5 Things I Learned from Watching PBS Cooking Shows as a Kid

updated May 30, 2019
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(Image credit: PBS)

I never had cable growing up, so my options for television shows were pretty limited. Thank goodness for PBS though! While my parents happily slept in on Saturday mornings, my sister and I would grab something from the kitchen for breakfast and plunk down in front of the TV for cartoons.

Even after the cartoons were over, though, I stayed glued to the television for what was really my favorite part of the morning: the cooking shows. It was time to enter Jacques, Julia, Martin, and Lidia’s worlds, among many others, and I was obsessed. They taught me to fold, cream, and julienne, but there were many other lessons I learned along the way!

5 Things I Learned from PBS Cooking Shows

1. Food is always tied into culture.

My parents were very adventurous eaters and introduced us to a lot of new foods, but I was still fascinated with all the different ingredients and foods on cooking shows. Many hosts unabashedly had accents and told us the names of things in their natives tongues, and I loved it all.

The new foods and recipes sounded so good that I daydreamed about them all the time — I think I knew exactly what went into a pesto sauce before I ever tried it! PBS was great about integrating segments that showed the countries and cultures where the food came from, and it was as much armchair traveling as cooking demonstration.

(Image credit: PBS)

2. Personality and food are closely related.

Chinese chef wisecracking while deftly wielding a cleaver? Martin Yan was your man. Italian chef who seemed like a stern-but-wise grandmother? Lidia Bastianich made you want to shove your face into a bowl of pasta. PBS taught me that personality and food were inseparable, whether you cooked on the fly and didn’t measure anything out or were uber-nerdy like the folks at America’s Test Kitchen.

When I stood on the set of America’s Test Kitchen as they were filming and watched it all unfold as an intern, I realized that what I really wanted to do was test recipes. My penchant for organization and problem solving were a perfect fit with my dream of working in food, and I thank PBS for showing me all the different ways that food can be presented and worked with.

3. Anybody can cook.

To be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever made a recipe from watching a cooking show, but what I did take away was that anyone could learn to cook. Sometimes there were kids in the kitchen, sometimes there were grandparents in there, and lots of times there were people who didn’t know how to cook. The whole point of the PBS cooking shows were to explain, teach, and say, “It’s okay if you don’t know how to do this, I’m here to show you!” It was matter-of-fact and not intimidating.

4. Cooking should always involve other people.

The hosts on PBS cooking shows were rarely cooking alone. Even if they had a magnetic personality, it would always be amplified by having a fellow chef, friend, or family member cooking alongside. Funnily enough, I’m the opposite. Some people enjoy cooking with others and find the whole experience relaxing, but I get stressed out unless the people I’m cooking with also work with food on some professional level.

What I really connected to were the PBS episodes where the host would sit down at the end of the episode and invite someone to eat with them. While I don’t necessarily like cooking with friends, I love eating with them and the happiness that comes from feeding other people.

(Image credit: PBS)

5. Don’t forget beverages!

And for the final lesson? Never, ever forget beverages. Drinks could show up as the cooking wine that the host got to sneak a glass from or be in the final minutes of the show where the host paired drinks with that episode’s menu.

What I learned was that a good pairing could really elevate the delicious food that they worked so hard to prepare. Even as a kid who had no idea what wine tasted like, PBS taught me to never forgot that beverages complete a meal.

Did you watch PBS cooking shows or still watch them? What kinds of things have you learned from these shows?