In the days before Food Network, Cooking Channel and of course, the internet, viewers seeking culinary content had to wait for the few cooking series that were out there to show up on their local TV stations. Production values might have been wildly inconsistent but the information offered was always first rate.
Some of the following names were among them and they may or may not be familiar to many viewers. But know that these folks paved the way for what we have today – cooking shows all day and night, whenever you want them. Many of them are foodie immortals.
Julia Child, “The French Chef” (1962-73, PBS): Child introduced American viewers to French cooking at a time when it was considered exotic and expensive restaurant fare, featuring recipes from her “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” bestseller and emphasizing the use of fresh and sometimes hard-to-find ingredients. She did other cooking shows after this but this is the standard bearer.
James Beard, “I Love to Eat” (1946-47, NBC): Yes, the chef for whom one of the culinary arts’ most prestigious awards is named hosted this live cooking show, the first of its genre on U.S. television. It started out as a 15 minute program but went to a half hour as more intricate recipes were introduced. Sadly, no video records of it exist today.
Graham Kerr, “The Galloping Gourmet” (1968-71, syndicated): Lighthearted humor and liberal amounts of butter, cream and fat were trademarks of this Canadian-produced program hosted by the ribald Scotsman, who always liked to grace his dishes with a little wine, be it in the recipe or in his glass. But while he talked a good game, the truth is he drank very little.
Art Ginsburg, “Mr. Food” (1975-2012, syndicated): A former butcher and amateur thespian, Ginsburg parlayed an easygoing manner and an “anybody can do it” philosophy into a full-blown cottage industry, with his cooking vignettes appearing on as many as 168 local TV stations in the early 2000s. He died in 2012 but his signature sign-off line “Ooh, it’s so good!” – now legally trademarked – lives on.
Jeff Smith, “The Frugal Gourmet” (1983-95, PBS): As the title suggests, a desire to not waste money while enjoying good food was the underlying philosophy of this series, hosted by a former Methodist minister with a nasal voice whose enthusiasm for food and wine was unbridled and infectious.
Emeril Lagasse, “Essence of Emeril” (1996-2008): He’s still around and making television, but the amiable New Englander made his name here with his passion for Cajun and Creole cuisines as he shared recipes and techniques and showed how to add spice to traditional dishes.
George Dickie has been a features writer for Gracenote/Tribune Media Services since 1989, when “Hee-Haw” was still on the air and George “Goober” Lindsay was his first interview. His early interviews ranged from Jim Henson and Dick Van Dyke to Phil Collins and the Dixie Chicks.