your job is to write a 60-second advertising promo to get audiences excited about tuning into the show when it debuts next month. To make it easier (although not that easy!), you have access to any celebrity spokesperson you want to deliver the lines for this commercial.
THIS KITCHEN’S NOT BIG ENOUGH FOR THE BOTH OF US
Most of the cooking programs you see on television are a solo act and not a duet, a scenario that likely supports the adage, “Too many cooks spoil the broth.”
Your assignment: The ratings for “Cooking With Millie” have continued to drop, primarily because Millie (who is plumpish, folksy and in her late 50’s) has failed to court younger viewers with the passage of years. This has the producer of the show concerned because all of the advertisers of trendy, hip and happenin’ products are now going elsewhere. You’ve come up with the idea to inject the program with a fresh face and some youthful vitality; specifically, in the form of a pop diva in her early 20’s who has never cooked a thing in her life. She is also aggressively health-conscious and wrinkles her nose at all those buttery, creamy, cheesey entrees Millie has been dishing for decades. Write a three-page scene in which these two women meet for the first time to discuss the show’s new format.
Best friends Freya and Sybil have always loved eating and traveling and - now that they’re retired - have been trying to figure out what they can do with themselves that will combine these two passions. Even better, they’d like to figure out how to get someone else to pay for it. After watching countless episodes of Man vs. Food, Martin Yan’s China, and Anthony Bourdain, this intrepid pair decides to take an extended road trip in search of the best ___________.
Your assignment: Write a three-page scene in which Freya and Sybil pitch their concept to a studio executive seeking something offbeat but commercially viable.
As part of my ongoing commitment to supply great lesson plans for today’s classrooms, I always enjoy getting feedback on how the material is used and what kind of new content you’d like to see in future columns. I’m also happy to answer any questions related to specific problems your students may be struggling with. Just drop me a note at or through my website at http://www.authorhamlett.com.
Former actress/director Christina Hamlett is an award winning author, professional script consultant, and ghostwriter. Her credits to date include 26 books, 144 plays for young actors, and 5 optioned feature films.