CARLTON FLETCHER: Cooking competition has bastardized American food | Local

“Hey, good looking, what you got cooking? How’s about cooking something up with me?”

I think the latest Mt. Dew commercial that’s airing on TV sums up life as we know it in a nutshell.

In the ad, some dude gets all excited describing a “race” of two condensation drops down the side of a soda bottle. That, ladies and gentlemen, is America.

It doesn’t matter if you’re Democrat, Republican, Independent, socialist, communist, apolitical or any other sub-group that people like to cram themselves into, if you’re an American, you’re most likely competitive. It’s what makes grown people who’ve never even been to college paint their faces and bark like dogs or sing silly fight songs in fealty to good old State U when their only tie to said university is the money they spend buying paraphernalia with the college’s logo.

It’s what makes usually sane people go 15 miles per hour over the speed limit while on a busy downtown street so they can “beat” the car in the next lane to the red light. It’s what makes us take personally — to the point of obsession — a stupid political campaign between two people who couldn’t care less about the people they’re asking to vote for them.

And it’s what has turned one of the most basic elements of human existence — eating — into a multigazillion-dollar industry.

In the beginning, food was supplied to mankind as sustenance. There were fruits, plants and animals that we harvested and ate to stay alive, to give us the strength that got us through each day. Now, though, there is competition to see what new and creative ways individuals can turn food into dishes that a) sell well in restaurants and b) beat out some other kind of gastronomical creation and win a competition on one of the dozens of food TV networks and websites that have become omnipresent.

It’s not enough to take ground beef (or turkey, bison, ostrich … whatever’s the latest meat craze of the week), form it into a patty and then grill, fry, bake or in some other way cook it and turn it into the simple hamburger, a food that has sustained mankind for lo these many decades. No, you have to add all these weird ingredients that, essentially, make the meat pretty much an afterthought. I guarantee you, when God created hamburgers, He did not, in His ultimate wisdom, intend for guacamole, sriracha sauce, fried eggs, peanut butter, bacon, jalapenos or any of these other foreign objects to be placed on it.

Hmm … a little ketchup, some mustard, a couple of pickles … there you go, the perfect food.

The bastardization of the good ole American hamburger (and other like foods), I believe, was perpetuated by all these food cooking competitions in which “chefs” — and what a joke that term has become — tried to top one another by making the weirdest (and usually least edible) sandwiches they can dream up. Of course, millions of us watch these “competitions” on the dozens of food shows that fill all the basic cable networks, drawing more and more sponsors and, thus, more and more offshoots of the same old show.

We thought it was unique when an Albany girl like Paula Deen had her own cooking show and she told how she made some of her signature dishes. Those kinds of shows are so passe now … nobody wants to be told how to cook good old American food that we all grew up eating. No, we want to see how to turn all those staples in our diets into something that’s little more than just a bunch of “flavors,” most of which hide the taste of the actual food.

And, of course, we want all the “chefs” across the country to square off in a competition in which “experts” take bites of their food and tell the cookers why one’s concoction is better than the other’s.

My cooking skills are at the 0.00000001 level. I once made a decent pot of vegetable soup. (My secret? I cooked by colors … add some yellow, some orange, some red …) Now, though, I’ve stayed away from the kitchen so long, I have to rely on my No. 2 best recipe: the baloney sandwich. Put two slices of baloney between two slices of bread, microwave for 11 seconds and eat.

I wonder how that would taste with guacamole or sriracha sauce. Hmmm … Get me Food Network.

Email Carlton Fletcher at [email protected]albanyherald.com.

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