EVERY WEEKDAY, KUAT devotes a half-hour of its programming to the wonders of the kitchen. Starting at 1 p.m. Monday through Friday, viewers can learn how to cook low-fat, shop macrobiotically and cultivate their own edible garden. At present the schedule is as follows:
Mondays: The Best of Kerr. If you're old enough, you'll have some fleeting memory of the Galloping Gourmet, a phenomenally popular cooking program of the 1970s that featured the good-humored and garrulous talents of Graham Kerr. The ebullient host was noted for his unrestrained use of hedonistic ingredients such as butter, cream and eggs in many of his dishes. Time (and serious injury and illness affecting both him and his wife) has caused Kerr to mend his evil ways and embrace the philosophy of "minimax" -- minimum health risks with maximum flavor. Low-fat and high taste are Kerr's bywords these days, and this show demonstrates how many of Kerr's old recipes can be modified to fit the new model.
Tuesdays: Dessert Circus. Pastry Chef Jacques Torres salutes sweets in grand style in this delightful half-hour that not only demonstrates correct technique, but also provides insight into how baking affects the various ingredients. It's kind of like having Mr. Science and Julia Child in the kitchen at the same time. Torres, the Executive Pastry Chef at four-star New York restaurant Le Cirque 2000, demystifies the art of making fantastic dessert creations (goodies featured in a glossy companion book to the series).
Wednesdays: Weir Cooking in Wine Country. Shot on location in the heart of California's central coast, this series features culinary ingenue Joanne Weir, award-winning cookbook author, chef and media spokesperson (for Robert Mondavi's Vichon wines). With an exceptional skill in Mediterranean cuisine, Weir (formerly of Chez Panisse in Berkeley) is a natural at incorporating regional ingredients into meals meant to be gloriously paired with some of the area's abundant vintages. Her motto is, "When you celebrate food, you celebrate life." Her program replicates the good life in such a way that it seems obtainable to one and all.
Thursdays: Christina Cooks. If your lifestyle embodies (or wants to embody) the phrase "you are what you eat," this show's for you. Christina Pirello examines food in such a way that the viewer not only learns more about ingredients, but also the way various foods affect the way we look, feel and live. Pirello was diagnosed 14 years ago with a form of leukemia that's nearly always fatal. Foregoing traditional treatments, she focused on nutrition as her best hope for a cure, using whole foods and a macrobiotic diet. Now cancer free, the gregarious Pirello manages to get her ides across without ever sounding preachy. Material is presented as though the program is a cooking class, with real students asking questions and trying to duplicate the techniques demonstrated. It's a very provocative and fun half-hour.
Friday and Saturday: Victory Garden. Although the focus of the show is to glimpse some of the world's most sensational gardens, every program concludes with a brief cooking segment hosted by cookbook author Marian Morash. In addition to a wealth of practical gardening advice, viewers can pick up information on just what to do with that intimidating bulb of fennel, or how to use sorrel in a savory summer soup.
The cooking fun continues on KUAT-TV on Saturdays, from 12:30 to 3 p.m., when a solid lineup of cooking talents showcases cuisines from the bayou, the inner city and the English countryside. On Louisiana Cooking, Cajun chef and Will Rogers-kind-of-humorist Justin Wilson (he of the short-sleeved blue work shirts and red suspenders) explains and demonstrates the preparation of dishes from this southern shore, with a special emphasis these days on outdoor cooking. With a "Recipe O' De Day" and a constant reminder to call "Joos-tain!" Louisiana Cooking evokes the same happy toe-tap as the squeezebox zydeco music characteristic of the region.
The Americas' Family Kitchen: Host Vertamae Grosvenor presents a variety of homespun recipes with a cultural emphasis on Creole, European, Native American, Caribbean, Latin American and North American in her dishes. Although it's possible you might get a bit lost in Grosvenor's procedures, you won't tire of the explanations and stories about the foods she brings to the table. This show is a crash-course on culinary anthropology.
Burt Wolf: Travels & Traditions: This travelogue with recipes is the best of two worlds if you like to hit the open road as much as you love eating. It's an entertaining half-hour that takes viewers around the globe in search of notable landmarks and exquisite cuisine. The food is invariably gorgeous to look at, and Wolf provides information and insight into the various components that make up each exotic dish.
Two Fat Ladies: The death earlier this month of Jennifer Paterson has tragically reduced the motorcycle riding British duo to a solo performance, but we can still enjoy their combined wit and skill through the reruns shown here. Paterson and counterpart Clarissa Dickson shamelessly extol the virtues of treacle, rendered chicken fat, cream, butter and sugar. They make no apologies for their girth and seem to have a jolly good time in the kitchen. Watching this pair is a little like sneaking a sweet when you know you've already had quite enough.
If you're on any of the Tucson cable networks, you can also catch cooking every weekday afternoon between 4 and 5 p.m. when the Discovery Channel features various installments of the Great Chef series.
Regional cuisine, as demonstrated by a revolving cast of master chefs, is presented in mouthwatering splendor. The programs are not the least bit travel focused, and yet you get a real taste of the area where the show is centered, whether it's our own great Southwest, the Hawaiian Islands or New York City.
Any episode can be great fun, giving viewers a behind-the-scenes look at what goes into making some of those stunning dishes you enjoy when dining out. You'll want to keep a pad and pen nearby to jot down the names of the restaurants these guys work for, so that you can be sure and stop by if you ever find yourself in their hometown.
Interestingly, cooking shows appeal to a wide audience. You might think that only people who cook would be tuning in, but I know several people who aren't even sure where the kitchen is, let alone what it is for, yet they regularly sit down to enjoy one or more of these programs. Vicarious thrills, enlightenment, instruction, edification, visual appeal -- today's cooking shows have something for everyone.