Cooking shows: an addiction for Italians, by Giuseppe Gesualdi

Over the last few years, a new genre has emerged among the highest rating TV shows in Italy, namely, cooking shows. What I’d like to do is try to describe the variety of cooking shows present. But did these programmes arise in Italy or were they simply copied from abroad? Let’s see.

Silvia Risitano, a member of the Italian internet blog Snap Italy, wrote an article about Italy’s TV food shows. She starts in chronological order, describing the history of the most popular cooking shows, such as the Gambero Rosso Channel (first aired on Italy’s Rai TV channel and now broadcast on Sky TV), La prova del cuoco, Cotto e Mangiato, Cucine da incubo, Il più grande pasticciere and above all MasterChef Italia. A lot of new cooking shows offer constant inspiration for new recipes.  I love cooking shows myself, and I believe that they can help to increase a passion for cooking or more simply they can help us prepare delicious dishes for the family. But, as asked above, are these shows an innovation in Italian cuisine?

The answer is no, or not completely. For example the one with the highest ratings, MasterChef Italia, is modelled on MasterChef, created by Franc Roddam and transmitted on the BBC in the UK in the 1990s; in 2005 it was revised and extended to a large number of countries, including the US. The first Italian edition, known as MasterChef Italia, started in 2011 and was very similar to the original. Other Italian programmes copied from other countries are Hell’s Kitchen, also originating in the UK, Cucine da Incubo (Kitchen Nightmares in the US) and Junior MasterChef, the kids’ edition of MasterChef. This doesn’t necessarily mean that all Italian cooking shows have been imported from elsewhere, but while watching episodes of MasterChef USA and Italia, I have noticed that there are a lot of similiarities. Just to mention one, both MasterChef  Italia and USA have Joe Bastianich as co-host.

As the world knows, in Italy food is a fundamental part of its culture and Italian dishes are famous everywhere. I have to admit that the quality of the programmes mentioned here is better than the Italian shows in their organization and presentation, including the script and special effects or even the quality of the set, but in Italy there is a real tradition of food and no place can compete with its history.

As the article on the Italian food blog Dissapore reports, there are several cooking shows that were shown on Italian TV in the 1990s. One of these is Viaggio nella valle del Pò alla ricerca di cibi genuini, perhaps the first ever TV show about food, first aired in 1957 on Rai TV, after the Second World War, when food meant the chance to survive the tough times of the war. A tavola alle 7 was another TV food show, first aired in 1974 on Rai TV.  This show inaugurated the concept of challenges between chefs, a format that MasterChef and Hell’s Kitchen are also based on.

The last aspect I’d like to mention is the variety of cooking shows, with something to suit everyone’s taste.  According to an article on Italian blog Gioia!, these programmes are helpful to improve your cooking skills. If you want to know more about the Italian food tradition, the best TV show to watch is La prova del cuoco, or if you want to learn a more sophisticated approach to cooking, the most useful is MasterChef, where famous chefs teach and challenge you.

There are also three programmes in quite different areas. One known as Unti e bisunti is about street food, which consists of meals cooked and served on the spot by street sellers or at special times of the year in certain cities. Naples and Rome are probably among the best examples of Italian street food. Interestingly, street food originated in Egypt with fried fish in harbours, and the idea extended first to Italy with several variants, and then to France and the United Kingdom (Is Fish and Chips telling you something?). The programme known as Quel che passa il convento shows how to cook with inexpensive and recycled ingredients, focusing on inexpensive recipes with ingredients from all over Italy. Last, but not the least, Bake off Italia is for people who want to be be pastry chefs.

It’s a fact that food TV has high ratings on Italian television. I think that these programmes are a good way of trasmitting information in a country whose TV shows revolve so much around reality programmes, politics, mostly trash TV shows. Watching cooking shows can also be a way to inform people about a country’s culture and tradition. So let’s turn the TV on and start cooking!


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