Celebrity chefs, cooking shows inspire others



Julia Child’s influence through her television show and numerous cookbooks had such an impact on American cooks that her Cambridge, Mass., kitchen became part of a display at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in 2001.

Though the new breed of television chefs on 24-hour cable networks has been affecting the cooking and eating habits of people for years, that influence has stuck with some local residents.

Most people know Karen Gordon of Garden City Jazz for her music, but they probably don’t know about her addiction to cooking shows.

“My TV remains on 24 hours a day and tuned to the Food Net­work,” said Gordon, whose cooking and eating habits have been transformed by shows such as Iron Chef America and chefs including Alton Brown, Sandra Lee, Rachael Ray and Ina Garten.

Gordon said her obsession began while watching a few shows on the network six years ago, and it pushed her to be adventurous with food.

“For all of my adult life, I’ve played it safe, cooking the same types of dishes my mother prepared, only attempting to use less salt and fat,” she said. “The Food Network opened up so many new possibilities to me.

“Before Food Network, my spices of choice were seasoned salt and lemon pepper seasoning; maybe a bit of Old Bay here and there. Just last week, my husband and I had a lengthy discussion about which spices we needed to eliminate in order to fit them all into the cupboards.”

Not only does she have many spices, but also several varieties of the same spice.

Audrey Ateca, of Aiken, discovered that watching cooking shows with her teenagers caused them to be more open-minded about the food she served.

“I don’t watch the how-to shows. I like the competitions like Chopped, Iron Chef and Cupcake Wars,” said Ateca, the mother of five.

A key element in Chopped is to take several ingredients from the mystery basket and force chefs to use them in new and creative ways. Often, there are uncommon food items they must use.

My children “were intrigued by parsnips because they use those in Chopped,” she said. “I also bought some rainbow carrots. You don’t see them all of the time.”

Watching the shows helped Ateca try new ideas she might not have tried and has encouraged her to buy more fresh foods rather than prepackaged and processed ones, she said.

Gordon also is opting to use more fresh fruits and vegetables in her diet, rather than canned or frozen.

“I think I’m trying to become a bit of a food snob,” she said.

Her Food Network habit has spilled over into other areas of her life, including family get-togethers during the holidays. She and her sister, Tonya Bell, have their own cooking competition of sorts.

“We pretty much prepare a normal Christmas dinner – we just inject all the drama of Iron Chef into it,” she said.

Unlike Ateca and Gordon, who like the competition shows, Michelle Zupan has a taste for the how-to programs. Her association with food shows began several years ago before one famous chef landed on a network.

She met Emeril Lagasse when he was a chef at Commander’s Palace in New Orleans.

“He was an up-and-coming chef. I remembered that when I saw his name and began watching his show,” she said.

She began culling recipes from food shows and has several hundred cookbooks and about 10 binders full of recipes. One of her favorite recipes is a banana cream pie made using a 4-inch springform cake pan.

“It is so thick. It is the most marvelously decadent dish,” she said.

Although she cancelled her cable-television subscription, Zupan said she still frequents the network’s Web site.

Other chefs who have influenced Zupan include Paula Deen and Alton Brown.

When she heads to Colorado for the holidays this year, Zupan will be taking with her a stash of recipes, because they don’t let her or her family down.

“I was back at my family’s place at Easter, and every recipe used came from Food Network,” she said. “All of the foods were a hit.”