It was almost 60 years ago that public-TV learned that food can provide good television.
At first, that was just Julia Child booming about French food. Now there’s “The Great American Recipe,” which covers … well, almost everything.
The show – 9 p.m. Fridays on most PBS stations, starting June 24 — has 10 home cooks. Their roots reflect Syria, Vietnam, Hungary, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Italy and more, including Southern soul food.
Some types of food showed up often during auditions. “I have never seen so many types of tacos,” said producer Jilly Pearce. Added Alejandra Ramos (shown here), the host: “We had taco Tuesday every day.”
And some were surprises, even to these food pros. Ramos recalled a “pan dulce and then the lime atole, which is sort of corn-thickened, sort of warm porridge drink. It felt like drinking love.”
It was new to her … and to the seemingly jaded judges. It was “this substance of liquid that was gold,” Tiffany Derry said. “I was like, ‘What am I having?’”
Some viewers may find out, watching the show or reading the companion recipe book. Others may try something else; there are chefs chosen for diversity and other factors. “You have to have people who not only understand food and are great cooks, but they’re also great storytellers,” Derry said.
They’ve lived varied lives … as have the judges, especially Leah Cohen. “I am from Newark and that is a melting pot,” she said.
The earliest food influences were on her father’s Romanian-Jewish side. She helped her grandmother make brisket and matzo ball soup for the holidays.
Soon, she was sampling her mother’s side. “I would travel to the Philippines, starting at 4 ½ years old, and we would always stop in a different country.”
Later, she worked in kitchens in the Philippines and in Vietnam, Myanmar, Thailand, Singapore and more. “I studied in Italy. I was familiar with a lot of the food.”
She’s needed that to create her own restaurant (Pig & Khao) in New York … and to judge a show that might have her one moment eating tacos and the next moment “drinking love.”