Celebrity chefs inspire adoring foodie fans

I spent this past weekend at the Seasons Christmas Show at the International Centre in Toronto. No, not shopping for Christmas decorations, gifts and baking. I was working at the Egg Farmers of Ontario‘s booth where we were giving out recipes for holiday baking and entertaining, and selling microwave egg cookers. (The cookers make excellent poached eggs, not to mention great stocking stuffers!) I’ll admit I did slip away from the booth a couple times to check out the show, but most of the time, it was work, work, work….

Our booth was located across the aisle from the Toronto Star Theatre, one of the presentation stages at the Show. Occasionally there was a lull in the activity in front of our booth; when no one was picking up recipes or asking a question about the nutritional value of eggs, I and the staff at our booth were entertained by the demonstrations on the cooking stage.

The presenters, who included Food Network‘s Chefs Anna Olson and Anthony Sedlak from FoodTV, as well as Elizabeth Baird, Executive Food Editor for Canadian Living magazine and Chef James Smith from George Brown College, attracted large crowds. As the weekend progressed, I made a few mental observations about the crowds and the high-profile cooks.

* Lots of talk, but not so much cooking! Most of the cooking dems went on for nearly an hour, but some presenters spent much of that time talking, not cooking. The crowds seemed content to sit and listen to cooking tips and techniques, food facts, and stories about what happens behind-the-scenes of a televized cooking show, despite witnessing a minimal amount of chopping, stirring and actual cooking.

* It tastes great – or so we’ve been told! Once the demonstration was over, samples of the finished dish were not typically provided for the gathered crowd to taste. Having done quite a few cooking demonstrations in my life, I know from experience that it can be a challenge to find a recipe to demonstrate for a large group of people that can also be easily sampled by the crowd. The problem is neatly solved by simply demonstrating the recipe but not offering samples of the finished product. This seemed to be the solution for a number of the presentations at the Toronto Star Theatre. I did notice that over at Canadian Living magazine’s stage, there appeared to be samples at each of the cooking dems.

* I’d like to make the recipe, but where do I get it? I didn’t see any recipes given out for the dishes demonstrated or hear any mention of where to find the recipes on a web site. Remember though, my attention was not always on what was happening on the stage. On the Seasons Christmas Show’s web site, I did find recipes for Olson’s Holiday Fruit Preserves and her yummy-sounding Chocolate Almond Toffee Bars as well as Sedlak’s Thyme and Dijon Mustard-Crusted Pork Chops (I thought he used lamb?) and Warm Christmas Spiced Apple Compote with Calvados and Golden Raisins and Slow-Braised Lentils with Double-Smoked Bacon, White Wine and Creme Fraiche, and Canadian Living’s Sesame Asiago Crisps. Of course, most of the chefs had cookbooks for sale which likely included the recipes.

* Movie stars and rock stars, move over! Celebrity chefs have fans galore! Audience members didn’t just choose to sit down at the cooking stage to rest their feet; they appeared to be genuine fans of the chef or cook whose presentation they were watching. Some of them nabbed chairs 30 to 40 minutes prior to the start of a cooking demonstration to get front row seats. A mom and young daughter who visited our booth mentioned they had come to the Show specifically because the daughter (who I guessed to be 11 or 12 years of age) wanted to see Anna Olson. Images of Olson and Sedlak (the two Food Network chefs) were splashed across display banners at the cooking stage. I witnessed more than a couple young women taking pictures of Anthony Sedlak’s banner. Before and after some of the dems, fans lined up to have their picture taken with the celebrity chef or to have the cookbook they had just purchased autographed. From what I could tell, the chefs and cooks all graciously obliged knowing a supportive fan base helps to sell cookbooks and magazines, and keep cooking shows on TV.

As we caught glimpses of the activity at the cooking stage over the weekend, my colleague Jennifer mentioned that her young granddaughter likes to play “cooking show”, happily doling out “cooking tips” to an audience made up of her two younger siblings. In the “olden days”, children played “house” or pretended they were doctors or teachers. Now it seems they are also inspired to play at being chefs or cooking teachers.

What does all this mean? The rising celebrity status of TV and other high profile chefs and cooks has spawned a huge interest in food and cooking. That’s a good thing! Inspiring kids and adults to want to prepare and enjoy flavourful foods, and teaching them the techniques to do so is a very good thing! It suggests there is hope for the culinary standards and cooking abilities of the average Canadian.

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