As the number of cooking competitions grew from four in 2005 to 16 in 2014, the Food Network’s cooking shows stopped being about food and became more about emotional devastation. That’s a shame. I, for one, miss the old Food Network, when their culinary programming was hour after hour of enticing food to fawn over instead of cutthroat wars, battles, showdowns and screaming.
Enter Netflix. The streaming giant’s original cooking and baking shows are a refreshing break from the aggression plaguing reality cooking. While the Food Network found success by turning food preparation into sport, Netflix is betting that younger viewers want calm in their cooking shows—and I think they’re right. Millennials are an anxious generation who cope by Instagramming food. Netflix is betting that by pairing tasty treats with kind words, they’ve created shows perfect for young gourmands to play on in the background while they go about their day.
On Netflix’s new marijuana cooking show, Cooking on High, bro-tastic YouTube star host Josh Leyva, hypes up the cooks and judges with weed jokes and puns while they cook up cannabis-infused concoctions. The stakes are so low they’re easy to miss. The prize is simply a cooking pot, albeit a golden one.
The critics miss what’s so wonderful about this show. The puns are bad and yes, it’s really just 20 minutes of watching burgeoning comedians and rappers (the judges) talk about getting high. But the food looks great and it makes an afternoon of cleaning an apartment pass pleasantly by.
In Netflix’s new Nailed It!, amateur bakers try to recreate Pinterest-esque masterpieces for a $10,000 reward that’s blasted at them with a cash cannon, an obvious sign that viewers shouldn’t take the competition too seriously. The contestants are not good bakers. Indeed, their amateurish cooking is part of the show’s appeal. The fun of the show isn’t at their expense— the judges don’t berate anyone for screwing up a cake. They dish out playful teasing, constructive advice and compliments.The worst that might happen is a winning baker will deploy the “Nicole nag,” where host Nicole Byer distracts another contestant for three minutes by being annoying.
“Sugar Rush” is the latest cake-centric show to hit Netflix. Teams of two bakers compete in a dessert competition for a $10,000 prize. It’s basically Nailed It! but with proficient bakers. That does raise the stakes more than with Nailed It!’s amateurs but the judges and host remain friendly and encouraging. And with the bakers being good at baking, their desserts are even more decadent and mouthwatering than those ambitious attempts on Nailed It!.
At the end of the day, that’s what cooking TV is all about. You don’t need a bully to make it work.